Port Sunlight has been on my list of places to visit for a while but there never seemed a particular reason to visit. Then I heard about the exhibition 'A Pre-Raphaelite journey: Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale' at the Lady Lever Art Gallery, and fell in love with her painting The Little Foot Page which was on the front of the publicity leaflet. The Gallery also has a large collection of other Pre-Raphaelite paintings too, so, off we went. We left under foggy skies but, by the time we arrived at our destination, the sun's rays had worked their magic, and Port Sunlight was living up to its name. After admiring the paintings in the exhibition and some of the other exhibits, we decided to take a look around the village.
Many visitors come to Port Sunlight purely to see the architecture. The village was built by William Hesketh Lever to house the workers from his soap factory: Sunlight soap being the factory's most famous product. Rather than the cramped row upon row of small terraced houses in many other Northern towns, he believed workers who lived in pleasant surroundings would be happier and more productive.
Take a walk with us, admire the houses, and I'll tell you some more of its history.
Port Sunlight was founded in 1888 and Lever employed almost 30 architects to design his 'model' village. Look at the diamond pattern brickwork on the gable end of this house. I think these were my favourite windows too (though I did think they might be a pain to clean!).
There are 900 houses and no two blocks of houses are the same. These reminded me of the quintessential English cottage.
All of the communal areas and front gardens are maintained by a charitable trust set up by Unilever (the company which developed from Lever's original firm). Several of the houses have this half-timbered mock-Tudor style.
This is Bridge Cottage where Lever lived for a year whilst doing alterations to his manor house. I thought the cobblestone effect on the walls was interesting and particularly liked the spiral chimneys.
Although the fronts of the houses have lots of architectural detail and interest, the backs are very plain. Rather like a film set, I suppose.
Lever didn't just build houses: he also wanted his workers to have opportunities for education, worship and social gatherings, so there was a school, church, church hall, social clubs, an outdoor swimming pool and a gymnasium. Some of these buildings no longer have their original purpose - for example, a garden centre is now on the site of the swimming pool.
After our walk we stopped off at the Tudor Rose Tea Rooms for lunch. It was originally the village shop and then a post office before becoming a cafe in 2005. I loved the red and white theme with the gingham and lace tablecloths. My tea came in a pot with a red-checked tea cosy and a tea strainer - yes, real tea leaves! There was a shelf all around the ceiling piled with old toys, and pictures everywhere - lots and lots of things to catch the eye. As well as people watching through the large windows.
The last thing on our itinerary was the small but interesting museum near the Gallery. As we made our way there, we were fascinated by this Analemmatic sundial. You stand on the flagstone for the month and the time is shown by your shadow being cast across the number pillars. The inner circle was for British summer time and the outer circle for winter. Very clever. (Just in case you're looking at the time shown on the dial, this photo was really taken earlier in the day. We went back later but this ended up being the better photo).
We had a lovely day out with just the right mix of art, culture, history and fresh air. Having said that, what do you think was Chickpea's highlight of the day?
Yep, she got to stroke a very friendly cat. Isn't it usually the simple things which give the most pleasure?
PS. We actually visited in the middle of October and the Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale exhibition has now ended: apologies if you thought you might visit. Her painting 'The Little Foot Page' is usually on display at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool and I remember that several of her illustrations and other paintings were on loan from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.