Port Sunlight is unique as it combines decent housing for the working classes with the picturesque visual traditions and movements of the 19th century. This includes the aesthetic movement, which emphasised visual and sensual qualities of art and design, and the Arts and Crafts Movement, with its emphasis on traditional craftsmanship.
Port Sunlight is also often considered to be part of and an influence on the Garden City Movement, with its ideas of planned settlements combining the best elements of town and country living. In his 1898 book, To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform, Sir Ebenezer Howard offered the Garden City Movement as a solution to the problem of unhealthy, overcrowded cities and the poor conditions of the agricultural classes. William Hesketh Lever was directly involved in both the Garden City Association, formed in 1899, and the First Garden City Company Ltd, helping to oversee the establishment of the world’s first Garden City at Letchworth in Hertfordshire in 1903. However, despite his commitment to the movement, the origins of Lever’s Port Sunlight also lie in the tradition of the industrial ‘model village’.
Port Sunlight was by no means the first model industrial village: the idea of factory owners providing housing for their employees dates back to the 18th century; the most famous example is probably New Lanark on the River Clyde in Scotland, developed by Robert Owen from 1800. Later into the 19th century, more ordered and planned settlements were developed. Saltaire near Shipley (from 1851) was built by Sir Titus Salt for the employees of his textile mill on the River Aire and is recognised as the most important example of an early industrial village.