Tuesday, 2 May 2017
Port Sunlight is another place that has been on my 'bucket list' for a while. It's on the Wirral peninsula, on the opposite bank of the Mersey estuary from Liverpool. It is an industrial garden village, founded in 1888 by William Hesketh Lever (1851-1925). He was a soap manufacturer, another wise and visionary Victorian businessman, philanthropist and politician. Inspired by similar values to Saltaire's Sir Titus Salt, he wanted a bigger factory and to provide decent housing for his workforce. He saw the potential of some marshy land and decided to build a new factory with a township around it, in much the same way as Saltaire had been developed some thirty years before.
Whilst the concept is similar, Port Sunlight differs radically from Saltaire in that it is a spacious parkland, with over 900 houses designed by 30 different architects, so that they are all different. There is none of the neat conformity of Saltaire's grid pattern, with houses and public buildings designed to a coherent whole. Instead, Port Sunlight has a romantic and almost rural feel, imitating a village that has grown up gradually over many years. It is really very pretty, with lawns and gardens and a wide boulevard at the centre.
It has many of the same facilities as Saltaire and, as with Saltaire, the housing and public buildings stock were eventually sold off (though not until the 1980s.) In addition to the housing and the huge factory (still producing soap, now part of Unilever), there was a church, a hospital, a school and various institutes for recreation and learning, including a theatre. Hulme Hall (below), the original dining hall for female staff, is now a venue for weddings, exhibitions and other events. Ringo Starr played his first concert with The Beatles here in 1962.
The wide central boulevard has a large war memorial and a garden dedicated to the 96 Liverpool football supporters who lost their lives in the Hillsborough disaster in 1989. At the far end, just visible in my photo, is a lovely art gallery, dedicated to Lever's wife Elizabeth, and opened in 1922 after her death in 1913. It houses some of Lever's personal collection of paintings, pottery, sculpture and furniture collected over many years.