My children loved the new library in Bebington. There were circular windows with narrow ledges that they sat on and looked at their choice of books, while glancing out at a circular pond with a fountain. That was 30 year ago and it certainly has changed. The feature windows are now blocked off from access and view by book shelves and tables. The fountain has gone and the pond now a flower bed. The whole building looks sadly worn and tired.
My husband and I visited, as part of our golden wedding nostalgia trip. We did not linger, but went on to nearby Port Sunlight village. A conservation area with many grade two listed buildings, so no change here!
The village was built in the late 19th by William Lever to house the workers in his newly built soap factory. Different architects were used, resulting in different styles of buildings. There are half-timbering buildings; some with carved woodwork and masonry, and twisted chimneys. Some houses were built in Flemish style, with bricks imported from Belgium. Interestingly, only the fronts are visible from the roads. There are open areas of lawns and flower beds bordering the tree lined roads. A game of cricket was being played on an open pitch, with grand pavilion. It all looked very spacious. Lever’s intention was to make life pleasant, with nice houses, comfortable homes, and healthy recreation – but no pub! The workers must have felt they were in heaven! I was interested to see the garden center and village theatre were still there
The most well know building in the village is the Lady Lever art gallery. Lever was a keen art collector, and the art gallery shows his collection plus modern-day artwork. The collection includes a range of furniture, paintings, sculptures and ceramics. I go inside and admire my favorite art work, ‘The beguiling of Merlin’ by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Burne-Jones. I marvel at its large size, its subtle colouring and detail. Lever had an eye for publicity and commissioned Millais to paint rather sentimental pictures, (which are on display). After purchasing them, he had additions of soap bars and bubbles added. These were then used for posters, which are familiar to this day! This art gallery is very accessible, near main roads, yet plenty of free parking spaces nearby. It is well worth a visit.
A relatively new addition to the village is an interesting visitors centre, housed in one of the original buildings, which tells the history of the soap works and the village.
An oasis of beauty and calm in a built up area!