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image of an arts and crafts house in Port Sunlight

Surveying a stunning Arts and Crafts listed house

Another month and another unusual property survey. This time, Stuart Scoffin MRICS visited Port Sunlight in the Wirral to carry out a level 3 building survey of a mid-terrace Arts and Crafts property built by the soap tycoon William Lever.

Port Sunlight, Wirral, Liverpool

What a pleasure to carry out a survey in this fascinating location. The village is a great example of an industrial model village, and Port Sunlight is particularly special because of the Arts and Crafts influence that can be seen in the design of the buildings there.

The village was first built to house workers from William Lever’s Lever Brothers soap factory. William became known for providing homes of a good standard for his workers, complete with green spaces and public buildings, making his employees feel secure and comfortable. Because of the greenery and open outdoor areas, the village became a key influence in the Garden City Movement.

Building the village was a shrewd move by Lever – he said himself that it was intended not only to share the prosperity of the company with the workers, to also to inspire commitment. This worked, and his business went from strength to strength. Eventually, Lever Brothers united with a margarine company, Margarine Unie, to create Unilever (now a global brand). Sadly, and in stark contrast to the high standard of living provided at Port Sunlight, the success of the Lever Brothers was aided by the use of forced labour abroad to secure supplies of palm oil for their soap.

Listed building considerations

In common with the other 900 houses in the village, the property is Grade II listed and was built in the late 1800s.

When buying a listed home, it is important to consider whether you would like to make alterations, because any changes will need both listed building consent and, in this case, permission from the village Heritage Trust. In Port Sunlight, even the front gardens are listed and are maintained by the Port Sunlight Village Trust.

When buying a heritage property such as this, it is also important to check that consents and approvals were obtained for any previous building works, because the liability for these works passes to the new owners upon sale of the property. This is not always straightforward – in some cases, including Port Sunlight, listed building policies did not originally fully cover the rear elevation of a house. Teasing apart when previous alterations were made, and whether or not consent was required at that time, can therefore be tricky. Make sure your legal advisor is experienced in these nuances and can advise you accordingly.

Surveying an Arts and Crafts property

This period property is a great example of the Arts and Crafts style. This architectural style is particularly attractive, with an emphasis on a clear structure, asymmetry and use of a range of local materials by skilled craftsmen.

The quaint, individual style can clearly be seen in this home. In common with other Arts and Crafts houses, structural elements have been made into attractive features, with ornate dormer windows and window shutters. Contributions from steel craftsmen can be seen in the metalwork, and the work of experienced joiners is evident in the timber shaping.