On the way back from Ellesmere Port, we stopped in the village of Port Sunlight, served by two train stations on the route we were using. The village was suggested to me by a friend, and when I looked it up it turns out to contain over 900 Grade II Listed Buildings, so we decided it was worth a look…
Status: Wirral District, Merseyside, Village, England
Travel: Merseyrail (Ellesmere Port – Port Sunlight), Merseyrail (Bebington – Southport, via Liverpool Central)
Eating & Sleeping: N/A
Attractions: Lady Lever Art Gallery, War Memorial, The Lyceum, Christ Church, Lever House, Old Buildings, Leverhulme Memorial etc
We decided to alight at Port Sunlight station, and walk through the village the short distance to the next station along, Bebington, close to the adjoining town of Bebington. This was around a 15 minute walk and took us past all of the major landmarks of the village.
We exited the station, and we were suddenly in this picture perfect world, of finely laid out streets, trimmed bushes and, in every direction, beautiful old buildings that look like they were built yesterday.
At the end of the road, was the above building, and the large stone front of Lever House. Port Sunlight was constructed in 1888 to house the workers of the newly built Soap Factory, which was opened by the Lever Brothers, a manufacturing company created by William Hesketh Lever (1851 – 1925) and James Darcy Lever (1854 – 1910) in 1885. The name Port Sunlight comes from the signature product the company created, called Sunlight, a powerful cleaning agent.
I imagine this building would have been their headquarters here, and even though it is one of the few stone buildings in the village it fits in perfectly, the centrepiece of a perfect setting. Or so we thought. We soon found a even more impressive centre to Port Sunlight, but more on that later.
As we kept moving, we came across a small valley, flanked on either side by beautiful trees of all colours. Halfway down a small stone bridge crossed the valley, over to the orange building with the spire, called the Lyceum. It was built between 1894 and 1896 as a school for the new community. As a newly built village there needed to be educational services, and as more and more families moved in this was a priority. It also doubled as a temporary church until the main one was built, which we came across later on.
I love this scene, it’s just so perfect and like a small fairytale village. The colours all fit together so well, especially with the radiant blue sky, which we were so lucky to have that day. The sun shone on everything and lit it up perfectly to show off all the detail.
There is such a wide variety of buildings in Port Sunlight, most of them houses, with a few shops and of course the station, the last picture in the above gallery. There are a number of styles being used, from Tudor to Georgian, yet they all blend seamlessly together to create a place that you could literally walk around for hours and still find something new and interesting. Even the train station is completely different to all the others on the Merseyrail Network, and shows how much effort has gone into the construction of Port Sunlight.
Every building was designed individually, so instead of rows of uniform houses you get a world of intrigue, with so many shapes and colours to enhance the area.
Around the side of one of the large houses, in the middle of the garden, and surrounded by colourful tulips, is the bust of a sphinx, which bears a large wooden cross on her back. It is actually also a sundial, and the metal bars holding up the cross are marked with the hours. THe shadow of one bar falls onto another and provides a reading.
A plaque is sat halfway up the column, called “The Equation of Time” and it has the minutes on in a graph with a long wave going across it. To calculate the time you read across to the current date on the graph (in 5 day intervals) and then add or subtract (depending on the graph for that day) that from the hour on the bars to give the time. It’s quite ingenius, and is one of two sundials we found in the village, and the other is just as clever.
We reached the main avenue of the village, which contains a number of interesting features. The first of these is through a tall stone arch, and is called the “Hillsborough Memorial Garden” which commemorates the 96 Liverpool FC Supports who were killed during a game with Sheffield at Hillsborough Stadium in 1989 when they were crushed during a push into part of the stadium.
The garden was planted that year and was the first of many memorials to the tragic disaster.
Moving past the memorial garden, we were greeted with an incredible view. The War Memorial is a largestone monument that makes up a roundabout in the centre of the road, with a tree lined boulevard behind it leading to the Lady Lever Art Gallery and the Port Sunlight museum at the end of the road. It looked amazing and it genuinely reminded me a bit of Washington DC in the USA, although I know obviously not quite as grand.
The War Memorial was designed by Sir William Goscombe John between 1916 and 1921. The main cross in the centre is made out of marble, and list the names of locals who died in the World Wars. A variety of copper soldiers are situated around the outside, from women and children to emergency services and soldiers, showing how the war affected everybody. It’s a beautiful construction, and a fine tribute the brave men and women of Port Sunlight.
From here we could also see down to the main church, called Christ Church. It was built between 1902 and 1904, opening late 1904. It replaced the temporary church I mentioned earlier that was in the Lyceum building. It was originally part of the Congregational Church, however it later became part of the United Reform Church. Situated in the grounds of the church is the Lever Family Vault, a memorial to Lady Lever, who I think was the mother of the two brothers.
Between the War Memorial and the Art Gallery is the second sundial we found. A plaque on the left tells you how it works:
“Analemmatic Sundial. To tell the time you need the sun. Stand on the month stone. The time will be where your shadow is cast across the hour pillars. (Inner circle for British Summer Time months. Outer Circle for Winter months)”
The month stones are on the floor between the flowers, and where your shadow falls either on the pillars or so far between them indicates what time it is.
Outside the Art Gallery is a large pool, with a bronze fountain in the centre. The whole area has been laid out perfectly, and the building itself is one of the finest surviving examples of late Victorian/Edwardian architecture. Again dedicated to Lady Lever, it was opened in 1922 by Princess Beatrice (1857 – 1944, daughter of Queen Victoria).
Inside there are collections from all over the world, many of which were to William Levers own tastes. There are also exhibitions on ceramics from China and the Wedgewood Company from Stoke-on-Trent. Sadly we didn’t have time to go inside, but the building itself is superb and it is certainly worth a return visit.
Around the other side of the fountain is the Port Sunlight Museum, which gives you a history of the village as well as showing how much it has changed over the years. Again we didn’t get chance to go in as we were heading to the next train station along but we will certainly come back for a look sometime.
The Museum also looks at the village from the inhabits perspective, from the original 125 workers to nearly 2 thousand today. It is housed in a stunning looking building, that looks like a small mansion. The view out over at the Art Gallery, the fountain and the gardens looking back towards the War Memorial is in an amazing sight.
The final structure of interest we found is the memorial to William Lever, who was the 1st Viscount of Leverhulme. It consists of a tall column, with four statues on a plinth at the front of the memorial. These represent Industry, Charity, Education and Art, all of which he brought when he founded the village all those years ago.
It is sat directly behind the Art Gallery, and although it is quite modern it is still in keeping with the rest of the village, and a fitting final tribute the man who came up with this incredible, beautiful place.
From here we walked down to Bebington Station, just a few minutes up the road. There are direct trains from here back to Ellesmere Port and round to Chester, as well as to Liverpool via Birkenhead. You can change in Liverpool for trains round to Southport, as well as Crewe, Manchester and Birmingham. Liverpool John Lennon Airport is also accessible from the city centre. The A41 runs past the village and connects it back up to Birkenhead and round to the M53 from the Wallasey Tunnel to Chester.
Port Sunlight is an incredible place, and one I highly recommend that you visit, for the stunning architecture, peaceful location and beautiful memorials.