Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Daytripping: Port Sunlight. . .

Across the Mersey on the Wirral lies the utopian town of Port Sunlight.  I have a fascination with utopian towns, loving the ambitiousness and social consciousness of it all.  My grandparents lived for years in Saltaire, a Victorian Yorkshire town built by Titus Salt, the owner of a woollen mill that introduced alpaca into their yarn mix.  It's now a World Heritage Site and Salts Mills has turned wonderfully into this.  It's one of my favourite places in the world and I'll hopefully be making a visit soon.

But in the meantime there was Port Sunlight to explore.  If you're visiting Liverpool you can get a Saveaway card that allows you unlimited travel on all the buses, underground and the ferry that crosses the Mersey. It's well worth getting.  I took the underground to Port Sunlight and the moment you exit the station, the town's uniqueness hits you.  The village was founded in 1888 by William Heskett Lever, a soap magnate who wanted to give his factory employees decent housing.  He engaged more than thirty architects including Edwin Lutyens to design the workers' "cottages" and walking around the streets, you see such a wonderful variety of architecture. I'm sure these "cottages" are worth a fortune now.  

Over 500 of Lever's employees died in the First World War and there is a rather splendid war memorial in the centre of the village. 

And here's the vista leading up to the second major reason for visiting Port Sunlight - the fabulous Lady Lever Art Gallery.

I think this may have taken top spot now for my favourite art gallery near Liverpool.  It has a lovely collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings and indeed they had an exhibit on the work of  Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1872-1945), a woman I'd never heard of, but who painted very much in the Pre-Raphaelite tradition as well as doing some wonderful book illustrations and stained glass windows.

She also had a modern touch - one of my favourite works in the show was her 1918 painting The Guardian Angel (The Genius of Flight) which shows a huge angel protecting a tiny airplane within her hands while below there are three smaller paintings of Da Vinci, an early 20th centyry airman, and Icarus.  I just loved her work and of course couldn't resist buying the exhibition book.

William Lever collected over 20,000 works of art and the Lady Lever also has one of the finest collections in the world of Wedgewood's jasper ware - so, so gorgeous.

I could spend hours looking at all the detail and craft contained in this wonderful room sandwiched appropriately between a room full of beautiful Greek vases and another showcasing their Chinese porcelain collection.  There are also several period rooms filled with furniture and textiles.   I really enjoyed my visit and would highly recommend this gallery.  You can even glimpse a bit of history in the loos (and you don't need a penny now).

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