Despite Port Sunlight being only four kilometres as the crow flies from my house, it has taken me three and half years to get around to visiting it. This is because between my house and Port Sunlight lies the Mersey – the wide tidal river that separates Liverpool from the peninsula opposite called the Wirral. So it actually takes about forty minutes and a change of trains at Liverpool Central Station to get there. There are no bridges from Liverpool to the Wirral but there are two underground tunnels.
Port Sunlight Village is the prettiest, most ordered and tranquil suburb I have ever seen.
This is because the entire village was built specifically to house the workers of Port Sunlight’s “Sunlight Soap” factory. It was the brainchild of the Lever Brothers (now the multinational company Unilever) – William Hesketh Lever (later known as Lord Leverhulme) and James Darcy Lever.
Port Sunlight was part of the “model village” movement in which industrialists would provide accommodation for their employees. It was built between the years 1888 and 1914.
The factory on the edge of the village. They saw housing their workers as much more preferable to having them live in slums and tenements. Other examples of model villages are Bournville, which services the Cadbury chocolate factory in Birmingham, and Saltaire in Yorkshire (a textile mill).
The theory behind this was that if you could provide the workers with an attractive place to live, you would be more likely to “improve” not only their lives but their character. There was no temptation in a suburb like this, no pubs or ale houses. There was, however, a Temperance Hotel and an open air swimming pool.
There is a local village school.
Places for relaxation and exercise.
The Lyceum meeting hall.
And of course the United Reformed Christ Church.
The church’s beautiful interior.
The Girls’ Club building is now the Port Sunlight museum.
The architecture of the houses varies from mock-Tudor, to Jacobean, to Flemish and everything in between.
It has become known as “English cottage vernacular” or “Olde English”, a style which never existed historically or architecturally before this.
The overall effect is very pleasant. Driveways, garbage bins and car parks are for the most part at the rear of the houses to prevent unnecessary visual clutter.
In the centre of Port Sunlight is a large park with a fountain.
The war memorial by Goscombe John.
The Lady Lever Art Gallery was opened in 1922.
Named after Lord Leverhulme’s wife, the gallery was built to display the Lever’s art collection.
The pre-Raphaelites are well represented – Rosetti in particular.
A wall of Burne-Jones.
He was a big fan of Victorian art.
He also collected paintings and furniture from different eras. On a sidenote, I’m thinking of painting my bedroom this colour – Wedgwood blue.
A large portrait of Queen Victoria. Below and to the left is a Turner.
Exquisite tapestries. Did you know that one square meter of tapestry would take a skilled weaver a year to produce?
There is also a large sculpture collection, both from antiquity…
and more modern times.
This Chippendale Chinese cabinet is extraordinary.
Each drawer front is made of a different type of wood.
The Adams room was designed to replicate an 18th century interior.
After a good look around the gallery I had some lunch and ran into my friend Sue, who is a guide at Port Sunlight. I then took the train back to Liverpool, happy in the knowledge that I had finally visited Port Sunlight.