Friday, December 11, 2015

Port Sunlight in the 1920s: Part 2. (Reg Keen)

Continuing the letter written to me by my father in 1978...

There was very little traffic in the village then and all roads were macadamised, not tarred. The "Backs" behind the houses were macadam too for coal delivery carts etc to get round easily. Most roads outside the village were just pounded down clay or mud and in wet weather they made an awful mess of shoes or boots and pram wheels (called "Go-carts" then, not prams). Rules were very strict in the village and nob ody was allowed to stand and gossip at their front doors - the Backs had to be used for that. The estate staff used to keep an eye on the tenants and arranged to have them chucked out if they "sinned". No lodgers were allowed except on the request of the "firm", no drunkenness or drunken singing and of course there were only about two cars in the village then, owned by bosses who lived in the bigger houses near to Hulme Hall (named after part of the Lever family who took their title from Hulme near Manchester / Bolton).

Port Sunlight was a peaceful little backwater in those days and anybody living there was considered to be "somebody" compared to the other folk around the area. My cousins who lived in the slums of Birkenhead looked at me with awe when I went to visit them - I was a sort of freak for living in Port Sunlight.

Only workers at the Lever factory were allowed to rent the houses and if you left your job you got the sack, and if you were kicked out of your job you got the sack (one way of trying to keep the workforce honest I guess).

The rent for the houses, about 7 shillings a week, was stopped out of the husband's wage each Friday so there were never any arrears. Tenants were not allowed to paint their houses or decorate inside or out; the Company painted the outside of their property once every 5 years and the firm selected the colours. The inside was papered and painted every 7 years, and within limits, the tenants could choose their own colour scheme.
The Auditorium (picture posted on Facebook by Joanne Phillips)

There was a big "garden show" each year, usually held in The Auditorium at the north end of The Dell near the bridge. One mystery was how the men who grew stuff for the shows got such huge onions etc. But anyone who lived near the allotments knew about the buckets of bedroom slops (urine) poured on the soil in the months before the show. The conversations in the pubs, in a surfeit of congratulatory beer, often revealed the other mystery of how certain blokes won so many prizes. Many were won with produce that had never been grown in the village at all. The date of the show was the weekend after the great Shrewsbury Show and lots of Sunlight exhibitors had attended Shrewsbury to buy items for the village show a few days later. For instance, villagers who showed "onions in lots of six" had never had any onions in their garden the day before the show. There was  a great deal of fiddling because prizes were very good: 5s, 7s 6d or even 10s for special classes. A few prizes of that sort soon covered the cost of the trip to Shrewsbury to "collect".
Fire Engines and crews (Stephen Dutton collection)

Port Sunlight in those happy days had its own horse-drawn fire engine and ambulance stationed in the village opposite the works entrance, and there was always great fuss and much noise when they had to turn out.

More in the next... 


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