Lever had ambitions to be an architect but his father insisted that he become involved in the family grocery business. However, Lever’s wealth became such that he could indulge his passion for art and architecture in the houses he bought, built and furnished, and of course in the construction of Port Sunlight.
A diversity of style
Nearly every period of British architecture is represented in Port Sunlight through revival design, making a walk through the village a journey through Britain’s architectural heritage. Lever employed more than 30 different architects in the building of the village, and the result is a mix of styles enhanced by a beautiful parkland setting. Some excellent public sculpture, including one of the finest and largest war memorials in the UK, makes Port Sunlight a unique and inspiring space. Most of the houses and all of its public buildings were awarded Grade II Listed status in 1965.
The diversity of the architecture in Port Sunlight is highlighted by a look at the main buildings in the village. From the beautiful Gladstone Theatre to stunning Hulme Hall and the imposing Lyceum, each was approached on an individual basis and has its own architectural style. The surrounding landscape plays an important role in unifying these buildings and village houses.
The combination of mainly two-storey buildings with pitched roofs and a variety of styles and finishes creates a pleasant environment which some observers have termed ‘Olde English’, but which never actually existed. Clearly Lever was instrumental in the creation of this largely artificial environment that reflected his own aspirations for his workers and society as a whole.
Most buildings use traditional materials such as Cheshire red brick with combinations of stucco, harling render, stone dressings and ‘black and white’ half-timber frame. Tudor spiral chimneys combined with ‘four-centred’ perpendicular arches in various areas give a ‘mock Tudor’ effect. This was copied by builder-developers in the expanding suburbs of the inter-war years, and as a result some of its originality has been diluted by repetition.
Outwardly the buildings at Port Sunlight show great decoration and ornamentation, while the views to the rear can be stark. Lever deliberately concentrated the quality of construction and detailing to the front ‘main’ elevations while the rear spaces, which were not on public view, were treated in a more utilitarian fashion.