A walk through Port Sunlight is like a journey through England’s architectural heritage set in a beautiful parkland setting. The picturesque character of this late 19th century garden village is no coincidence. Its founder, William Hesketh Lever (1851-1925) built Port Sunlight to house the workers at his soap factory, Lever Brothers, which eventually became the global giant, Unilever.
Lever became one of the most successful entrepreneurs of his time and Port Sunlight is a testament to both the success of his company, which still manufactures products on site today, and the culmination of his aesthetic and architectural aspirations. What was the vision behind this model worker´s village? Who lived here? Who maintains the more than 900 listed buildings still in use? The Port Sunlight Museum offers answers. After providing an overall picture of the settlement thanks to a detailed scale model of the village and factory, it invites visitors to discover facts about life as a Sunlighter and amazes them as the characters they meet in the exhibition zone come to life in the film “Sunlight Spirit”. Next door a former worker’s cottage has been opened as part of the museum’s visitor experience. Pop in for a visit before exploring the village on your own or with a tour guide. Wrap up your day with a visit to the magnificent Lady Lever Art Gallery.
Lever built the village as part of a business model he termed ‘prosperity-sharing’. Rather than sharing the profits of the company directly with his employees, Lever provided them with decent and affordable houses, amenities and welfare provisions that made their lives secure and comfortable and enabled them to flourish as people. It was also intended to inspire loyalty and commitment. Lever also campaigned for better welfare and a shorter working day, and supported education and medical projects. His passion for art and architecture can be seen throughout the village, not just at the purpose-built Lady Lever Art Gallery, making the village an enduring testament to his remarkable achievements.
On a grid of 130 acres not less than 30 architects contributed to the design of over 150 two-storey terraces in varied revival architectural styles and configurations. The terraces formed blocks which were originally built around community allotments, now gardens. No two terrace blocks were identical, and the public buildings also differed in style, including a church, hospital, post office, fire station, schools, social clubs, dining halls, dormitories and not least the neo-classical Lady Lever Art gallery. Despite the variety of architectural details used for the terraces in the village, there were two standard dwellings: a smaller one without a living-room, accommodating working-class families, and a larger one including a living-room, mostly reserved for foremen, clerks and heads of departments. All houses had a toilet (typically in an outhouse) and most had a bath with hot running water, which was innovative at the time for the homes of the working classes. Visitors can experience early 20th century life in the village through the museum’s Worker’s Cottage, which is decorated as it would have been after it was completed in 1913.
In August 1962, the Beatles were paid £30 for their appearance at the "After Show Dance" of the local Horticultural Society. No wonder that the museum devotes special attention to the four pop legends. However, apart from their VIP status there was nothing unusual about the event. On the contrary, in the past and today, Port Sunlight offers a lot of opportunities for entertainment and distraction, such as theatrical performances, fairs, bowling tournaments, road races and events for children.
Port Sunlight was designated a Conservation Area in 1978 and over 900 houses and most of the public buildings in the village were Grade II listed in 1965. Two formal landscapes in the village, the Dell and the Diamond, were included in the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest. Port Sunlight Village Trust (PSVT) is an independent charitable trust responsible for preserving and promoting the village. Set up by Unilever in 1999, PSVT works with Port Sunlight’s residents to create a self-sustaining village for all who live, visit and work here. All of the village’s parks, gardens, monuments and memorials are cared for by PSVT, as well as the majority of public buildings and nearly a third of the houses. PSVT also runs Port Sunlight Museum which celebrates the unique heritage of the village – its development, architecture, people and landscapes – through special exhibitions, events, learning programmes, and volunteering opportunities, all underpinned by its historical collection and archive.
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You can visit Port Sunight Village at any time for free
Port Sunlight Museum and Worker's Cottage
Wednesday - Sunday 10am-5pm