diamond geezer

 Saturday, May 05, 2018

One suburb of Birmingham is synonymous with chocolate, and that's Bournville, home to the Cadbury manufacturing dynasty. Their original factory was in central Birmingham, but expansion in the 1870s forced a move to somewhere bigger, and boss George Cadbury eyed up a bunch of fields four miles south. It was right beside the railway and the canal, ideal for getting ingredients in and the finished product out, plus there was a small stream to provide water for the manufacturing process. That stream was The Bourn, so Cadbury named the area Bournville, because that'd give his confectionery a fashionable French slant. His factory is still there, as is the 'model village' built for his workers, now one of the more desirable parts of the city to live and visit.

As a Quaker, George Cadbury was keen for his workers to have somewhere decent to live, so Bournville is a spacious suburb. Most of the houses are semi-detached with a cottage-y vibe, almost Arts and Crafts, and include a decent sized garden. Several parks and recreation grounds are interspersed throughout, but there are no pubs, because the only unhealthy thing George believed in being was the chocolate his factory churned out. The entire site covers 14 acres, but you can get a good idea of what made the place tick by following the Bournville Village Heritage Trail, a sub-1-mile trek around the triangular village green. It's all very green and pleasant, and a doddle to walk.

Most of the surrounding buildings are educational or religious in character, with The Friends Meeting House a couple of decades older than the church. The bells that ring on the hour come from Britain's largest carillon in a tower on the roof of the primary school. The Day Continuation School was an early example of a vocational college, and specialised in evening classes for self-betterment, but is now overrun by university students. The peculiar elfin pavilion in the centre of the green was based on a Somerset yarn market, and purports to be a visitor centre, but the interior better resembles a gift shop. The half-timbered parade of shops on Sycamore Road supports an old school bakery, florists and wool shop, but the former Lloyds Bank has been taken over by a private dentist, which is ironic as the business closest to the entrance to a chocolate factory.

As the harbinger of a totally new town, George was keen that his new residents retained a sense of local history. He therefore uprooted a medieval house from a couple of miles away, before it collapsed through ill-repair, and plonked it on a street corner opposite the shops behind a pristine suburban hedge. He also rescued a cruck-framed hall from a village near Sutton Coldfield and placed it nextdoor. The end result is an impressive nucleus of timber buildings, imbuing the neighbouring streets with a little more architectural veracity... and now open to the public as a small museum.

Selly Manor is a £4-to-enter kind of place, which feels right for half a dozen period rooms. If you've wandered round a medieval wooden cottage before you'll know what to expect, but what sets this one apart is the abundance of period furniture conscientiously collected for the museum by George's son Laurence Cadbury. Rich wooden chairs and chests proliferate, along with dark wonky tables and carved bedsteads. I was most impressed by the bound books in each room chock-full of illustrated information about the furniture plus background detail - far above your normal museum fodder. I also rated the 'spice chest', a small cabinet with nine drawers to sniff - dead simple, but very effective. The gardens may be tiny, but are perfectly maintained. The only poorly used space is the second wooden building - Minworth Greaves - which is where you buy your ticket but aren't really encouraged to look at.

For the vast majority of visitors, Selly Manor plays second fiddle to the major tourist attraction looming above the rooftops, the Cadbury factory itself.

You can't go round the production line but you can visit Cadbury World, a tubthumping visitor centre which welcomes over half a million chocoholics each year. Bolted onto the side of the production complex, it provides a family-friendly educational experience in 15 themed chunks, including rather a lot of special effects cinema presentations, green screen photo opportunities and interactive video stations. A couple of the stages are historical, and at one point some chocolatiers give a live demo, but be warned there's also a 4D Adventure hosted by Freddo and the Caramel Bunny which features a virtual ride down a Dairy Milk river. I think it'd be fair to say that the verdict on TripAdvisor is split.

I decided against wasting £17 to find out for myself. But I did wonder whether I'd be allowed to nip inside the building to visit the shop and cafe, and answer turned out to be yes. The cafe does lots of chocolatey things but also soup and Hunters chicken, in a somewhat dazzly environment, so I gave that a miss too. Instead I aimed for The World's Biggest Cadbury Shop, which isn't a difficult claim, where numerous punters who'd been round Cadbury World properly were picking over the treats. The stock includes mugs and pencils and more expensive branded souvenirs, such as cuddly toys in the shape of the Mini Eggs parrot, but obviously it's mostly chocolate. Yes, they have bags of Misshapes (£3.99). Yes they have job lots of Curly Wurlys (48 for £8). And hell yes, they're brimming over with Creme Eggs.

I could, had I been so minded, have walked away with a Creme Egg apron, a Creme Egg cushion, a Creme Egg oven glove, a Creme Egg notebook and a Creme Egg Corgi delivery van. But I'm not that much of an addict, plus I already have a much better promotional Creme Egg mug from the 1980s, thank you very much. Instead I watched happy punters grabbing plastic bags containing ten loose Creme Eggs for £3.50, and taking them to the till convinced they'd got themselves a bargain, having completely failed to do the maths. Had they flicked their eyes over to the ordinary boxes of five alongside they'd have seen that these were going for £1.25, or in other words ten for £2.50, because in the post-Easter period appearances are deceptive. The assistant smiled as I handed over my coins.

A map outside the main entrance points Cadbury World visitors towards Bournville's many other heritage delights, which I suspect most of them completely overlook. At least the walking route back to the station includes a goodly number, following the on-brand purple signposts past the on-brand purple lampstands. You pass the Chocolate Block where they make Bournville, and where you might get a brief Willy Wonka whiff. You pass the wharf where the Bourn stream runs through the heart of the complex. You pass the recreation ground with its turreted clubhouse, and the swimming pool, and the staff shop, not to mention numerous employees heading on or off shift. Only at the main office block does the mask slip, as the screen behind reception also features the logo of Mondelēz International, the parent American multinational set up when Kraft swallowed Cadbury back in 2010. Nobody would pay to visit Mondelēz World, so it pays to maintain the purple Quaker sheen at Bournville's heritage heart.

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