Having been to Port Sunlight a long time ago – Son was still in a stroller – we decided to take another trip to this lovely place outside Liverpool and this time explore a little more thoroughly. Our last visit was in winter with grey skies and gloomy weather, this time we were blessed with bright sunshine, the perfect day to explore a model village.
The history is fascinating – William Lever, a businessman in the late 1880’s wanted a new location for his soap business and he chose this place on the south bank of the River Mersey facing Liverpool. Lever was a brilliant business man who cared about his employees, wanting them to have a decent place to live and opportunities to better themselves. Port Sunlight came from this idea – a self contained community for his workers with fine houses, social facilities and plenty of open and green spaces.
Revolutionary in those days it is still a special and beautiful place, now a conservation area with strict controls on development. We loved strolling around those broad tree lined roads soaking up the atmosphere.
I found a guided trail on the internet and downloaded this before our visit. You can also buy a guided trail at the museum for a couple of pounds, either way I think it is essential to get the most of a visit to Port Sunlight. We started at Lever House, the office entrance to what was then Lever’s new factory. Very grand and ornate this place definitely makes a statement and the factory is still going today.
Lever was not the first industrialist to build houses for his workers – Saltaire and Bourneville are two examples and are also known as “model villages.” The difference here though was Lever wanted his village to be a really beautiful place and equal the attractiveness of wealthy areas with flowers, trees and fresh air. He also planned a self contained community with shops, a hospital, schools, recreational facilities and a church.
Beautiful architecture and lovely gardens everywhere, each block of houses has an individual design. All had front and rear gardens and indoor bathrooms – exceptional luxury in those days plus houses were allocated according to the size of the worker’s family rather than their status or position at the factory.
We crossed Dell Bridge and looked over a small wooded valley – beautiful with lots of trees, the bridge shows no expense was spared here as it is physically unnecessary and purely decorative.
Past the village bowling green we saw Hulme Hall where Ringo Starr played for the first time with the Beatles.
The Bridge Inn originally did not serve alcohol – Lever disapproved – but when his workers requested it be sold a vote was organised in the village. People supported the idea and Lever allowed it to go ahead. He did insist though that they also served tea, coffee and excellent soup to ensure working men didn’t just drink beer there.
The church is beautiful, paid for by Lever himself. Much of the other building work was funded by the profits of his soap business but he paid for the church himself. It is non-denominational – Lever wanted a church for all Christian people. It is the final resting place of Lever and his wife, buried in a marble tomb with life sized bronze statues. We looked inside and chatted with two very lovely ladies, long-time residents of the village who were full of interesting information and anecdotes.
The war memorial is impressive and a bit different – it has statues of women and children as well as soldiers.
We sat and looked down the Causeway before going inside the Lady Lever Art Gallery. Lever was a keen collector but often displayed his collection in the dining room for workers to admire – part of his plan to encourage people to educate and better themselves. The little gallery is gorgeous, built in 1922 as a memorial to his late wife there is lots of British art including works by Turner and Constable, many porcelain items and a furniture collection. There is also an area with books, puzzles and games for children – great idea and it kept Son busy while we browsed.
We walked past the one-time hospital and came to the very edge of the village. From here the contrast between Port Sunlight and the more recent buildings is stark. On the Port Sunlight side of the road the houses are individual with lovely gardens and landscaping. On the other side the buildings join the pavement and are not attractive with a mix of shops, houses and commercial places. In Port Sunlight they kept these things separate, the factory was on one part of the site and there was nothing industrial or commercial in the residential areas. Walking along the busy main road it hit home what a sanctuary of peace and quiet the streets of Port Sunlight were and continue to be.
Our stroll ended at the time capsule mosiac – another peaceful spot in the heart of this beautiful and rather inspirational village.