SPECIAL HISTORICAL FEATURE: Creswell Model Village

YEARS ahead of its time, at the turn of the 20th century Creswell Model Village was considered to be a living example of superior accommodation for the village's colliers.

And now, thanks to a multi-million pound project funded jointly by Bolsover Council, Heritage Lottery Fund, Meden Valley Making Places and Villagate Properties, the Victorian estate is proving once again to be a model living environment for those who are making it their home.

Originally built in the 1890s, the 281 homes were thought to be a considerable advancement on the ugly, squat rows of back-to-back houses traditionally built for miners.

They were a breakaway from the traditional rows of terraced housing and followed what was described as the modern principle.

The chairman of the Bolsover Colliery Company, Emerson Bainbridge, was largely responsible for the scheme.

He said: "There was no reason why the miners should not have a village where three things could exist successfully – the absence of drunkenness, the absence of gambling and the absence of bad language."

Architect Percy Houfton decided that he would build his houses in two concentric circles at a cost of 200 each.

Within the inner circle there would be a large green, a bandstand, a children's playground and rustic seating.

In the early days a cricket ground and a clubhouse were provided along with a shop – a branch of the Bolsover Co-operative Society – and allotments were available for rent at four shillings a year.

Speaking at the time, Mr Houfton said: "The company has tried to make the lives of the workmen as pleasant as possible, and to give them such an interest in the place where they live that they are happy to spend their leisure time in their own village."

And more often than not this was the case. Families who lived and brought up their children in the village were content.

Elmton with Creswell Local History Group's Enid Hibbert clearly remembers her childhood in the village.

"We didn't have all the modern amenities that they have nowadays, but everybody knew you and you felt safe," she said. "It was real community spirit."

A 1913 Times newspaper article gave an impression of what life was like when the estate was in its prime.

'The village has its own school, its institute and workman's club and its bowling green, cricket and football grounds and a brass band,' it said.

'And there are nursing, dress-making and ambulance classses, Boys Brigade, Cadet Corps and Boy Scouts.'

Several designs of housing made up the estate, but basically they fell into two categories – those with and those without kitchens.

There were no bathrooms, and toilets, which were emptied weekly, were outside.

"Housework was much harder as there were no vacuum cleaners or automatic washers and washing was a full day's job," said one former resident."

Outside, the green was split into two – the top and the bottom parks. The Top Park incorporated the bandstand and various intersecting pathways, while the Bottom Park was home to the children's play area.

As the years passed, the houses underwent some modernisation but the loss of coalmining jobs, culminating in the closure of the pit in 1991, caused a decline, leaving empty and unfit properties.

The estate once more became an example, but this time for the wrong things. Parts of it eventually degenerating into a haven for vandals and addicts.

But even though things were not looking good, there was still a future for the village.

And now some six years later, the restoration work is almost completed. Families are moving in and new life is once more being breathed into the development.

Lifelong Model Village resident and current secretary for the Tenants and Residents Association, Val Neeve, said she had seen a lot of changes over the years.

"The Model Village is now fully restored and looks almost like it did when I was a child," she said. "And already a new spirit is beginning to emerge from a more diverse community."

To coincide with the completion of the work, Elmton with Creswell Local History Group has produced a booklet outlining the history of the estate with reflections from previous residents.

Priced at 1.50, copies can be obtained by telephoning 01909 720943 or 01909 721695.

The group has also taken possession of two working boots that had been hidden for years under the floorboards of one of the houses until they were discovered by workman Nigel Burkinshaw.

"Though they are not a pair they are a genuine historical artefact related to the village," added Mrs Neeve.

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