Port Sunlight – or A Misguided Capitalist – Part 1
I have recently visited Port Sunlight on the Wirral. My wife was going to three days worth of the Open Golf Championship at Hoylake and so I, with no great interest in Golf, took some work with me and also found that Port Sunlight – somewhere I have always wanted to go, was within easy cycling distance.
I couldn’t help thinking that this Lever bloke just didn’t get capitalism. Some things he was alright on, like just having the original idea of making soap which didn’t go rancid (using palm oil rather that animal fat), and then packaging it, rather than making it in bulk and cutting it for individual orders. He found a site for new factories close to docks, where his raw materials could be brought in easily. Then he actually consulted a trademark specialist before deciding on the name – Sunlight Soap. All this was good business and made him one of the richest men in the country.
So why misguided? Well, he wasted a great deal of money on actually looking after his workforce! When buying the land for his factory, he bought enough land to build houses for his workforce, too. He took architecture seriously and engaged and encouraged enlightened design to provide attractive housing for his workforce, and the houses had bathrooms, which was unusual at the time. They were laid out attractively, with lots of green space and nice gardens.
He paid well, as well. He provided entertainment for his tenants – dances, leisure activities, supporting all sorts of clubs and societies – apparently the first gig by the famous line-up of the Beatles, with Ringo Starr having replaced Pete Best two days before, took place in Port Sunlight in 1962.
You, informed readers, will recognise that some of the above is tongue in cheek. It is laudable that Lord Leverhulme, as he eventually became known, was a social reformer, that he cared enough about his people to make sure they had a decent life. He did actually say once that an employer should not also be the landlord for his workers – this is not an ideal relationship – but he would rather be in that relationship than see his employees living in slum conditions.
Lord Leverhulme was also a regular church-goer, a loyal Congregationalist all his life. I wonder if that in any way influenced his views?
David Wrighton, Team Leader, E-mail: email@example.com