Review published on January 3, 2017.
Sometimes a book really strikes a chord; the right book at the right time. When I selected this title I knew nothing about ‘village utopias’ or model villages, but I was drawn to finding out why they were created and how they affected the lives of the people who lived in them. This book turned out to be an unexpected delight – informative, engaging and well-written.
Built by philanthropic individuals and companies to house workers, to ‘make concrete radical philosophies and to try out experimental solutions to social and economic problems’, more than 400 model towns and villages were created in Britain during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Cromford in Derbyshire and Saltaire in West Yorkshire for example. Dreamstreets is an exploration of what model villages tell us about the past through their architecture and design, as well as the impact they can have on us today. Yallop visits them, describes in evocative prose the impression they make on her, sharing a blend of her insights and their histories. She writes succinctly, with a real skill in distilling a complex story into manageable chunks, selecting just the right amount of historic facts to provide the context and inform the reader. The select bibliography and endnotes provide evidence of the research that has gone into the book.
The author’s experiences and reflections make this much more than a history book, for example, her reactions to ‘twee’ Blaise Hamlet and to the changes at Nenthead where she worked twenty years ago interpreting the old lead-mining site and village for visitors. Yallop’s skill as a novelist is demonstrated in her ability to shock the reader from any utopian dreams. For example, the bridge at Port Sunlight might look idyllic but in reality it was the route that ‘took workers to their sweating, stinking, treacherous jobs boiling, mixing and manipulating chemicals and oils. The bridge spanning the pastoral promise of The Dell in Port Sunlight yokes Victorian nostalgia, romanticism and idyll to the political, social and economic realities of early twentieth century manufacturing.’
I found this to be a fascinating and enjoyable read. Highly recommended.
Adie Batt 5/4
Dreamstreets: A Journey Through Britain’s Village Utopias by Jacqueline Yallop
Vintage 9780099584636 pbk Jun 2016
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