- Published: Saturday, 26 September 2015 14:22
- Written by Nigel Dawkins
History of Bournville
In 1824, John Cadbury opened a grocer shop on Bull Street, in Birmingham city centre. He began preparing (using a pestle and mortar), producing and selling tea, coffee and of course, drinking chocolate. He was passionate about his drinking chocolate which he believed to be the healthy alternative to alcohol.
He later moved his production into a factory in Bridge Street, and began producing various cocoa and drinking chocolates. Soon after, his brother Benjamin partnered with him to form a company called Cadbury Brothers of Birmingham. Only the wealthy were able to purchase his wares as the production cost was so high, but in 1850, import taxes on cocoa were reduced, making chocolate more affordable for everyone.
John's health rapidly declined and he finally retired in 1861, handing over complete control of the business to his sons Richard and George. The brothers were just 25 and 21 when they took charge of the business. When the Bridge Street factory became too small, George Cadbury had a new vision of the future. 'Why should an industrial area be squalid and depressing?’ he asked. His vision was shared by his brother Richard, and they began searching for a very special site for their new factory.
Cadbury were reliant on the canals for milk delivery, and on the railways for cocoa deliveries from the ports of London and Southampton. They therefore needed a site which was undeveloped and had easy access to both canal and rail. The brothers noticed the proposed development of the Birmingham West Suburban Railway, which would extend from central Birmingham south along the path of the Worcester and Birmingham Canal into the then green fields of southern Birmingham and the villages of northern Worcestershire. In 1879, they moved their business to Bournbrook Hall, 4 miles (6.4 km) to the south of Birmingham. The location was chosen as it was regarded as cleaner, healthier and more amenable to longer-term expansion plans. Although rural, it was also already serviced by the new Stirchley Street railway station, which itself was located right next to the canal. The Cadburys named the area 'Bournville' after the Bourn Brook (now known as The Bourn); with 'ville' being French for 'town'. Birmingham architect, George H. Gadd worked closely with George Cadbury to draw up plans for the factory. The first bricks were laid in January 1879 and 16 houses for foremen and senior employees were built on the site. In 1893, George Cadbury bought 120 acres (0.5 km²) of land close to the works and planned, at his own expense, a model village which would 'alleviate the evils of modern more cramped living conditions'. Midland houses at this time were traditional ‘tunnel back’ designs. Cheap, large scale housing complying with the public health acts. They were built in long rows with entrances to the back through passageways. George wanted to bring light to his houses and chose rectangular houses with large gardens.
By 1895, 143 cottages were built and it was called a ‘garden village’ as he wanted to keep the rural feel, by ensuring that gardens were not overshadowed. He said that a tenth of the estate should be ‘laid out and used as parks, recreation grounds and open space.’ Then Cadburys began to develop their factory in the new suburb. Loyal and hard-working workers were treated with great respect and relatively high wages and good working conditions; Cadbury also pioneered pension schemes, joint works committees and a full staff medical service.
By 1900, the estate included 313 cottages and houses set on 330 acres (1.3 km2) of land, and many more similar properties were built in the years leading up to the World War I, with smaller developments taking place later on in the 20th century.
These almost 'Arts and Crafts' houses were traditional in design but with large gardens and modern interiors, and were designed by the resident architect William Alexander Harvey. These designs became a blueprint for many other model village estates around Britain. It is also noteworthy that, because George Cadbury was a temperance Quaker, so no public houses were allowed. The Cadburys were particularly concerned with the health and fitness of their workforce, incorporating park and recreation areas into the Bournville village plans and encouraging swimming, walking and indeed all forms of outdoor sports.
In the early 1920s, extensive open lands were purchased at Rowheath and laid to football and hockey pitches together with a grassed running track. Rowheath Pavilion was designed and built in accordance with the instructions of George Cadbury and opened in July 1924. At that time, it served as the clubhouse and changing rooms for the acres of sports playing fields, several bowling greens, a fishing lake and an outdoor swimming lido, a natural mineral spring forming the source for the lido's healthy waters. The Rowheath Pavilion itself, which still exists, was used for balls and dinners and the whole area was specifically for the benefit of the Cadbury workers and their families with no charges for the use of any of the sporting facilities by Cadbury employees or their families. Cadbury's also built the Bournville indoor swimming baths on Bournville Lane (separate buildings for 'girls' and men), the Valley pool boating lake and the picturesque cricket pitch adjacent to the factory site, that was made famous as the picture on boxes of Milk Tray chocolates throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. Bournville Rest House was built to celebrate the Silver Wedding Anniversary of George and Elizabeth Cadbury, and was paid for by the employees of Cadbury Brothers Ltd. The design is by William Alexander Harvey, who was architect of many of the buildings on the estate and is based on the 17th century Yarn Market in Dunster, Somerset. Currently, the building houses the Visitors Centre for the Carillon.
In 1900, the Bournville Village Trust was set up to formally control the development of the estate, independently of George Cadbury or the Cadbury company. The trust focused on providing schools, hospitals, museums, public baths and reading rooms. An almost campus feel evolved, with a triangular village green, infant and junior schools, the School of Art and the Day Continuation School (originally intended for young Cadbury employees) and a host of events such as fêtes and Maypole dances. The carillon and a Quaker meeting house are also beside the village green.