Model village in Bourton welcomes more historic cottages from miniature specialist John Constable

Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard: The Model Village Bourton-on-the-Water owner Julian Atherton (L) with the maker of unique miniature cottages John Constable with the replica of Thomas Hardy's birthplace The Model Village Bourton-on-the-Water owner Julian Atherton (L) with the maker of unique miniature cottages John Constable with the replica of Thomas Hardy's birthplace

A famous model village in Bourton-on-the-Water has welcomed seven more historic cottages to its community to be preserved.

These seven little cottages, only 10 inches high, represent the lifetime achievements of Somerset miniature specialist John Constable whose skills found international fame.

The Model Village at Bourton is England’s only Grade 11 listed attraction of its kind.

Mr Constable, 80, said he was “overjoyed” that his labour of love had found a good home in the Cotswolds.

“What started as a hobby creating miniature garden landscapes and the traditional English cottages to sit in them became my life’s work,” he said.

“I’ve been on television and in the press around the world over the years, showing the cottages and my miniature landscapes. But now I’m getting too old to look after them. I’m overjoyed that Julian and Vicki Atherton at The Model Village have agreed to preserve them and hopefully my little cottages will bring pleasure to the thousands of visitors who flock to the Model Village each year.”

After one of his national TV appearances 40 years ago, Mr Constable was approached by multimillionaire philanthropist Sir John Paul Getty, who died in 2003.

“He told me he thought I was creating a whole new form of art with the miniature landscapes and cottages, and he supported me financially for a while to help me build up my skills and establish a nursery to grow the trees and shrubs for my small worlds,” Mr Constable recalled.

“I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone about it while Sir Paul was alive, but I was very grateful to him for his support.”

Each cottage took at least 12 months to build. Thousands of miniature bricks and stones, tiny rafters, windows and doors for the seven buildings were crafted individually by Mr Constable, using special tools he made himself. Thatched roofs were made with coir fibre.

The Bourton-on-the-Water Model Village, built in 1936 and an exact replica of the Cotswold village itself, is owned by Julian and Vicki Atherton.

“We are huge fans of Mr Constable’s work and we were delighted to offer these seven iconic British cottages a good home,” said Julian.

“Our Model Village was also built by craftsmen and continues to be maintained using authentic materials including local limestone, so we really appreciate the extraordinary skill that has gone into Mr Constable’s superb work.”

The seven cottages have been placed in their own unique garden settings for display in an area of the Model Village, using miniature landscaping skills Vicki Atherton learned from Mr Constable’s expert books about the subject.

“We’ve been improving the landscaping in the model village, using plants and shrubs which naturally grow to small sizes to suit the miniature environment,” Vicki said.

“Although Mr Constable’s cottages represent a very different style of building to the Cotswold houses and shops in our model village, we’re sure our visitors from home and abroad will find them absolutely fascinating, showing as they do the historic tradition of rural English architecture and recording the diversity of vernacular building design.”

The seven cottages are precise replicas of:

  • Willy Lott’s timber-framed cottage, Gibbeons Gate, East Bergholt, Suffolk, which featured in the Hay Wain painting by English landscape artist John Constable (1776-1837)
  • Thomas Hardy’s Dorset birthplace in Higher Bockhampton, Dorset
  • The fairytale ‘witches cottage’ Hodson Cottage at Coate in Wiltshire
  • A traditional cruck cottage, using arched timber frames
  • 18th century Cottier House from Magilligan, County Londonderry – its thatch is held down with ropes against storms
  • A mediaeval Wealdon House from Kent
  • The former Teapot Hall from Scrivelsby, Lincolnshire which burned down in 1945

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