Port Sunlight

From Wikishire
Jump to: navigation, search
Port Sunlight
Houses on Greendale Avenue, Port Sunlight.jpg
Port Sunlight village architecture
Grid reference: SJ338847
Location: 53°21’18"N, 2°59’38"W
Population: 1,450  (2001)
Post town: Wirral
Postcode: CH62
Dialling code: 0151
Local Government
Council: Wirral
Wirral South

Port Sunlight is a model village and suburb on the Wirral in Cheshire. It is between Lower Bebington and New Ferry.

Port Sunlight was built by Lever Brothers to accommodate workers in its soap factory (now part of Unilever), work commenced in 1888. The name is derived from Lever Brothers most popular brand of cleaning agent, Sunlight soap.

Port Sunlight contains 900 Grade II listed buildings, and was declared a Conservation Area in 1978. It has been informally suggested for World Heritage Site status[1] to protect it from development and to preserve the unique character for future generations, but it is not yet on the current UK "tentative list" for future consideration for such a designation.[2]


In 1887, Lever Brothers began looking for a new site on which to expand its soap-making business, which was at that time based in Warrington in Lancashire. The company bought 56 acres of flat, unused, marshy land in Cheshire, south of the River Mersey. It was large enough to allow space for expansion, and had a prime location between the river and a railway line. The site became Port Sunlight, where William Lever built his works and a model village to house his employees. William Lever personally supervised planning the village, and employed nearly thirty different architects. Between 1899 and 1914, 800 houses were built to house a population of 3,500. The garden village had allotments and public buildings including the Lady Lever Art Gallery, a cottage hospital, schools, a concert hall, open air swimming pool, church, and a temperance hotel. Lever introduced welfare schemes, and provided for the education and entertainment of his workforce, encouraging recreation and organisations which promoted art, literature, science or music.

Lever's aims were "to socialise and Christianise business relations and get back to that close family brotherhood that existed in the good old days of hand labour." He claimed that Port Sunlight was an exercise in profit sharing, but rather than share profits directly, he invested them in the village. He said, "It would not do you much good if you send it down your throats in the form of bottles of whisky, bags of sweets, or fat geese at Christmas. On the other hand, if you leave the money with me, I shall use it to provide for you everything that makes life pleasant – nice houses, comfortable homes, and healthy recreation."[3]

The historical significance of Port Sunlight lies in its combination of model industrial housing, providing materially decent conditions for working people, with the architectural and landscape values of the garden suburb, influenced by the ideas of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement. Each block of houses was designed by a different architect. The backs of any of the houses cannot be seen, and each house is unique. In terms of architectural features, there is half-timbering, carved woodwork and masonry, pargetting (ornamental plaster work) moulded and twisted chimneys and leaded glazed patterns. Some houses were built in Flemish style, with bricks imported from Belgium.


One of the great buildings in Port Sunlight is the Lady Lever Art Gallery. A keen art collector, Lever travelled all over the world and liked to show the villagers the art he collected. Opened in 1922 by Princess Beatrice, the art gallery shows Lever's collection and modern-day artwork. The collection includes a range of furniture, paintings and sculptures.

Other notable buildings include the Lyceum, the Gladstone Theatre (which hosts local amateur dramatic productions), Hesketh Hall (which houses the local branch of the Royal British Legion) and the "Bridge Inn" public house.

The village contains a church and opposite is a small primary school. Church Drive Primary School is open to people living outside the village and residents. There is a war memorial by Goscombe John in the village centre in memory of soldiers who died in First World War. The open air swimming pool is now a garden centre and café.

Until the 1980s, all residents were employees of Unilever and their families. During this decade the houses were first sold privately. The former village school is now a working men's club.


The area is served by both Bebington and Port Sunlight railway stations on the Wirral Line. There are regular train services to Chester, Ellesmere Port and to Liverpool by way of Birkenhead.

Cultural references

Port Sunlight was widely celebrated. In 1912 it became the subject of a hit West End musical comedy, The Sunshine Girl, at the Gaiety Theatre, London. It starred Phyllis Dare, one of the most popular pin-ups of the Edwardian era, and was written by Paul Alfred Rubens. The show introduced the tango dance to British audiences. In 1919 Lever Brothers made a 40-minute long sponsored film, Port Sunlight, to promote the town and factory.


Outside links