Port Sunlight was founded by Lord Lever in 1888 to provide housing for workers at his soap factory. Most of the surviving buildings are from the early 20th century (Lever died in 1925) and included a school, swimming pool, church, cottage hospital – all set in a green expanse alongside the railway line. It’s rather twee and paternalistic, but, like all similar enterprises, must have been delightful in comparison to the alternatives. The building styles are eclectic but backward-looking: at one moment you are in Chester and the next in a Flemish béguinage. I couldn’t help but compare it to Hilversum – begun later, but built by the municipality rather than private philanthropy.
I had gone to visit the Lady Lever art gallery, which was opened in 1922 to house Lord Lever’s collection. It’s a perfect little neo-classical temple to art . . . built of reinforced concrete. It has many familiar pre-Raphaelites (the taste for which I have outgrown, but with a lingering love of the Arthur Mee familiars), lots of 18th-century neo-classical furniture (some of which still shows rococo tendencies) and paintings (like John Henry Frederick Bacon’s The Wedding Morning) which Lever thought would make good soap adverts. There’s 20th-century art too, including some of the artists from the Edinburgh exhibition in the summer.
And another hyperreal landscape by J Mackintosh Patrick and OF COURSE a bust by Epstein.