Koloniën van Weldadigheid (agricultural pauper colony)

Date of Submission: 17/08/2011
Criteria: (ii)(iv)(vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Ministry of education, Culture and Science
State, Province or Region:
Province of Drenthe
Coordinates: N53 01 E6 23; N52 50 E611
Ref.: 5630
Word File

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The agricultural pauper colony in Drenthe was established in 1818 on the initiative of General Johannes van den Bosch, under the auspices of the Maatschappij van Weldadigheid (Beneficent Society). The Society's aim was to improve the living conditions of the lower classes by providing work, board and lodging, and education. In the peatlands of Veenhuizen and Frederiksoord/Wilhelminaoord, the Society founded pauper colonies where beggars and vagrants were put to work. Large areas of 'wilderness' were systematically cleared in order to set up the agricultural colonies. Subsequently, colonies were also set up in Ommerschans (in the province of Overijssel) and in Wortel and Merksplas in what is now Belgium.

The colonies reflect the notion of a morally corrective, hierarchically ordered community. This ethos is visible in the institutional buildings, which were constructed on a square floor-plan like barracks or houses of correction and in the colonies' pronounced structure.

The nomination includes the Fochteloërveen, a remnant of the original peat moors from which land was cleared for the Veenhuizen colony.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The colonies are an illustration of the belief that land, humanity and society can be changed for the better. They express early 19th-century, Western, utopian thinking on improving the lot of the poor. 

The colonies' architecture and spatial design is unique, comprising boundaries, cultivated areas and buildings within which care and moral correction and guidance were dispensed. The boundary shared with the Fochteloërveen illustrates how much land was reclaimed.

Criterion ii: The visionary way in which General Johannes van den Bosch tackled poverty and crime by founding residential colonies was a significant source of inspiration to many enlightened thinkers in the Western world. This ideology and its tangible result are unique.

Criterion iv: The areas are set up in a way that expresses utopian ideals in architecture, town planning and land cultivation. The mathematical, hierarchical ordering of land use featuring canals, residential neighbourhoods, cultivated areas and standard measurements reflects the development of a man-made landscape.

Criterion vi: The colonies represent a benchmark in thinking about the disadvantaged members of Western society. The colonies are unique in terms of cultural history and landscape. Together, their landscape and buildings represent almost two centuries of Dutch cultural history.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The cultural values of the Beneficent Society (Maatschappij van Weldadigheid) - a morally corrective, hierarchically ordered community - are clearly visible in the buildings and the pronounced structure of the colonies. Both Veenhuizen and Frederiksoord/Wilhelminaoord still retain much of their original spatial structure, from the system of lines and planes to that of the architecture.

The stages of history are clearly evident. The Fochteloërveen is an example of the original 'wilderness'. The other stage comprises the penitentiary and judicial landscape, with its large, highly ordered institutional buildings, and planting along the avenues and in the grounds. The Beneficent Society still manages its heritage but is no longer engaged in social rehabilitation or poverty reduction.

Comparison with other similar properties

The colonies are comparable to Robert Owen's New Lanark in Scotland, which was listed as a World Heritage Site in December 2001. New Lanark is a small 18th-century village where the philanthropist and idealist Robert Owen designed a small industrial community along socialist lines. Owen felt that the living conditions at the mills were unacceptable. He set up a range of new facilities such as an infants' school. The village had a population of 2,500, most of whom were paupers from Glasgow and Edinburgh.

The Beneficent Society's aim was different from that of New Lanark and comparable industrial settlements such as Saltaire and Grand Hornu, in that its mission was to eradicate poverty and to re-educate people - not to improve workers' living conditions. Furthermore, the Society, with paying members, was also organised along different lines from New Lanark.