Each morning, early, I would leave the place where I was staying and walk through time, all day. All of the days of the late summertime coming into autumn. I had work to do and the work got done, writing work that required so much walking, thinking and asking for help.

“What was this like then? When was it built? When did it go? Who worked there? How is it now? What was his voice like? So many questions, walking through time in Port Sunlight.

From before it was an industrial village for the big soap factory, to now and the future. Home to thousands still and to me, for a little while. I found a map from 1897 and would walk round with it. Then an earlier map from when it was Primrose Hill, before the Soapmaker came. I walked the Diamond when it had a bandstand and a swimming pool and before the War Memorial, built in memory of all those ‘Blotted Out’. Past the Cottage Hospital. opening its ward windows to the sunny morning, for the good of the war-wounded within.

Day upon day in Bridge Cottage, writing in the upstairs room where once the Soapmaker and his wife Elizabeth will have looked out, for a little while. Time folding backwards and forwards, forward and back between then and now, down the staircase into summer this year or maybe a hundred years earlier. Trains arriving for the early shift, from Birkenhead and with me, backwards and forward.

Walking then outside of the village, back to the 1850s and Bromborough Pool, the Candlemaker’s village. Philanthropy or practicality, these pragmatic and perfect villages of workers at the factory gates? Hard to be late in the mornings arriving from their tied cottages. The chosen ones.

Out the other way into Bebington and the Port Sunlight Recreation Ground. Now the Bebington Oval and once the Chariots of Fire. Centuries overlapping as I walked through time making up my story. A story of time and place and the history of now.

As the season changed and the sun rose later each day I would still write outside whenever I could, sitting in the seats on the bridge over the Dell. Changing sides as the shadows moved out of the shade. Watching the children cross the crest of the bridge from my favourite photograph. In reality a film still from a hundred years before, photographed by me from back when the village was monochrome. Long before the green-brown autumn began to fall.

One morning before my leaving the bikes came. Roads had been resurfaced specially and other great-excitement preparations made as we all lined the street to the factory gates to see them. One, two, three, four, twenty-two police bikes with sirens first, followed by car upon car with spare bikes on top. Until finally and all bunched up past a chequered flag called ‘Start’ the Round Britain cycle bikes and riders flashed past. A hundred of them or so, come and gone in many less seconds than that. Leaving only photographs behind them, of the day the bikes came.

The day before the day before it was time for me to leave. To fold up the maps, write ‘The End’ on the end of my story and walk through one final fold in time to now and the writing down of this brief reflection. It was so great and thank you for having me.

For all the people of the Port Sunlight Village Trust, volunteers and staff. Thank you for your friendship and all the help. Also thanks to the Unilever Archives team too x

Published by Ronnie Hughes

Writing about life, Liverpool and anything else that interests me. As well as working with others to make the world a fairer and kinder place: http://asenseofplace.com.

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4 Comments

  1. That’s a remarkable piece of work, Ronnie. I don’t know the area, but I got a tremendous sense of continuity in the lives of the people who have passed through Port Sunlight.

    The lives of ordinary people are barely ever recorded, so we have to construct a composite picture of those lives from what evidence we can find. Fortunately, being able to read the built environment and interpret it through artifacts gives us the opportunity to try to do this, no matter how imperfectly.

    The other thing that comes out of your work is love; your love for the place and your love for the generations of people who have passed through it. Thank you for sharing it with us.

      1. Ah yes – this is not your holiday postcard from Port Sunlight; it’s your love letter to the village. ‘And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.’

  2. Ronnie, will you ever be able to share your work online? I’d love to read it. Then visit that place. I have loved your approach and your words about this journey you’ve been on.
    Congratulations. You’ve made it!

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