‘Rules’ of living in one of Merseyside’s most historic villages

windows wirral fitters seaview windows wallasey

Even in the torrential rain Port Sunlight is idyllic. Walking through its carefully planned streets, all that can be heard is the birds and the occasional car rolling by.

The postcard-perfect village is world-famous as being one of the first towns built for the workers – these being the 'Sunlight Soap' factory workers.

It was founded by 'Soap King' William Hesketh Lever in 1888 and at the time many thought the plans were too ambitious given the area used to be a Wirral marshland.

With 130 acres of parks and gardens, it remains almost as it was in the 19th Century.

wallasey printers liscard wallasey

But what is it like to live in a historic village? Do you have to go through a vetting process and are there rules about painting your front door?

John Spilletts who lives in Port Sunlight

People living in the conservation area gave the ECHO a glimpse of what life is like in Port Sunlight.

With the exception of a few surprises, yes, it is a perfect as you would imagine.

Port Sunlight village, Wirral. Photo by Colin Lane

John Spilletts is 75 and grew up in Port Sunlight, his mum and dad both worked at the Unilever factory, Ada in the print department and Harry as a storeman.

wirral airport transfers mersesysideairportservice.co.uk

John went to school in the village, learnt to swim in the local pool and enjoyed a village upbringing in the heart of Wirral's urbanised east coastline.

He said: "Looking back, it was quite insular and I took that for granted.

"I used to live on the road Primrose Hill, I have lived in Bromborough, but it was never in any doubt that I would come back – it was always the plan."

Aerial view of the Port Sunlight, August 1977.

With John's in-depth knowledge of the village, he has been volunteering for the Port Sunlight Village Trust for over 14 years now taking visitors on walking tours.

He said: "It is exactly as it was like in the 40s, 50s and 60s and that's the appeal.

"When people come to visit, they are genuinely interested and of course, they all want to have a look inside the houses."

This is something visitors can do when lockdown restrictions lift and when they visit the Port Sunlight Museum, also run by the Trust, and the Edwardian Worker's Cottage.

John said: "And I can say, even though my dad's home didn't look quite as old, the cottage is exactly what many of the homes would have looked like.

"And also what many people are surprised to learn is about the backs of the properties.

Houses in Primrose Hill, Port Sunlight, which have been involved in the experimental first stage of Unilever Merseyside Limited's ambitious scheme to modernise the village, Merseyside, 19th September 1962.

"As you will notice, you only ever see the fronts of the houses, but there is a lot of space at the back, they used to be allotments.

"When the fad for allotments came to an end in the 60s, they became service roads and places for people's waste bins.

"But they do have some wonderful, long gardens at the back."

People who want to live in Port Sunlight will be briefed before they buy or rent a home to let them know that there is a restrictive list of things they can not do so to conserve the character of the village as it has been for over 130 years.

John said: "I wouldn't say they were 'rules', they are more 'convenances' – decorating inside is absolutely fine, but interior changes need to be consulted with, the Trust has plans of all the houses, changes can only be made if they meet the criteria in keeping with the Grade II listed status.

Housing, Port Sunlight, Merseyside, 30th April 1988.

"Outside, it can only be painted in keeping with the colour scheme and there are no 'for sale' signs or Sky dishes, brick walls and gates outside are always refused – this lends itself to the total village feel."

Port Sunlight is a photographer's dream with beautifully kept flowerbeds that change with the seasons, Helen Lawless who works for the Trust said: "The landscape team say hello to everyone, they are always stopping and saying hello."

The MyWirral newsletter will bring you news from across the borough in a way you’ve never had before.

Whether it's celebrating people, sharing issues or discussing latest news, our newsletter covers all things Wirral.

Signing up is free and it only takes a minute for you to get the biggest stories, sent straight to your inbox.

How to sign up for a MyWirral Email Update

1) Go to our dedicated newsletter page at this link.

2) Put your email in the box where indicated

3) Tick MyWirral News .

4) Press Save changes and that's it!

5) There are plenty of other newsletters to choose from too.

John added: "The Trust controls everything from the house to the curb. And the residents are charged just £1 a year for all the work the landscape team do."

John told the ECHO how passionate people are about the area, many still volunteering for the Trust, even if they no longer live in one of the 900 Grade II listed houses.

Houses, Port Sunlight, Merseyside, 13th September 1993.

He said: "It is not totally crime-free – we have had instances, but there is so much respect from the people who live here. I have seen many people not just pick up their own litter, but others too and put it in the bin. There is a real sense of pride."

Helen said the Trust has been working hard to ensure people know anyone can live in Port Sunlight.

She said: "I think it is one of the misconceptions about Port Sunlight is that there are only particular houses, for certain people.

"Many just think there is a front room, backroom and two bedrooms, but they are all so different, there is everything from two-bedroom apartments to five-bedroom houses."

Snow covers the picturesque The Dell in Port Sunlight.

The tenancies of the homes used to be tied to the factory, but after the homes were modernised that changed and in the late 1970s and early 1980s more became privately owned.

Now, around 600 of the houses are privately owned and 300 are looked after by the Port Sunlight Village Trust who rent them out, only a small number of people who live in Port Sunlight work in the factory.

Contrary to what many might believe, there is no vetting process to live in Port Sunlight, and it is not just for people of a certain age.

This is something that came as a complete surprise to Claire Bates when she and her partner were looking for a new home to start a family.

Having lived in Liverpool City Centre, Claire, 37, said she had visited Port Sunlight many times and had fallen in love with its village atmosphere.

She said: "I just didn't realise you could actually live here. Like many, I had thought you have to know certain people or work at the factory, but a friend told me you didn't so I went on to Rightmove and there it was.

"My mum told me not to move into the first house I saw, but I did, I just fell in love with it."

Claire Bates who lives in Port Sunlight

According to Rightmove, the average house price in Port Sunlight is £150,226, they said: "The majority of sales in Port Sunlight during the last year were terraced properties, selling for an average price of £144,670.

"Semi-detached properties sold for an average of £155,812, with detached properties fetching £236,995."

Colourful Port Sunlight. Photo by Colin Lane

Claire said: "I was surprised at how cheap the houses are here.

"The price is going up and they never stay on the market for long because it is a very desirable place to live, with the links into Chester and Liverpool from our two train stations and especially after the covid pandemic, people want more green spaces.

"We did worry if it was going to feel like a retirement village, but it is not at all, in fact, many of the people living on our row of houses were young families and professionals.

"We have become so close with them, we even spent our first Christmas here with our neighbours instead of going to family."

Claire and her partner David Caverny, 42, have now lived in Port Sunlight for eight years and she says her five-year-old daughter, Rosie, loves it just as much.

Port Sunlight

She said: "She just knows everyone, but that is what you get from living in a community like this. The school is a stones throw away and all her school friends live here.

"I grew up in Shropshire where there was an emphasis on saying hello to your neighbours as part of village life and I had really missed that living in Liverpool.

"Here, you don't have to leave the village to feel like you have had a day out – there is always something to explore, something to go to.

Spring sunshine in Port Sunlight, Wirral. Photo by Colin Lane

"I have an allotment and my partner has just joined the men's bowls team – but it is also very forward-thinking, it is not stuck in time. There are many contemporary art exhibits for example, and to have the Lady Lever on your doorstep is amazing.

"And it appeals to all age groups, there is a real sense of community here and it is the perfect place to come and start a family.

Claire now works for the Trust as a community officer, she added: "This is the closest thing to home for me and I would say the only downside is that we live in a two-bedroom house now, so if we wanted to move to somewhere bigger we would have to wait. Because they do have bigger houses here, but they just go so quick."

John added: "Some might say there are no shops here, or might say they can't do what they want with their front lawn – but for me, personally, there are no disadvantages to living in Port Sunlight."

For more information on visiting Port Sunlight visit the Trust's website here.