Pricešs Village and Port Sunlight

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Manor Place
Price's Village (Bromborough Pool), Bromborough
Price's Village, known also as Bromborough Pool Village, owes its origins to the philanthropist William Wilson, whose father and uncles developed a village called Wilsontown with good quality workers' housing adjacent to their family estate in Lanarkshire, Scotland, following the discovery of iron there. Wilson became a successful merchant importing goods such as tallow from Russia and decided to go into candle manufacture with his partner Benjamin Lancaster. The business was originally called Edward Price and Co. (a fictitious name) and their first factory was in Vauxhall, London.
The Wilsons were a deeply religious family, concerned for the wellbeing of employees, especially children. The company sought to build good quality housing for its workers in London but could not buy any land. However, their second factory at Bromborough Pool (close to where most of their imports were landed) was a 42 acre (17 ha) green field site, where Price's also built a village, eventually of 142 houses with a church, school, institute, shop and library for its workforce. The village inspired to William Lever to build his own model village at nearby Port Sunlight in the 1880s.
Price's Village in 1899
When tallow, a purified form of beef or mutton fat, was the only cheap available alternative to beeswax for making candles (sputtering and smelly as it was), Price's immediately started to use coconuts subjected to a saponification technique. They were also able to refine tallow, vegetable oils, fish oil and industrial waste greases to produce a hard, pure white fat known as stearine, making candles that burned brightly without smoke or smell. Another innovation was a process for cleaning palm oil with sulphuric acid to create a new cheap source of fat. Price's initally made the mistake of not taking out patents, enabling the competition to benefit from their research. In 1847 the company became Price's Patent Candle Company, showing that it had learnt the lesson, and by 1858 held 114 patents for different candle manufacturing inventions.   The village plan was devised by London architect Julian Hill with houses, initially short terraces and later semi-detached, on a grid pattern. The first houses to be built were on York Street. 32 houses were erected and the first resident moved in in 1854. Manor Place with 16 houses was built in 1856 and by 1858 there were 76 houses altogether with a population of 460. A second phase of building started in 1872 including a new road, South View, with 6 houses, six more being added in 1877. A third phase of building took place between 1896 and 1901 with new houses in Manor Place and South View. These later red brick houses may have been influenced by the architecture at Port Sunlight village. Further houses in Manor Road and South View were added in 1900.
Price's Candle Factory and Village in 1928
South View
St. Matthew's Church
The public buildings are all in a row on York Street. The yellow brick village hall of 1858, designed by Julian Hill in a similar style to the original factory, which is now almost entirely demolished, was originally the school. Religion formed an integral part of village and factory life. There was no proper chapel initially in the village, although services and bible classes were supervised by the company chaplain. The villagers' petition to Price's for a new church in 1885 was accepted and the cost largely met by the company. The resulting, originally non-denominational, sandstone chapel was opened in 1890. It later became St. Matthew's church (Church of England). The sandstone replacement school was built in 1898.
To finish, here are the comments of John Nelson Tarn in his article The model village at Bromborough Pool in Town Planning Review, 1965.
Bromborough [Pool]'s place in the history of the model community should be recognised more widely than it is today, for, although a small village at first, it was in reality the first garden village, with its open spaces, its gardens and planting. In these respects it was far in advance of anything built at that time. Only in the simple unaffected layout of the streets and the vernacular quality of the architecture does [it] suggest its early date. In the concept of space and density it was a forerunner of the garden city [...], and for its place in the history of enlightened factory management it merits our attention today.
The Village Hall
The School House
Port Sunlight
The remarkable Port Sunlight village was the brainchild of William Hesketh Lever (1851-1925). His commitment to providing decent accomodation for his workers arose from the 1840s movement for housing and sanitary reform that lead to the 1851 Housing and 1875 Health Acts, but went much further. His particular vision was a combination of earlier model housing schemes with the principles of 18th century landscape design as transmuted in many existing Regency suburbs and spa towns.
Port Sunlight village and the works c.1900
Plan of Port Sunlight in 1914
To quote William Lever:
  It is my hope [...] to build houses in which our work-people will be able to live and be comfortable. Semi-detached houses, with gardens back and front, in which they will be able to know more about the science of life than they can in a back slum, and in which they will learn that there is more enjoyment in life than in the mere going to and returning from work, and looking forward to Saturday night to draw their wages [...] Ten to twelve houses to the acre is the maximum that ought to be allowed [...] houses should be built a minimum of 15 feet from the roadway [...] every house should have space available in the rear for a vegetable garden [...] open spaces for recreation should be laid out at frequent and convenient centres.
Lever was born in Bolton to a family of wholesale grocers, a business he duly entered. From 1884, he specialised in soap manufacture, setting up with his brother James Darcy Lever (1854-1910) as Lever Brothers. The extremely rapid growth in the business was only partly due to the superiority of the eponymous 'Sunlight' soap; more importantly, he introduced the small packets that we are now familiar with, attractively wrapped and imaginatively advertised using appropriate images from contemporary paintings.
Lever diversified his business after the Word War I, particularly into margarine, and the 1930 merger with the Dutch Margarine Union led to the current Unilever empire.
The site was on the north side of Bromborough Pool opposite Price's Village, from which Lever no doubt took inspiration. The land was unpromisingly marshy and crossed by three muddy tidal creeks, tributaries of Bromborough Pool. However, it was close to road, rail and sea routes. The factory was completed in 1889 on the site of the old Bebington Cement Works.
The author of the original plan for the village is not known for certain. It may have been local architect William Owen, but at any rate William Lever had a big hand in it. Initially there were 24 acres (10 ha) for the factory and 32 acres (13 ha) for the village. Owen designed the factory, the first 28 houses and the entrance lodge in 1889-90. This original housing was that between the factory and the Dell. Bromborough Pool was dammed in 1902 and the Dell was the result of draining and landscaping the southernmost of the original tidal creeks; the bridge was constructed in 1894.
The village site expanded gradually to the present 130 acres (53 ha). The final plans for the village as it now stands were due to Ernest Prestwick, a third year student in the School of Architecture at Liverpool University, who won a competition in 1910 run by the school and the Department of Civic Design; not many undergraduate dissertations have such influence! The other tidal creeks were mostly filled in by 1910 and correspond to the present green spaces along Lower Road and The Causeway. Where the street plan departs from a regular geometric pattern, it is because of these streams.
Houses on Park Road
Houses on Lower Road
The Dell
The War Memorial
Christ Church
Park Road and the Lyceum
The Diamond is the central boulevard of the village, named from the original open space crossed diagonally by the tidal creeks. This space was extended into an 1,800 by 200 ft (550 by 60 m) mall with associated housing in Prestwick's plan in 1911-1913. This may have been inspired by American models; it is reminiscent of the Mall in Washington DC on a smaller scale, especially with the classical architecture of the Lady Lever Gallery at the northern end (admittedly not quite the Capitol).
The War Memorial, by W. Goscombe John, was completed in 1921 as an unsentimental reflection on 'defence of the home'. It occupies a focal point of the village at the intersection of the Diamond and the Causeway.
The subdued, classical Lady Lever Gallery, designed by William and Segar Owen in memory of Lever's wife Elizabeth who had died in 1913, and completed in 1922, is probably the finest building in Port Sunlight. Segar Owen described to Lever his concept of 'keeping a simple building with the entrances as the outstanding features [...] long lines giving this large building a low dignified appearance [that would] harmonise with the village, but at the same time stand out apart'. The fountain in front, of 1949, is by Charles Wheeler.
The gallery reflects Lever's artistic preoccupations, with several rooms in the style of different periods and collections of sculpture, pottery, furniture, tapestries and paintings, most notably English Victorian art. Among some famous examples of the latter are Burne-Jones's lurid Tree of Forgiveness and Beguiling of Merlin, Rossetti's Blessed Damozel and William Holman Hunt's extraordinary Scapegoat. Among other artists represented are Turner, Constable, Gainsborough, Reynolds, Stubbs, Waterhouse, Millais and Sargent, and there is a nice portrait by George Romney of the peachy Sarah Rodbard. Note also Joseph Farquharson's perennial Christmas card favourite The shortening winter's day is near a close. A source of amusement, to me at least, is the painting Andromeda, by William Etty, unsurprisingly decried as pornography by his contemporaries. He later added chains to her to emphasise the classical over the visceral, which the caption writer for the gallery was not quite convinced had the desired effect.
The English gothic styled Christ Church, built of Helsby sandstone, was completed in 1904. It was initially non-denominational, an oddity that fitted with Lever's non-conformist views ('a church in whose worship all Christian people, except those of extreme views, could share'). The beautiful interior has some magnificent stained glass. It is now a United Reformed Church.
Hulme Hall was completed in 1901 and named after Lever's wife and childhood friend Elizabeth Hulme. It was originally a girls' dining room capable of seating 1500. When a works canteen was established, it was used as a museum and art gallery until the completion of the Lady Lever Gallery. It has since been used for special functions and gatherings and was the venue of an early Beatles concert.
The Lyceum was completed in 1896 and was originally a school and a venue for Sunday services; it is now a social club. The Bridge Inn was built in 1900 and was originally a temperance hall, following Lever's belief in abstinence. Even so, it had become licensed by 1903. It was designed according to an idealised concept of the ancient English hostelry, with dining, tea and assembly rooms.
The Diamond
The Lady Lever Gallery
Hulme Hall
The Bridge Inn
To conclude and reflect upon the international influence of Port Sunlight is this quote by Hermann Muthesius in his book Das Englische Haus, 1905:
If one wishes to obtain a quick and accurate appreciation of the achievement of contemporary English house-building, there is hardly a more comfortable means than by undertaking a journey to the factory village of Port Sunlight near Liverpool [where] the gates of a new world were first opened: in place of the dismal appearance of utilitarian buildings we were shown a new vision; in place of the misery associated with the barren rows of workers' terraces we find joyfulness and homeliness.
Acknowledgements and Further Reading
The aerial photo of Price's Candle Factory is from Britain from Above (copying permitted for non-commercial use). The aerial view of Port Sunlight is from a Facebook page; my thanks to the originator. For a detailed history of the candle works see A History of Price's Candles. For further reading on Port Sunlight see in particular A Guide to Port Sunlight Village, 2005, by Edward Hubbard and Michael Shippobottom. For an online resource see The Victorian Web: Port Sunlight, from where I have borrowed the plan; my thanks to the authors. The definitive book on the Garden Village Movement, which is particularly strong on Port Sunlight, is the monumental study Paradise Planned: The Garden Suburb and the Modern City, by Robert A.M. Stern, David Fishman and Jacob Tilove, 2013, to which I had the honour of contributing a number of photographs. Another essential source is the Pevsner guide: The Buildings of England - Cheshire (2011), by Clare Hartwell, Matthew Hyde, Edward Hubbard and Nikolaus Pevsner.
This is a non-commercial website that is intended entirely for research and educational purposes. If I have unintentionally breached copyright with any images, I hope that the copyright owner will tolerate my usage in the present context, otherwise I will remove the material. Modern colour photographs are by the author.