It's a population explosion

STEPHEN PULLINGER Huge population growth and rampant development would be fiercely resisted in most Norfolk villages.However, one small coastal community is getting ready to welcome a stream of incomers and a host of new buildings that even include a stately castle.

STEPHEN PULLINGER

Huge population growth and rampant development would be fiercely resisted in most Norfolk villages.

However, one small coastal community is getting ready to welcome a stream of incomers and a host of new buildings that even include a stately castle.

Craftsmen Adam Lawes and Brian Childs are busy creating hundreds of model people to add to the growing population of Merrivale Model Village on Yarmouth seafront.

In a workshop at the back of the family attraction, dozens of moulded figures are already hanging from racks - as if from some horror film - ready to be painted.

From church wedding guests to a naked woman ready to be espied by a model window-cleaner - even one twelfth size pet dogs and wild foxes have been moulded out of resin.

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And joining the Merrivale family soon will be a host of animated medieval figures, including a poor wretch being ducked in a pond, an ox roast scene and a group of minstrels.

These will populate a new castle - being built in the west country for a five-figure sum by the makers of models for Mini Europe in Brussels - that will take pride of place in the village next spring.

Peter Williamson, who runs the village with his wife, Shirley, said that his new model "army" was part of an ongoing revamp of the attraction that has cost him more than £250,000 since he took over in January 2004.

At that time, after more than 40 years of operating, the village had a decidedly shabby air.

Mr Williamson, 42, who previously ran Williamson's Traditional Family Fair at Wroxham Barns for 15 years, said that people had not held out much hope for his business to begin with. But over the past three years, visitor numbers for the season have soared from 18,000 to 45,000 and this autumn the village has even been nominated as a finalist in the Tourism in Norfolk awards.

Mr Williamson confessed he was now obsessed by his model world and was constantly thinking about how he could add to its attractions, which include Blickling Hall and a replica of Yarmouth Stadium.

Poised to unveil plans for even greater investment, which will considerably extend the area of the village, he said he was still determined to safeguard its traditional feel.

"We think that here in Yarmouth there is a place for attractions such as the Pleasure Beach and the amusement arcades, but there is also a place for much more gentle and relaxing entertainment," he said.

And Mr Williamson is always keen to gauge the thoughts of his visitors.

He said: "We ask people to fill in questionnaires and the most popular suggestion for a new scene is, of all things, a car boot sale."

And he hopes to have it in place when the village, which closes on Sunday, reopens on March 31.