Port Sunlight has many remarkable, fascinating and beautiful features. Its greatest importance is that it is the first model settlement for workers based on picturesque principles. Earlier workers’ housing schemes were based on grid plans and long regimented terraces. It was Lever’s interests in architecture, travel and books, and his friendships with architects which informed his vision and plan for Port Sunlight.
Though the Drawn Together partners’ drawing collections either do not include the site plans or the site plans remain in copyright, this section gives an overview of the key documents and what can be learnt from them.
Lever and his architects made well-informed use of progressive town planning and landscape design for the village. If you compare older and newer areas of the village you can see how their ideas changed over time. The oldest sections of the village reflect a late Victorian, Arts and Crafts Movement-inspired landscape and layout, with winding streets and dense plantings.
In areas designed later, like The Diamond and The Causeway, you can see avenues lined with trees and neo-classical architecture inspired by the École des Beaux Arts and Garden City movements.
Lever and architect William Owen wanted to ensure that houses had both a public and a private aspect. So they worked for passers-by and residents. They devised a courtyard layout with housing blocks in lines around the perimeter. Public facades with architectural detailing face outwards and at the rear, plain facades face onto an internal courtyard of enclosed yards and communal allotments. These internal courtyards are largely private, so visitors passing by would only see the public elevations. This layout is now known as a ‘superblock’ because of its size.
Significant site plans
You can trace the development of the village through the maps and site plans produced over the years by:
- the Ordnance Survey Department
- and architecture students.
William Owen (1846-1910) drew the first site plan for the village, it illustrates the site as it was in 1889. Criss-crossed by tidal inlets with the earliest houses shown on Bolton Road.
1902 Site Plan
William Lever used this 1902 plan of the village for a paper to the Architectural Association, called ‘The Buildings Erected at Port Sunlight and Thornton Hough’. It shows the planning and development for housing arranged in the superblock pattern around the perimeter of the site and the Dell. Many of the village amenities are also shown:
- the Lyceum which served as the first village school and church
- village shops
- Hulme hall
- Gladstone hall
- open air swimming pool
Also shown are Christ Church and the Church Drive school which were in construction but not yet completed by 1902.
A new direction – site plan from 1910
Ernest Prestwich’s 1910 plan for Port Sunlight won a design competition held by the University of Liverpool’s School of Architecture. Lever commissioned the competition then worked with his architects to refine Prestwich’s plan. This plan introduced formal École des Beaux Arts and Garden City design principles to the village. This included an axial plan for The Diamond and The Causeway. Prestwich reorganised The Diamond to introduce these design concepts. He managed to do with without removing the existing housing or amenity buildings.
Although this plan was not fully realised, it inspired major changes to The Diamond after the first world war.
Site Plan for 1938
A Port Sunlight historian, Michael Shippobottom, drew a plan of the village as it was in 1938, at the time of the first Jubilee celebration to mark the founding of the village. The plan, reproduced in Edward Hubbard and Shippobottom’s A Guide to Port Sunlight Village illustrates the village at the end of its first fifty years. The plan, drawn specifically for the Royal Academy’ Lord Leverhulme exhibition in 1980, is not in the collections of the Drawn Together partners. However you can order the 3rd Edition of this book from good book sellers or buy a copy in the Port Sunlight Museum shop.