Thursday, December 10, 2015

Port Sunlight in the 1920s: Part 1. (Reg Keen)

Reg Keen, my father, wrote to me in 1978 about his childhood in Port Sunlight.

My parents moved to Port Sunlight when I was about 6 months old (summer of 1909). Life was very happy there during my early years with lots of space, lots of trees and flowers and lots of little pals. On reaching the age of 5 (1913) I was enrolled at the village school, Church Drive. The Junior school headmistress was Miss Slater, an elderly spinster, and my class teacher was Miss Peacock aged about 25. When the time came for me to enter the senior school (aged about 10, in 1918) the headmaster was Mr JA Simister, ably supported by Mr Higson and Mr Hartley Hughes who later became the first headmaster of Grove Street School in New Ferry. We also had Mr Lawrie ("Lorrie" or "Jimmy") and James Ramsey Smith, a trainee of Chester College, who was very popular but eventually left to become the headmaster of The Delves Schoolhouse, a village school built by Sir Delves Broughton in a village near Chester, Wybunbury.
Church Drive Schools (posted on Facebook by Joanne Phillips)

About the middle of my school life, 1918/19, I was away ill with chickenpox when all the school was moved to the newly built New Chester Road school, while the children from the old village school now called the Lyceum took over Church Drive. As I was away ill at the time I was not included in the shift to New Chester Road and I was pushed in with all the Lyceum kids at Church Drive, which meant finding new pals altogether. They all seemed to originate from homes nearer to the Soap Works and Trafalgar Village.

In my young days the village was run by the school heads, the estate office staff (2) and the local parson Mr Hooke who was the choirmaster at the village church. There was also a Major Ormerod, a little tin god Territorial Army officer who held a lot of power in the village until after the first World War. He gave the land known as Ormerod Gardens, to become part of Mayer Park around 1965.

In the village there was the Boys' Brigade in which Grandad (Reg's father) used to bang the big drum; a Scout troop; a Guide troop; three football teams and the Band of Hope which was tied up with the church  in Bebington Road near Grove Street.

The senior football team (amateurs mainly) played at The Tins, Poolbank Enclosure in Central Road in the village, by the Cottage Hospital and Church Drive School which was next door to the Church; so all the important buildings were grouped together. They were in the midst of open fields abutting Central road which led to the main Offices of the soap factory.

There were two pubs, the Bridge Inn close to the bridge over The Dell, and the Railway Inn at the edge of the village near Bebington Station. There was a Catholic school, St John's, on Bebington Road, but it was NOT part of the village. There was also a Liberal Club in the village, as of course old Billy Lever was a Liberal in politics.

Most of the houses were laid out on a plan like a flattened "O" with traffic roads back and front of the blocks of houses. They were arranged round plots of allotments which could be rented by the householders if they wished to grow anything for themselves, but there was so much greenery about the place, more was not really needed. It was a very pleasant spot to be brought up in at a time when most of the kids living in nearby towns had never seen anything actually growing apart from a few apple trees. A cousin of mine on a visit to Port Sunlight in 1920/21 spent lots of time in Grandad's allotment looking under the potato plant stems to try and find some potatoes, not knowing they grew underground.

The village was always choked with hundreds of men and young women going to and from the soap works each day, including Saturday mornings in those days, of course. The nearest tram route terminus then was at the Toll Bar corner in New Ferry where a tram service ran every 10 minutes to Woodside for the ferry to Liverpool; or workers could walk to New Ferry and down New Ferry Lane to the New Ferry / Rock Ferry steamer to Liverpool. There were a great number of workers using the river to get to work at Billy Lever's soap works, while an equal number went the other way to work at "the Yard" - Cammell Lairds shipyard. The Sunlight railway station was not built until much later, about the middle '20s I think.

More in the next... 


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Brisco Tanya said...

Very interesting. Thank you so much for posting this. I live in West Kirby and would love to find similar stories about my village. I'm blogging about Britain, life on the Wirral and the English language in Russian.

Sue Millard said...

This is the first page and a half of 14 pages! More between now and Christmas :)