Following suggestions from friends and family, Mr Callingham opened Bekonscot to the amazed public in 1929. The village was seen in newspapers, cinema newsreels and magazines across the world, with thousands flocking to Beaconsfield to see the ‘real-life Lilliput’.
It attracted the attention of the Royal Family, living just a short distance away in Windsor. The first visit was on 20 April 1934, the eve of Princess Elizabeth’s eighth birthday. The future Queen of England returned several times in later years, along with Princess Margaret, Queen Mary and the King. After her coronation, the Queen’s children came too and were equally enthralled with this, the smallest of kingdoms.
There wasn’t an admission charge – but visitors were asked to put charitable donations in a box if they wished. All proceeds went to the Railway Benevolent Institution – Mr Callingham was a railway fan and many of the volunteers helping with the model railway were railway staff.
Since then, all of our profits have been donated to charity each year – and we’re proud that we’ve given the equivalent of over £5.5 million so far. That’s thanks to visitors, like you.
With Bekonscot’s growing popularity, the public opening hours were extended from occasional days to weekend opening too. For a while, there were open evenings when every building and path was lit up with thousands of tiny twinkling electric lights. Occasionally we come across bits of the wiring network buried deep inside rockeries and older buildings.
As visitor numbers increased, paths were widened and more buildings such as Epwood Castle and the village of Evenlode were added.
Members of Mr Callingham’s household staff, including his cook, gardeners, chauffeur and maid, all came to help run the growing empire that was Bekonscot Model Village.