Eastbourne Model Village: Benjamin White’s Masterwork in 3D

This morning was the sort of morning that would make Saint Francis of Assisi kick babies – at least for me. About six weeks ago, I had an initial planning meeting with the narcissistic president who lords over the local stereographic society; our goal was to determine whether a 5-hour lecture series broken into 3 parts, with over 300 Third Reich stereoviews to discuss. In order to make sure that he fully understood the controversial implications of some of the many theses running through the talk, I pointed to my 100th blog post which contains a section on Reichsparteitag der Arbeit, the source material in question. All I heard from him is “I’m sure whatever you come up with will be wonderful.” After somewhere between 200-300 non-billable hours, I found out… it wasn’t. Acting like the king of everything, all of my work was for nothing when I refused to remove a reference to the Black Lives Matter movement, and it was clear that my creative control for this project was nonexistent. Having spent a month and a half on this project, I was devastated after his terse message.

Taking 5 minutes on his part would have saved me the time and the stress, and he couldn’t be arsed. And now my talk is shelved like the copy of Gravity’s Rainbow that I’ve picked up and put down so many times over the last 25 years. Were I a drinking man, I’d probably have reached for some alcohol. But since I’m a stereographic man, I reached for my 4 boxes of VistaScreen and a viewer, and almost immediately started feeling better. And then I came across Eastbourne Model Village once again.

That I forgot about this acquisition makes sense; I received it in late August of last year, a bit over a week before I learned that my dear friend Doug was dying for real this time. But I don’t know why I didn’t post it instead of some of Stanley Long’s cheesecake shots later on when I needed a break from planning the transfer of Doug’s collection. I must have forgotten that I owned it, as when it arrived I found it a joyous companion to one of my most popular VistaScreen posts – for you see, the Eastbourne Model Village was the companion attraction to the Blue Grotto Aquarium inside the Eastbourne Redoubt. And it was just as quirky.

Model Villages in General & Eastbourne Model Village

By far the greatest resource on British model villages is Tim Dunn‘s book, aptly titled Model Villages. While Eastbourne Model Village is not featured per se, a better understanding of what these places were and are makes viewing VistaScreen sets on them – of which there are about a dozen – even more enjoyable. The author clearly loves these quirky relics of a simpler time, and instills in the reader a desire to pop over and check them out in person. The appeal is similar to that of a carefully constructed high-gauge model railroad. And like model railfans, the appeal is just obvious, as Dunn states in his introduction: “The model villages of Britain are quirky and varied; they are brilliant and they are a joy… [they] might often appear delightfully simple, bringing joy, escapism or amusement to the visitor. But each model village represents even greater joy, escapism, amusement or perhaps heartbreak for its creator.” I highly recommend Model Villages to anyone with even a slight interest – I guarantee you’ll be foaming at the bit to see one for yourself by the time you reach the end of the slender volume.

The creator of Eastbourne Model Village experienced all of these: joy, escapism, amusement, heartbreak. By the time of his death in 1975, however, Benjamin White had achieved his goals: he’d filled in an entire Napoleonic-era coastal fortification with exquisitely detailed models, some of which fit in with their neighbors, and some of which did not. Of course, that’s sort of the point of these things; if a village of that size were an isomorphic replica of, say, Oxford, one might find themselves standing before the miniature Bodleian wondering why they weren’t at the full-scale one. The ability to traipse about between buildings from distant parts of the land is part of the appeal.

Terribly Colorized Model Village Postcards & Shrooms

Normally I don’t go hunting for ephemera related to stereoviews other than those from the Great War. But the day these arrived and I popped them in my Raumbildbetrachter, I just had to see what was on eBay. I wasn’t planning on buying anything – until I came across a hilariously badly hand-colored set of postcards. The asking price: 2 quid, but I “made an offer” for one-and-a-half and it was accepted. I didn’t even realize that hand-colored photographs were still a thing in the late 50s/early 60s, but there you go. Here’s the set; keep one word in the back of your brain as you look at these: psilocybin.

Were there really a place with the colors like this, where you could walk around as a giant on the landscape, sign me up for a trip out there as soon as possible. I’ll bring an ounce of Upstate New York’s finest fungus. Having seen some real photos, the colors were far less psychedelic, but I’d still be tempted – had a bunch of arsehole kids not broken into the Eastbourne Redoubt shortly after White’s death to destroy his life’s work. All but a couple of the models were beyond salvation by the time the vandals were done. I don’t understand that mindset; I certainly like destroying things (there are probably some photos of my infamous bonfires on the internet if you dig deep enough) but destroying a man’s life’s work? Mucking about with these historic treasures that a genius/lunatic built? That would never have occurred to me, even at the height of my teen hooliganism. In any case, Eastbourne Model Village’s fate was sealed.

What Happened Next

Hey, what’s your problem? You didn’t read far enough into my article on the Blue Grotto Aquarium to learn that the selfsame ran until 1996, while the single salvageable model from the village was stored in a casemate until a history museum was built in the Redoubt? Or that elements of the Aquarium remain, and enterprising individuals with a camera and bolt cutters can see it? I’m not going to point that out to you. It may convince you to do something illegal, which is certainly not my aim…

Eastbourne Model Village: The Stereoviews

Stanley Long has barely gotten a mention in this article, and I’m only going to say a few things. If there were a meter that went from 0 to 100 to gauge the quality of his work, and the needle hit 70 for the Blue Grotto, this is a solid 90. This is damn near top-tier Stanley; he must have forgotten his Scotch back at the hotel. He actually shows restraint here, generally keeping the parallax in the negative, and using positive parallax tastefully. My working hypothesis is that of his 5 plate backs, he shot most of them in the Eastbourne Model Village, and only saved perhaps 15 or a dozen plates for the Blue Grotto Aquarium. If daylight was fading, that would explain his hurrying through the temple and getting his angles askew. Of course, this is just conjecture that I’ll never be able to prove one way or the other. But the more I get to know Stanley, the more I can guess at his methodologies. I could be dead wrong. Why am I still writing about this? Let’s transport you now, to Eastbourne Redoubt, in 1957 or 58 3D:

The village almost looks real, doesn’t it? Well, if you think so, it’s not without reason: towards the end of his life, White estimated to his son that he and his wife had spent over one hundred thousand hours in the 18 years he ran the Eastbourne Model Village and Blue Grotto Aquarium. Sorta puts things in perspective – yeah, a narcissistic prat stole 250 hours from my life. But at the end of the day, I’m a happy person who most people don’t consider an egotistical wanker upon meeting – so I can appreciate my present role.

Thanks, Benjamin White and Stanley Long, for curing me of my angst and putting some perspective in my day with your lavishly done stereoviews of exquisite and joyful models, into which it is clear that much love was poured. I’m off to catalogue all my new VistaScreen accessions received in the last six weeks; I hope you enjoyed this one, and there are hundreds more on the way. Of course, there’s one thing we have yet to show…


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