It is my last week living in Cheshire this week and consequently I have been saying my goodbyes to some of my hallowed haunts! On the weekend I visited Liverpool (where I wished the ground could have swallowed me up after having nearly killed a young couple with a hard golf ball and a very unfortunate swing at the crazy golf course), on Monday I went to Chester and enjoyed sitting on the green outside the cathedral. On Tuesday, however, I visited somewhere I’d never been before but had promised myself I would visit while living on the Wirral.
The place in question was Port Sunlight.
As a young boy, my grandfather always recounted stories of his youth to me. They were sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes exciting and they often revealed a lot about the way Britain was during his pre-World War II youth. I always regret not recording my grandad’s stories and recently I’ve been wracking at my brains, trying to produce written versions of his tales but they just aren’t the same – I need his precise wording!
I am starting to digress. Apologies. My grandad once told me a story about how in school they were given the option of two places for a school trip. It was either a trip to Birkenhead for a general cultural visit or a trip to Port Sunlight.
Having been to Birkenhead many a time and not overly fond of the place my grandad quickly opted for Port Sunlight, thinking it sounded like an exotic location where it would be warm and wonderful…little did he know that he had signed up for a tour of a soap factory.
He was not amused when he arrived at a grey and rainy village on the eastern side of the Wirral!
One day when I took the train to Chester via Birkenhead, the train stopped at Port Sunlight. I had temporarily forgotten about the place, but as soon as I heard the announcer say the name the memories came flooding back and I wanted to disembark there and then to go and walk along the paths where my grandad, in his youth, had been.
I resisted the temptation as I wanted to research the place first just in case this was a massive coincidence or in case the place had changed so much that it would no longer be the place my grandad had been.
I conducted some online research when I got home and found out that it is a well preserved village and that it has barely changed since it was built during the 1800s! I then made it my mission to visit the place.
Well it took my leaving to push me to visiting Port Sunlight…
It was Tuesday the 27th of March 2012 and I took the train from Neston to Port Sunlight. I alighted the train at my destination and found myself in a sunny solace in a different period of time. The adult in me was amazed that my grandad never recounted the beauty of the village but then again as I’ve not long been a ‘grown up’ I remember how the child in me couldn’t give two hoots about architecture and blooming blossoms in perfectly pruned parks!
As I wandered the streets, absorbing my surroundings, I couldn’t help but feel some kind of nostalgia. Strange I know, as I’d never been there before, I’d never lived in the late Victorian to the Interwar period…the only thing to link me and Port Sunlight was my grandad.
I knew this, of course, and found myself under the impression that I was on some kind of a pilgrimage. I felt like I was walking in my grandad’s footsteps and potentially reliving some of his youth.
Again, I digress..!
I would highly recommend visiting Port Sunlight. Its history is really rather interesting.
Port Sunlight was founded by William Hesketh Lever. He built the village to house his workers who made Sunlight soap.
The Victorian era was notorious for bad working conditions and massive social inequality. Factory owners were often regarded as money-thirsty and treated their workers badly, paying them as little as possible in order to keep as much profit for themselves… Lever was very much the opposite of a frugal Scrooge. His employees had comfortable homes set in supreme surroundings. They had bathrooms, clean streets, places to socialize… in short, life was good!
These days the village is bathed in serenity and feels really very bourgeois with its leafy streets, bowling greens, blossom-filled parks and unique houses; all the ingredients of a restful retreat and a happy haven.
I really enjoyed the tranquillity of the village. I appreciated the beauty and the neatness of the place, yet a part of me was well aware that it felt strangely otherworldly. The historian in me could feel that this was a place of the past; the world had moved one but Port Sunlight grinded to a halt long ago. I was imagining the Port Sunlight that was. A social, buzzing place filled with workmen and their families, communities that barely ventured away from the safety of the village – how different it must have been at the time and what a stark contrast from this remarkably calm hamlet today.
Whether you’re looking to revisit the quaintness of the Victorian, Edwardian or Interwar eras, or you’re looking to relive elements of your youth, to explore a new place, or to enjoy quaint, pretty and preserved architecture this may well be the perfect destination for you. Maybe you are looking for an opened time capsule, an open-air museum of sorts…again this place will happily oblige! Or maybe you quite simply want afternoon tea in a quintessential English location. Again, this attractive village will not disappoint!