Sunlight in the Village

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August 24th 2017
Published: August 26th 2017
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Woolly says – Less an hour away from our base is an area known as the Wirral and one of Jo’s old stomping grounds. I had been wondering how long it would take her to arrange a guided tour of her former haunts but felt that today’s arrangements would mean a drive through and much more interesting things to do! With the women finally in the car we sped off through the countryside, it took all of ten minutes for Jo to start on the, ‘oh I went there to blow my nose’ stories when for some strange reason the sat nav started to make frantic cries that we needed to make a u turn, I gave Jo a very stern stare and asked for an explanation.

As the cross- eyed mammoth looked in my direction I enlightened him on the sudden urge to drive past my Nain’s old house……

Woolly says – I KNEW IT! This behaviour needed nipping in the bud so having allowed her to take a quick picture and point out the tree that she had once fallen out of and knocked out her front tooth, I put my tusks down with a firm paw.

……. Sadly the house looked a bit neglected but it was good to see and having promised no further stops we headed towards the pick- up point for some very special people.

Woolly says – standing in a field in the back of beyond I excitedly waved as we pulled up in front of Nanty Carys and Nuncle Les who were staying on the Wirral for Les to sing in a festival over the weekend and wanted to spend the day with me. Having admired their caravan, gratefully accepted a brilliant sheep pencil which looked very like my besite Sion and been measured for my new hat I managed to organise the humans and get them into the car.

Having finally sorted ourselves out before realising that someone hadn’t got a snack and getting supplies from the boot we set off.

Woolly says – I cleared my voice and started on the first part of my information for the day. Port Sunlight is suburb in the Borough of Wirral, built by the company of Lever Brothers (now Unilever) to accommodate workers in its soap factory. The name is derived from Lever Brothers' most popular brand of cleaning agent, Sunlight. It contains 900 Grade II listed buildings and was declared a Conservation Area in 1978. It was a place that had been on my radar and today I got to escort a whole tour party round it’s delights.

The short journey proved to be fascinating as Carys told us that she and her sister (my Aunt Eryl) had swum in the pool there as children and that she had worked for Lever brothers when she left school. Even more interesting from my point of view was that my Dad had attended the junior school there, the image of him in his short trousers made me chuckle.

Woolly says – Conversation ceased and exclamations of delight burst forth as we entered the first of the streets that make up the village. The houses were beautiful and built in blocks which had involved thirty different architects to provide a variety of structures, designs and individuality to each of the houses.

In 1887 the Lever Brothers began looking for a new site on which to expand its soap-making business, which was based in Warrington. They purchased 56 acres (23 ha) of flat unused marshy land 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 for shipping of their products. The site became Port Sunlight. William Lever supervised the planning of the village and between 1899 and 1914 eight hundred houses were built to house his workforce. 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 also introduced welfare schemes and provided for the education and entertainment of his workers, encouraging recreation and organisations which promoted art, literature, science or music. He sounded like quite a man.

Having parked and admired our surrounding area more fully we followed our small chaperone into the Lady Lever Art Gallery.

Woolly says – Work began on the gallery in 1914 but due to the outbreak of WW I it wasn’t completed until 1922. It was to house William Lever’s extensive art, Chinese and Wedgewood collection and on completion he dedicated it to his late wife. The building was stunning in itself and having tried to take in the domed ceilings and grand rooms I finally started to observe the art work that covered the walls. Hugemunious frames surrounded the biggest of cancas’s from the 18th and 19th hundreds, I noticed one the famousPear bubble paintings as well as a Constable and a few Stubb’s. My groups seemed to have wandered off in different directions so I followed my trunk into a circular room that contained a large collection of busts and statues, as my heart started to pound I could feel prickles of delight filling my body as I gazed upon a wonderful sculpture of Hadrian my Hero in all his splendour. Having considered Pan and a few others I wandered into the next room to find myself surrounded by the distinctive blue and white Wedgewood china which is produced in Stoke by some very skilful artists to this day.

The gallery was wonderful and as I quietly followed my small companion round he seemed to be finding everything to his satisfaction.

Woolly says – Huge tapestries covered some rooms while immense fireplaces designed by Adams seemed to be in every area. A large selection of Chinese artefacts was incredible both in scale and decoration with the most beautifully painted urns, animals, plates and jewellery on display. We reconvened outside and I ushered the group across the road and into what had once been the Girls Club for the village, my trunk picked up the wonderful aroma of freshly baked cake and knowing that Nanty Carys and Nuncle Les were always up for a cuppa I suggested a snack stop.

With soup and sandwiches devoured we left Woolly to finish all the crumbs we made our way into the museum.

Woolly says – I love a good interactive museum and as I happily designed my own house on paper with colourful stamps before guessing the year of the soap powder design I read more about what life had been like for the families and those that worked here over the decades. A short film explained about how slum conditions covered the cities and industrial landscapes at the time and that the people employed by Lever built wonderful lives within the village, with their vegetable growing and ability to advance through the firm many folks thought it the best place to live in the world and to be fair having seen some of the houses already I could only agree with them.

There was something for all of us to do, engage with or read about and although small the museum gave a great deal.

Woolly says – As I gave up trying to work out the ingredients for Scouse (a type of lamb or beef stew. The word comes from "Lobscouse" a stew commonly eaten by sailors throughout Northern Europe, which became popular in seaports such as Liverpool). I found that many famous people had played here in the past and that the Beatles had played their first gig with Ringo Starr in the hall on the 18th August 1962, not a bad claim to fame in my book.

I led the way round the corner and we entered into one of the houses that Lever had constructed. All of the homes had three bedrooms and Lever had decreed that if a couple didn’t have children they could rent one of the bedrooms out to a lodger and fellow worker at the soap plant. The trust still maintains the houses in the village and has modernised throughout the years to keep up to date with technology and life.

With legs starting to tire we wandered towards the church that has also been a central point of village life.

Woolly says – Built in 1904 it had a lovely Gothic feel to it with the inside providing a wonderful wooden framed ceiling with huge colourful stained glass windows. As I padded outside leaving the adults to talk, I found myself before the final resting place for William Hesketh Lever, 1st Viscount Leverhulme which was simple but elegantly done. I murmured a thank you for the legacy he had left behind before realising that Jo had escaped and was heading down the road leaving everyone else behind. I set off at a gallop and came to a skidding halt in front of the school where her Father had once gone. Smiling up at her I gave a her a kick of sympathy and suggested that we head to the car and a tour round the other streets.

Not a bad plan from a mammoth!

Woolly says – Wonderful vibrant gardens, beautiful houses that are well tended and homely along with grander buildings that provided entertainment, shops and banking for all that lived there. I wonder how many pistachio’s a house would sell for in this idyllic place?

Additional photos below
Photos: 31, Displayed: 28


26th August 2017

What a visionary with social responsibilities!
6th September 2017

Visionary indeed
I had wondered if Bournville in Birmingham had been the first village of this kind but Port Sunlight came before, truly beautiful place to live but reckon that house prices might not be cheap!

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