Robert Owen. The foundation stone was laid by Owen himself on 30 August 1841 (Royle 118), and as it progressed the impressive three-storey red brick and flint building, with its attractive canopied towers, seemed to offer the ideal prototype for his experiment in communal living. It was H-shaped with communal facilities, meeting areas in the basement, kitchen and dining areas, schoolrooms and private living spaces, and seemed to meet the needs of Owen's adherents: "Behold the promised land!" a visiting socialist reported in December 1842: "One's breath is stopped for a moment; but life hurries on, else would we stop a century, here on this spot, to contemplate the grand ideal of human existence therein embodied, or partially developed. Mind of Owen! we recognise your benignant presence" (qtd. in Podmore 551). By 1843, the hall was almost complete.. Source: Podmore, facing p. 542. The main building was designed by Joseph Hansom for
But the project could not be sustained. There were "pressing liabilities" (Podmore 545) as a result of Owen's over-spending, especially his leasing of nearby farms and their land. He was forced to resign from his role there, and further expansion was halted. From 1847 the large H-shaped building was run as a school by the Quaker educationist George Edmondson, under the name of Queenwood College. After further vicissitudes, including its use for poultry-farming, the building burned down at the end of the Victorian period.
Edward Royle describes the original experiment in communal living as "a noble failure.... a public statement of the highest ideals of the Rational System of Society" (122). Hansom's contribution to it was an impressive building which could perhaps, like so many other grand mansions, have been converted to suit modern residential or conference needs, if only it had survived.
Image scan and text by Jacqueline Banerjee. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]
Podmore, Frank, Robert Owen, a biography. New Lanark, 1906. Internet Archive, from a copy in the Cornell University Library]
Royle, Edward. Robert Owen and the Commencement of the Millennium: The Harmony Community at Queenwood Farm, Hampshire, 1839-1845. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998.
Created 25 June 2020