Saturday, December 12, 2015

Port Sunlight in the 1920s: Part 3. (Reg Keen)

Continuing the letter from my father written in 1978:


Most of the raw materials for soap manufacture came to the works by steam barges, often towing other barges. They were normally painted black with red funnels (when they had funnels). They proceeded to the works from the Mersey via the Pool, after which Bromborough Pool was named - a small village that was built before Port Sunlight existed and was controlled by Price's Patent Candle Company.

I have no idea how many people worked at the Sunlight factory but it must have been in the region of 10,000 men. Conditions inside the factory were very good for the times but strict. Everyone had to W O R K and damned hard, for the whole day, no scrimshanking of any sort, and the 'sack' was always round the corner. Pay was about £3 per week for skilled tradesmen, less for labourers. A great pal of your Grandad's used to get one gold sovereign each week as a labourer. He said it was just enough to keep him going while he worked another week for another gold coin, ad infinitum. No pound notes in those days. Poor old Jim Venables. He used to walk down Central Road to work each day. Grandad got about three times Jim's pay because he was a tradesman printer (machine minder). Jim was killed in the first World War, a fact which always upset Grandad, he never forgot Jim of "Skipper" as he was always called; a lovely man, unmarried, sober, honest and very straight. Grandad was always proud of him being his friend.

Grandad worked at Price's Candle Works when he was a youth of about 16, before starting work as a printer at Lever Brothers in Sunlight village. His work at Lever's made us eligible for a house on the estate, and in 1909 we took over 10, Primrose Hill, the earliest home I can remember. We lived there till I was 16 and happy years they were for me.

The well known Art Gallery in the village was built when I was about 13 (1921/22). I passed it going to and from school each day. It is built in one of the small valleys which used to hold small streams that abounded in that part of the Wirral, all on their way to the river Mersey via the Pool. The gallery was built to commemorate the life work of Lady Lever, Lord Lever's much loved wife. All the villagers thought very well of her and she remained completely free of scandal during all her life and that was something even in those days. She was greatly liked by the children of the village; one reason was that every child in the village always received a stiff backed book, according to the child's age, on the morning of EVERY birthday from 5 to 14. The books were marked with a printed label showing the Lever family photograph and inscribed, "As a gift to ...... on the occasion of their ...... birthday." A smartly uniformed boy of about 17 was employed to deliver each book before noon on the big day. We looked forward to his call very much and I still have some of those much valued books.

When New Chester Road school was built it was not inside the old village limits but all the old classes from Church Drive were transferred to it and the kids from the old Lyceum went to Church Drive. A terrific rivalry grew up between the two schools, and great dislike when they competed at cricket, football and swimming. Most kids looked forward to heavy snowfalls and by common consent both groups of children gathered in the area of Brook Street where a huge snowball fight took place until time for school to open at 9am. It was renewed at dinner time and when school closed at 4pm. It was  usual for each snowball to be stuffed with small bricks or "mackies" (road stones) and there were many bloody battles with cut heads all winter. But nobody ever got badly hurt, to my knowledge.

I learned all my ignorance at the village school - no universities for the likes of me in those days. I had to start work at 14 and got 11s 8d a week (no Tax!)

Bread was about threepence ha'penny to fivepence a loaf (1lb to 2lb). Spuds, about 5lb for eightpence to a shilling according to the age of the spuds. A rabbit cost ninepence to a shilling each (very tasty too). Poaching was fire of course, usually along the area of Storeton, along to Prenton woods. Sunday joints about 2s 6d upwards according to weight. Coal was 1s 3d to 1s 9d per hundredweight. We used to get ours from Dick Houldin, advertised as "Grate Stuff" for years. His sons are still in the firm in the same place (1978).

The trees in Sunlight village were planted under the original scheme and are only new being renewed. The main road to Chester was packed mud and clay from the Toll Bar outward past Bromborough Cross and it was only macadam or tar from the Toll Bar into Birkenhead.

More in the next... 

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