William Lever’s vision for Port Sunlight village was to reform the lives of working class people employed by his soap manufacturing company Lever Brothers. To do this he tried to provide everything they could need within the village. Although he did this in what he thought were his workers’ best interests, he expected residents to follow a strict set of rules about their behaviour.
Here, you can browse some highlights of non-residential drawings from the digitised plans in the Drawn Together collection. Or use the Find a Plan search function on the home page to find a specific plan.
Building a community
The first non-residential building constructed in Port Sunlight was Gladstone Hall, completed in 1891. Named after the former Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898), it was a men’s dining hall and events space for Lever Brothers’ workforce in Port Sunlight. Today the building is still in use as the Gladstone Theatre.
To meet the needs of the growing population in the village, Lever then built the following for their use:
- women’s dining halls
- train station
- two schools
- a technical institute
- non-denominational church
- cottage hospital
- girls’ hospice (which quickly became a lending library and savings bank)
- social clubs
- swimming baths
- football pitch, tennis lawns and bowling lawns
- 3000-seat auditorium
- and the Lady Lever Art Gallery.
Most of Port Sunlight’s non-residential buildings reflect the arts and crafts character of the village. However, two significant buildings look quite different from the rest of the village. William Lever personally paid for the design and construction of Christ Church (William and Segar Owen, 1904) and Lady Lever Art Gallery (William and Segar Owen, 1922). Everything else Lever Brothers commissioned and paid for with company funds.
The church is decorated with elaborate carved stone details in the late Gothic revival style. The architects used strong horizontal forms to create quite a robust, squat church. But at the west end of the building, is the Lady Lever Memorial (1914). Here the designers used a more delicate vertical form as a contrast.
The art gallery is an excellent example of École des Beaux Arts classicism, which Lever admired. He visited the nearly complete Chicago World’s Fair in 1892. Where he took inspiration from the grand boulevards and neoclassical buildings on display.
In 1913 designers began work on the art gallery which would become Lever’s contribution to this architectural movement. It also completes Ernest Prestwich’s competition-winning axial plan (1910) for The Diamond at the heart of the village. The gallery is clad with limestone, in contrast to the traditional local materials used elsewhere in the village. It was a bold choice for its location.
Demolition and change
Port Sunlight looks today very much like it did during William Lever’s lifetime. Many of the buildings and facilities Lever Brothers commissioned remain and are in use today. However, some were demolished or new uses were introduced. The auditorium was demolished in the 1930s and enemy action destroyed the village shops during the Second World War. The technical institute is now apartments for over 55’s and the cottage hospital is a luxury hotel.
Although Port Sunlight’s green landscapes remain, most of the outdoor facilities have been removed or changed use. The swimming baths were demolished in the 1970s, the football pitch is now the site of Osborne Court, a retirement home, the tennis lawns became bowling lawns and the playgrounds are now open green spaces.