Cornford and Cross
Utopia 1999

Restored ornamental pond, food dye, fountains
For In the Midst of Things, curated by Nigel Prince and Gavin Wade  
Bournville Birmingham, England

Bournville once offered a model of economic and social relations based on Quaker values, ‘benevolent patriarchy’ and the enforced stability of the British Empire. The codes of conduct have gone which for many years governed relations between the men and women who worked for Cadbury, although the gendered division of space is still clearly visible in the architectural detail and the designation of areas for work and leisure. Today, the territory between Boumville train station and ‘Cadbury World’ is marked out with Cadbury’s corporate purple on signs, doorways, lamp posts and railings.

On our first visit, we became interested in the large ornamental pond which had been the focus of George Cadbury’s ‘Women’s Recreation Ground’ in the period when the Suffragettes used purple to identify their movement. In spite of its location in an architectural conservation area, the pond had suffered years of neglect; it had been drained and was being used as a tip for garden and builders’ waste. We learned that the pond was scheduled to be filled in and turfed over.

We arranged for the pond to be repaired, the paved surround to be replaced with newly quarried stone, and for new fountains to be installed. Cadbury”s filled the 37,000-gallon pond for us by diverting the water supply from their factory one night. We worked closely with Cadbury’s chief food scientist to formulate and produce a liquid solution of food-grade purple dye, which the scientist poured into the pond for us. Although it was non-toxic, the dye blotted out the light, preventing photosynthesis in a suffocating extension of the corporate identity. The water in the pond grew dark, translucent so that it was impossible to judge its depth, and reflective so that its surface mirrored the surrounding garden and the viewer.

In spite of these reversals, Utopia played the part of a high profile ‘gift’ to Cadbury Schweppes which was popular both with their employees and with the public. This drew the company into a situation whereby the antique pond — symbol of old-time philanthropy which was about to have been destroyed and erased in a cost-cutting exercise — could not quietly disappear without considerable loss of face. To a corporation poised between the pressure to conserve its historic tokens of benevolent paternalism, and the demands of its shareholders in today’s globalised ‘free’ market, we hope this may have given pause for thought.

Bournville Village, Birmingham, England