Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Bournville - an early experiment in corporate responsibility

In 1879, George Cadbury, a Birmingham industrialist, started to build a chocolate factory in the fields of Edgbaston some miles outside Birmingham. With it, he constructed a model village alongside the Bourn Brook, a trout stream that feeds the Rea nearby.

Cadbury had novel ideas on how his workforce should live, and this was a substantial change from the cramped hovels and tenements where workers generally lived. He built all the facilities, including a wonderful Friends' Hall (he was a Quaker), churches, schools and recreational facilities.

Quite remarkably, most of these buildings survive to this day (including the Bournville Baths, left) and clearly the current owners share the same belief in preserving a neat, tidy and orderly neighbourhood. However, notices on lamp-posts suggest that 21st Century local youths are not as teetotal as their Bournville forefathers.

We wander, under a scorching sun, along the Recreation Ground, across the park and back to the village green. We continue to Cadbury's World. We had expected a factory visitor centre but it is a very grand affair with large numbers of visitors queuing noisily for a timed entry. It will cost more than 40 pounds, and we only wanted a quick visit - 30 minutes maybe. We decide to leave it for another day when we can devote more time to Cadbury's chocolate empire.

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