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Bournville: Beginnings

"Housing People for 100 Years"

When George Cadbury embarked on the building of a housing estate in 1895 he did so, not as a single handed attempt to solve all the social problems in the city caused by and related to, bad housing, ill health and poverty, but in the hope that he could prove to the political powers, legislators and industrialists of Britain's large manufacturing base that good quality housing in a natural, green, environment was not only a realisable aspiration, but a necessity for the greater good of society. He set out to challenge the thinking of the day and change current attitudes, not by lobbying, talking or campaigning, but by practical example.

George was 56 years old when he developed the first house on what was to become the Bournville Building Estate and the success of its development was something to which he devoted his thoughts and actions for the rest of his life. The success he achieved in five years surpassed even his expectations.

In 1900 he founded the Bournville Village Trust, a charitable organisation set up to ensure the careful planned development and maintenance of the Estate and, to preserve it for future generations, thus ensuring that the results of his work would continue after his lifetime. The Deed of Foundation stipulated that surplus income was to be devoted to the extension and improvement of the Estate and to the encouragement of better building elsewhere.

Although today the Trust is easily outstripped by other housing associations in terms of it size, it remains in the forefront of housing provision for its work in the fields of architectural design, estate management and development, due to the faithful observance of the Founder's philosophy. The consideration of the environmental implications of any work undertaken has also gained the Trust the reputation of being a model estate.

The story of Bournville begins in the Victorian England of Charles Dickens's novels and Elizabeth Browning's 'The Cry of the Children'. It was the England of child labour, human chimney 'brushes' and the prison like work houses. Bournville was the direct result of one Birmingham Quaker industrialist's conscience; appalled as he was by the terrible conditions of penury and squalor by which the workers of Birmingham were surrounded. Labouring for a pittance in the factories by day and returning home at night, to accommodation that was at best poor, at worst appalling.

As a nation this country had already earned the reputation of being the Workshop of the World. This emphasis towards a private, market led enterprise saw the emergence of a new class of business men who took full advantage of the new wealth that was to be made. The rapid pace of development in scientific knowledge and industrial advancement during the Victorian age made an impact of such magnitude that the economic and industrial shape of the land was to change irrecoverably.

The expansion of manufacturing industry, which led to an increase in employment opportunities, attracted many of the working hands of agriculture into the cities. They came in their droves, in the hope of earning higher wages which the factories promised.

Although this changing economy offered the chance to escape from the misery of rural living, the alternatives for these people were still bleak. Life in the overcrowded industrial slums of the big cities, densely populated with factories, offered few opportunities for advancement, or for a better standard of living.

Thus it was that George and his brother Richard made a crucial decision in 1879 to move their successful chocolate manufacturing business from the filth of Birmingham's back streets, surrounded by noxious gases of the industrial polluted air, to a fourteen and a half acre site of open Worcestershire countryside which lay to the south of the City. It was precisely this move which marked the beginning of one of the most conspicuous contributions of social reform undertaken by one man in the whole Birmingham's history.

See also:
George Cadbury
Bournville: Building of a Housing Estate