May 26, 2023

John Usher, Miniature village

picture (October 2003) by Karen Beach, Flickr 

The above image depicts a miniature village as it is situated today in the outer space of a museum devoted to the local history of the commune of Coniston in England's Lake District.

Life and works

This miniature village was created by John Usher (1940-1993) who lived in Coniston all his life. He became a bricklayer and builder by trade, just like his father, grandfather and great-grandfather.

Living in his native house as a young man in the late 1950s, he already showed his delight in making miniature structures, and when  in the 1960s he built his own house, named Brow Close, he set to decorate the garden of his house with miniatures of all kinds of buildings.

family photo of Usher in the 1960s, in his garden amidst his first creations
from the Facebook of the Ruskin Museum

He started with buildings common to most villages, such as cottages, a pub, a bridge, following the style of building as usual in the Lake District.

Later he would also make replicas of famous buildings in the Lake District, such as the Bridge House in Ambleside, the Round House on Belle Isle in Lake Windermere and St Andrew's Church in his hometown Coniston.

Over a period of about 30 years, Usher gradually created an entire village of some 90 miniatures, each about 20 inches high, a complex he named Riverdale.

For the construction of the bases and roofs of the buildings, Usher used gray slate, which he found in the area. The walls were made of other stones or of cement, depending on the nature of the building. Windows were made of perspex, with narrow strips of wood for the window sills and frames. Doors consisted of small pieces of wood.

this picture and the next one by Dave Hawkyard 
as on Google Maps

John Usher passed away in 1993, when he was only in his early 50s. 

He had remained unmarried and had arranged for his estate to benefit a Coniston denomination and some local associations.

Almost all of the miniature buildings were bequeathed to the local Ruskin Museum, devoted to local history. A replica of the local St  Andrew's church found a place in that church.

The Ruskin Museum stored the miniatures for some time to formally arrange that they could be placed in the outdoor area of the museum. They have been situated there since 2000, cared for by volunteers. 

* Article by Mariella Landolf, "A model legacy", in: Raw Vision #105, Spring 2020
* Entry about the miniature village on the website of the Ruskin Museum
* An article (September 2018) in a website about trips in England, featuring attractions in the Lake District, including the Ruskin Museum and miniature village

John Usher

Miniature village

Coniston, Lake District, North-west England, England, UK

can be visited in the local Ruskin Museum

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