Port Sunlight Church Port Sunlight Church Port Sunlight Church

Utopian Industrial Villages in the 20th century and building materials

The precedent for idealised village settlements built next to large factories had been established in the 19th century by David Dale and Robert Owen at New Lanark in Scotland (cotton mills), Titus Salt at Saltaire in Yorkshire (woollen mills) and Lord Lever at Port Sunlight on the Mersey estuary (soap factory) but the last examples of these model villages tied to industrial plants saw an interesting development. The three villages of Stewartby, Dormanstown and Silver End were all built by building materials manufacturers and so exhibited a tendency to utilise those materials. The brickworks at Stewartby in Bedfordshire predated the founding of the village which was originally known as Wooton Pillinge. Sir Malcolm Stewart bought the London Brick Company and in 1926 began building the village next to what was the world's largest brick kiln, which, when it was at its operational height, produced 18 million bricks a year. [1] All the houses were planned with indoor bathrooms and toilets, running hot and cold water and electricity, and built largely in brick. Its layout, as with Dormanstown and many other civic designs of the period, included a radial crescent form. Silver End in Essex was built for the owner of an iron and steel framed window company, F H Crittall. It features a bizarre collection of architectural oddities and styles from an old thatched roofed barn converted into a church to modernist (and flat-roofed) houses, and with an overwhelming preponderance of metal framed windows, all of which had been manufactured at Crittall's factory. [2] Dormanstown in north Yorkshire was built near to a pig iron (and later steel) works owned by the Dorman family. It was planned by Stanley Adshead and Patrick Abercrombie from the Liverpool University department of Civic Design and the architect Stanley Ramsay. The houses were built with steel frames from the Warrenby steel works and transported by a railway which was directly connected the village. [3]

Although the use of locally sourced building materials was not a new development these three model villages, like Port Sunlight, show how industrialism and philanthropy combined and how a model settlement could become not just a residential zone for a benevolent employer looking to house 'his' workers at a convenient distance from the factory but a living advertisement for their products. Port Sunlight demonstrated Lord Lever's beliefs in the arts, religion and education with a school, technical college, art gallery and church as integral elements of the new settlement. Overall it was intended to be both hygienic, clean and functional (the apparent virtues of 'Sunlight Soap') and yet oddly rustic at the same time. Owen's New Lanark demonstrated the validity of his 'New View of Society' in the 'Institute for the Formation of Character' and progressive employment practices, Stewartby was a workmanlike, but solidly built, brick village (even the church is brick-built) and Dormanstown's steel frames showed how easily new technologies could be incorporated into the built environment, the same is true of Silver End and iron-framed windows. At both Port Sunlight and Stewartby the churches are multi-denominational, in the case of Port Sunlight this was Lord Lever's expressed wish, Christ Church Port Sunlight is pictured above and is now part of the United Reform Church denomination. Verses in chapter six of St Luke's gospel in the New Testament stress the need to build a house on solid foundations, these utopian pioneer builders certainly demonstrated that particular Biblical lesson.

AKL 1/5/2012



[1] http://clutch.open.ac.uk/schools/marston-brickies00/website/modelvillage/villagehistory.html

[2] Susan King 'Silver End - A Place to Work and Play' at http://www.silverend.org/history/susan.htm

[3] http://www.historyofdormanstown.0catch.com/dormanstown.htmHistory%20page%201a.htm


General reading:

Gillian Darley 'Villages of Vision: A Study of Strange Utopias', 2007, Five Leaves Publications

London Brick