First published: Spring 2020
John Usher spent three decades creating Riverdale, a miniature village modelled on his birthplace
Members of the Usher family of Coniston have been builders and stonemasons for over four generations, which goes some way to explaining John Usher’s compulsion to create a model village consisting of almost 100 buildings, in his front garden.
Usher lived in the village of Coniston in the Lake District, north-west England, from his birth in 1940 until his premature death in 1993. Despite ongoing health issues, he worked throughout his life – first for his builder uncle, then for a slate company. He was in his late teens and still living in the family home when he started to build model houses, taking inspiration from buildings in the area. However, it was when he had built his own house – “Brow Close” – and had more space, that his hobby became a passion. A perfectionist, Usher constructed the models – each about 50cm high – from pebbles or tiny pieces of stone cemented together, adding slate roofs with lead detailing, perspex windows with matchstick frames, and tiny wooden doors. As he developed his technique, the miniature constructions became more and more authentic.
The model village at the Ruskin Museum when it reopened in 2001
Gradually, over a 30-year period, Usher created an entire village – “Riverdale”, as he named it – in his sloping front garden. He positioned the buildings, including a chemist, post office and draper, in clusters around the stream that ran through the property, and linked them with paths and bridges. By the time he died and Brow Close was put up for sale, Riverdale consisted of about 90 buildings. Apart from a few immoveable fixtures, such as a large castle and a dam, the future of Usher’s life’s work had to be decided.
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #105.