Bekonscot Model Village – the very words conjure up a myriad of associations – from diminuitive thatched cottages, tiny deformed figures, an obsessive autistic output from the maladjusted creator, the damp dreary desolation of the English weather day trip, to joy and wonder at the intricately detailed world contained within. For Roland Callingham the life of a London accountant was clearly not enough – he had ambitions for his semi suburban garden in Beaconsfield, North West London. Firstly his disposable income enabled ground staff and gardeners to create a swimming pool and some features to entertain his and his wife’s High Society friends.
However another spiralling creation was going on indoors, as an ‘O’gauge model railway took over more of the house.In 1927 Mrs. Callingham reached her tipping point and the track system was ejected outdoors, onto a plot of land adjacent to their house. Roland rallied his ground staff, digging out an enormous hole that soon became a lake and landscape to host the now outdoor railway.
Under the burgeoning vision of Callingham the works at Bekonscot soon developed the complete track system that ran round and through the whole site, press-ganging all of his employees including the house staff into fabricating houses and buildings to fit around the tracks, while hundreds of scale (1:48) people started to occupy the area.
Roland Callingham had clearly some of the characteristics that we admire in our cultural creators – enthusiasm, tenacity,humour, physical drive and ambitious vision. Thrown in is a slightly disconcerting obsessiveness. All in all an eccentric Englishman creating an eccentric English minuature world. From 1930 onwards he and his staff enlarged and expanded the diaroma (a ‘method’ first started around 1900) into the worlds first model village. From Callingham’s death in 1961 until 1992 the vehicles, boats and planes were updated as the decades and technology of the outside world progressed.
A lease of life was injected into the model village by a new owner, with the time period reverting back to the 1930’s, and updating facilities for the viewers. Visiting the site there is a strong feeling that Bekonscot does belong somewhere in the Outsider Art canon. A softer and gentler Art Brut, with a pinch of Eric McGill postcards and men in sheds making things. The current emphasis on the blurring of distinctions between Outsider and ‘Insider’ Art (as seen in the curated part of the 2013 Venice Bienale, ‘The Encyclopedic Palace’) certainly makes Bekonscott and other individual visions worth looking at again.