Saturday, April 30, 2011

Port Sunlight

I am an unashamed Anglophone and an unrepentant capitalist, both tendencies being happily united in my admiration for the Victorian Robber Baron. Make no mistake, I am no Scrooge McDuck, rather it is the paternalistic Victorian that I aspire to, one of whom, William Hesketh Lever, built Port Sunlight.

I was reading through Engels' criticism of the cottage system, where workers in factories were provided with housing. Engels says this started harmlessly enough, to provide cheap housing for workmen but was later used as a tool to keep them restive, the threat of ejection from the cottage (and the awful state of alternative housing) sufficing to prevent excessive wage demands. Engels' also faults the industrialist for charging the normal or market rent for the property, which he feels is excessive since (in Engels view) the principal risk with property; difficulties in collecting rent and the possibility of the property lying vacant are both absent in the Cottage system. (ie As the industrialist fills his cottages with his own workers he is always sure of a tenant and since he deducts the rent from their wages he is certain of receiving payment).

Port Sunlight however was a triumph. Lever wanted to provide a healthy and pleasant environment for his workers, with schools, library, institutes and public buildings. A whole village in fact. An interest in architecture drove him to employ some 30
architects including an unknown Edwin Lutyens to design the 900 buildings. No two houses are alike.

The critics claimed that he was a despot, controlling and dominating people, the whole village being effused by the "spirit of soap".

I think he did his workers much good and built a quaint little village (now quite a tourist attraction, all buildings being Grade II listed) in the process. Have a look at the pictures and judge for yourself.

No comments: