Dreamstreets: A journey through Britain’s village utopias
Jonathan Cape £18.99
Church Times Bookshop £17.10
JACQUELINE YALLOP is a novelist who, although now producing a non-fiction book, still writes in the style of a novelist. She is strong on description, and makes references to her past life as she guides the reader around a village. She even tells us about the weather on the day she visits, and makes the account sometimes whimsical.
This is a book about 18th- and 19th-century model villages. It looks in some detail at the background of the pioneers, their investment in education, and the argument about model and ideal. The author takes in many more communities than the chapter headings suggest, in a sweep from early mining villages to Port Sunlight, which she sees as the prototype for Ebenezer Howard’s garden cities.
The author mentions religion and its initial influence, but she could have added that, in some places featured, this has been maintained despite the death of an industry. Lord Leverhulme was a Congregationalist, and the prominent gothic building in his Port Sunlight is still Nonconformist, although rebranded URC.
Talbot Village, near Bournemouth, was built around a small church that has been dramatically reordered, with an extension hidden to safeguard the vista. The congregation is larger than any in the 1860s. In west London, Norman Shaw added, as an afterthought, a church and a pub to Bedford Park. Today the confident Arts & Crafts St Michael’s is a living focus for the community in and around the conservation area.
The book’s black-and-white photographs are disappointing; so there is a temptation to go online to seek out colour pictures and maps to understand crucial street layouts, which gave some urban villages a distinctly rural feel. Hidden in Dreamstreets could be some possible solutions to add to the current debate on social housing.
Leigh Hatts is a writer and online journalist.