The planned ideal habitat, whether it is intended to display power, to house the wretched or to fulfil a personal vision about what life should be, is not confined to Britain. From this book, the title of which explicitly excludes the rest of the world, you might suppose that it is, despite Jacqueline Yallop’s undoubted wide-ranging historical knowledge. Her strength is that her focus on particular examples of model villages leads her into interesting general reflections on the march of history and the connections between specific places and science, engineering, fashion, religion, imperialism, politics and social evolution. The main weakness of Dreamstreets is her self-regarding chattiness about her own transient experience of different places at particular moments.
There is much here to enjoy and value. Starting in Cromford, Derbyshire, which was built as a mill settlement early in the Industrial Revolution by the mechanic turned country gentleman Richard Arkwright, we rapidly reach a discussion of the coming of complex water-powered machinery in place of the traditional mill wheel. As the author says, the idea of using water to spin cotton, which now ‘has the sepia hint of heritage about it’, was then revolutionary.