George Cadbury was quite a man. He left us two fantastic legacies. No prizes for guessing the first one, but do you know the other? A clue is that to appreciate it fully you need to visit the Birmingham Back-to-Backs before coming to Bournville.
Having established his now world famous chocolate factory, George set about developing a model village to improve the lives of working people, away from the slums of central Birmingham. He started by setting up the Bournville Building Estate, selling plots and building houses for outright ownership to ‘quiet, respectable tenants’ in the countryside south of the city. He was soon inspired by the Garden City Movement and in 1900, recognising the need to stop speculation and dilution of his vision, turned his Building Estate into a Charitable Trust – the Bournville Village Trust - which then provided housing for rent. He had a keen eye for good architecture and urban design and the estate steadily grew. A devout Quaker, George was tireless in his work and provided land for community purposes, parks, shops, churches, an Arts and Crafts Institute and schools. He had to battle for smaller classrooms (“large classes are false economy”, he said) and had a carillon installed in the tower of one – which still plays well known tunes on its bells daily.
The impact of this revolutionary environment on working people’s lives was dramatic. They were healthier, lived longer, were taller, heavier and better educated.
Today the estate numbers nearly 8,000 dwellings. It significance is widely acknowledged, with many overseas visitors coming to experience this world class landmark in industrial housing provision.
Take a trip to the Back-to-Backs, then stroll round the beautiful Bournville Village and visit the Cadbury Collection museum at the factory, which charts the history of the estate – and where you can watch ultra-modern robots packing chocolate. You might even be tempted to buy a bar at the shop.