LAS visit to Port Sunlight, 9 June 2018

01 LAS group with guide SoniaOn Saturday June 9th we had the first of our summer trips. Fourteen of us converged on the delightful planned village of Port Sunlight. It was a beautiful day which showed the village at its best but even in inclement weather I am sure its attractions do not remain hidden.We were given an extremely informative walk and talk with a really engaging guide who was always willing to answer our questions. Sonia was very enthusiastic about the village that she lives in and very knowledgeable about its origins and history.
Port Sunlight was the manifestation of an original idea thought up by William Hesketh Lever of Bolton who had originally worked for his father’s grocery firm in Bolton and who wished to go into business himself ,which he did in the soap business {Sunlight soap}.In some ways he followed in the steps of such men as David Dale and Robert Owen of New Lanark fame and Sir Titus Salt at Saltaire. Lord Lever was very concerned for the moral and physical health of his workers whilst also being a very hard working man himself and a business man of genius- rising to become probably the wealthiest man in Gt. Britain.
Lord Lever or Lord Leverhulmehulme as he became saw the opportunities afforded by the marshy land intersected by creeks which emptied into the Mersey below the port of Birkenhead. Lord Leverhulme realised that he could drain the land and canalise the streams so that he could build a port on the Mersey where he would not need to pay taxes to the port of Birkenhead; the land was relatively inexpensive because of its condition and there was the room to manifest his vision of beautiful homes for his workers set amongst greens with woodland and formal areas of planting So in 1888 the work started and the factory went up followed by the village. Many of the greens were used for allotments for the residents where they could keep hens and grow vegetables. They were not allowed to keep chickens in their own gardens. There were many benefits to living there e.g. heath insurance, paid holidays and a holiday fund and he also introduced an old age pension but there was no free or subsidised soap!
The houses were designed and constructed by architects [Lever had wanted initially to be an architect himself} and they were given free rein so that hardly any two houses are the same. They are built in many different styles though many influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement. There are Tudor styles and Gothic styles some of which are very intricate and expensive to maintain and Flemish styles amongst others. It was stipulated that the houses had to have three or four bedrooms. He wanted boys to have their own room and the girls to have theirs with a room for the parents. Interestingly the decision was made to place the plumbed in bath in the scullery. Houses were not allocated solely on the basis of the employment status of the workers but on family size. On one memorable occasion King George V and Queen Mary visited one of the cottages which henceforth was known as Royal Lodge.
In the village were many public buildings e.g a non-denominational church and schools . There were community halls. a free lending library and even a gymnasium and outdoor swimming pool. Lord Leverhulme believed there was more to life than work and he wanted families to have time to spend together and to enrich their minds and bodies. He also built an hotel but because of pressure from the men he allowed the adults, including the women a vote on whether beer should be allowed which passed by 75%.
During the war the village suffered extensive bomb damage and indeed people were tragically killed. Most of the buildings were rebuilt but not the original market area where locals would come with their carts.

06 war memorial.JPG
There is a wonderful war memorial dedicated to the men and women of the village who lost their lives which has beautiful and evocative sculptures of servicemen. women and children. This provides the focal point to the south of Port Sunlight and leads down a formal parkway to the focal point at the northern end of the village; the Lady Lever Art gallery built as a tribute to his beloved wife and to house his magnificent art collection which he believed could inspire all who saw it.
There is so much more that could be said but it is an amazing place with much of interest. On a practical note there are two cafes with toilets for public use. There is a very good small museum {small charge} which allows access to one of the original cottages and of course the acclaimed Lady Lever Art gallery which is free.

Posted by Jeanette Dobson

Photos by Bill Shannon

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