Introduction Port Sunlight, an industrial village built in 1888 in a Liverpool suburb, came into existence from Lever's project. It was not an isolated initiative. Confronted with the problems of poverty and 'immorality' of their work force, many factory owners constructed dwellings for their workers. Port Sunlight is one of the numerous testimonies of the attempts of individuals to cope with social issues. However, it raises the question of the share between humanism and paternalism.
It also gives an insight of Victorian values. Part I 19th century values in Port Sunlight Firstly, Port sunlight is a construction glorifying 19th century values upheld by Lever. One of its aims is to praise him, not as a private individual but as a member of the enlightened elite. The constructions are characterized by monumental design, perceptible in the avenues, the Gallery or the fountain (fig 1, 2&3). The design also underlines the artistic preoccupations of the 19th century with its references to the Antic and typical English art as cultural background - for instance, the belief that the combination of the more accomplished former arts was a way to achieve perfect art.
Lever even tried to inculcate the values of 'patriotism' to his workers in Lady Lever Art Gallery where were exposed typical English productions (fig 4) especially English toils. What is more, Liver Port Sunlight shows Lever's faith in progress and science. Under his aegis, the architects used space pragmatically, for instance, setting the Post Office just opposite the railway station. This avoided loss of time when bringing mail.
The choice of site, near the two main transport ways, fluvial and railway, acknowledges this preoccupation. The geographical organisation allowed easy circulation and coercion, if necessary, (riots being utmost feared) thanks to big avenue. Modernism has its share: new techniques are involved in the provision of a cinema projection room, with the proximity of the railway. Part II Scientific basis of Port Sunlight project Lever, as an individual benefactor, put into practice the scientific theories of his time. For example, the last epidemics (e.g. 1842, cholera) had generated scientific theories. They showed that confined areas were propitious to the development of illnesses.
As a consequence, Lever took care to provide his village with green open areas (fig 7), parks (fig 6), used the proximity of the river and favoured the air circulation with large avenues. He took notice of the considerations about cleanliness and provided the lodging with back enclosures (fig 5) for cleaning. Each house, drawn according to a general plan, comprehended an outside water closet which, compared with the living conditions in Liverpool, was a notable improvement. Sociology had also a new impact on nineteenth century Britain.
For example, Durkheim introduced the thesis of the 'moralization of the poor', which was the only efficient way to avoid social struggle. Public Disorder was indeed one of the main fears of the 19th century. Lever believed, like most nineteenth century thinkers, that workers healthy in mind and spirit were less eager to rebel. He consequently provided his village with a church, education provisions, cultural infrastructures in addition to healthy construction (for instance a gymnasium, an open-air swimming men's club for men). On top of that, unlike other projects which were of a very utilitarian design, Port Sunlight enclosed the labour force in a beautiful environment so to elevate their minds; hence the care given to details (fig 8, 9, 10&11) in the architecture with the use of colours, sculptures, ornamentation. The Victorian literature aimed at emphasising the risk represented in the work force at leisure.
Lever consequently promoted the creation of socialising areas which would not represent a threat, such as the Gladstone theatre, clubs (sports, artistic, musicals, etc) though unlike other owners he finally agreed to the construction of a pub. The organisation of cottages in groups (fig 12&13) developed social cohesion around Liver's factory which was the living centre of the village. To keep better control on them, some owners even built their houses in the neighbourhood of the factory. Part 'Self-Help' and Paternalism However, Lever's project shows an inner contradiction. Indeed, it vacillates between self-help and paternalism. For instance, Lever aimed at praising work while he provided everything needed to his work force.
Hence, the factory was the first sight workers had when they arrived and clocks are numerous (fig 14) to remind workers of the value of time. Indeed, Lever was a great admirer of Smiles' book published in 1859 and who witnessed the Victorian understanding of charity, which must not be a substitute for 'self-help'. The imposing architecture emphasises the value of work and its power to bring wealth. It must not be forgotten than most private initiatives emerged from individuals who had professionally succeeded and had a blind faith in self achievement. Lever was a self-made man who had made a fortune from the family enterprise.
Finally, what is the share of interest and philanthropy in the Port Sunlight project? First, these constructions were a reply to 'turn-over', an habit of the workers not to settle in a job but to move area frequently according to new opportunities. To provide good living conditions and to link them personally to Lever dissuaded them to apply for other jobs and settled them. Moreover, the instruction of the workers' children through the educational provisions (fig 15) enabled Lever to secure a younger generation of efficient and obedient workers. Moreover, the presence of many parks and green areas (fig 6&7) reminding his workers of their countryside roots was also a way to attach them more easily to their new environment when lots of them had experienced urban drift. Conclusion To conclude, there is an inner hiatus in the project of Port Sunlight.
To this extent, it is a faithful testimony of 19th century social initiative, torn between charity and 'laissez-faire'. It shows the response made to social problem by particulars but the values underlined are those of the saying, "Heaven helps those who help themselves". It is an illustration of the polemical involvement of an authority which preferred reliance on individual initiative to law promulgation.
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Glen, Urban Workers in the Industrial Revolution, (Beckenham, 1984) E.
Hopkins, Industrialisation and Society, 1830-1951, (London, 2000) Port Sunlight Village Trust leaflet Website: web.