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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 81

Chapter IX. — The Future City.—Port Sunlight and Prosperity Sharing.—Modern Town Planning

page 59

Chapter IX.

The Future City.—Port Sunlight and Prosperity Sharing.—Modern Town Planning.

The banks of the Mersey presents one of the most remarkable contrasts in human habitations that exists in the world to-day. Nowhere are the differences of environment, with all its attendant influences on mankind, more [unclear: strikingly] demonstrated. Here are two pictures.

Down in the valley, wedged in between the walls of great factories, are rows and rows of three and four storied houses, blackened with dirt and smoke, and punctuated by endless chimney pots straggling desperately above the slated [unclear: roofs]. There are neither gardens nor [unclear: gards]—only houses, back to back, gazing gloomily into narrow courtyards, or winding through cramped and crooked streets where washing hangs night and day—drab splashes of colour that mock the dinginess. The courts and streets are filled with children and children's voices revelling round the one tap that probably supplies forty householders. The voices, sometimes shrill, sometimes husky, sound far into the night, for the call of sleep in the slum comes late.

There is neither sentiment nor joy in the scene. The night of poverty, the squalor, of the surroundings, transfix the thoughts with other things. But where are the parents? Down at the street corner there is a low building conspicuous by its tawdry lights and the voices within. The state of the atmosphere is shown by the moisture that runs down the window panes. All signs are within save for a seedy figure that scrapes outside on a cracked and broken hearted fiddle. You may go in if you choose. It is not wise to do so, not that the people within are not good-hearted and hilarious enough—heaven knows. It is just a question whether you can stand the atmosphere, the hot thick atmosphere that nobody inside seems to mind. But just a moment—there! The swing doors open and a figure lurches out on to the pavement. The scene inside is visible for a few moments. Beneath the dim and smoky lamps, men and women—women with babies wrapt in shawls and children clinging to their draggled skirts—are packed against a counter four or five deep. There is a glitter of bottles behind them. Mugs of foaming beer are lifted on high and glasses arc handed back to those in rear. The scene is charged with animation. There are shouts, laughter and snatches of sons, but there is a note of overpowering disorder, of human madness in that congested mass of men and women drinking—drinking life and soul to the reeling, swaying dark of stupor. That is a picture of a Liverpool slum.

A woodland dell banked with flowers winds into one of the daintiest of open spaces. The foliage seems to float through the trees in the sunlight. On all sides at odd intervals peering into the depths of this sylvan loveliness are houses, quaint early English houses, with picturesque gable and lattice, red tiles and panelled just as Shakespeare knew the charming old town of Strat-ford-on-Avon. But here we are in a modern village, built but a few years, taking all the best elements out of a picturesque past and applying them with the science of modern town planning to the home beautiful. There are page 60 children in white and coloured pinnies romping under the trees and in the sun-light. Each house rises out of a bed of flowers. Nature and architecture go hand in hand, and everywhere is a vista of a glimpse of beauty. Twelve o'clock whistles from a factory somewhere beyond the glade and presently the tree lined road is full of men and women, youths and girls. They troop by to their homes smiling and talking. Everybody is clean and bright faced. There is a vitality in each step that makes its own grace. They roam with the houses through parks and gardens and radiant thoroughfares. Their village is a dream of woodland splendour where life and labour move amid beauty and contentment. That is a picture of Port Sunlight, one of England's model villages planned by Messrs Lever Bros, on the opposite side of the Mersey a few miles from Liverpool and the blatant reality of its slums.

The Port Sunlight estate, comprising some 200 acres, consists of a series of well planned factories, docks, railways, and workers' dwellings, besides a large number of buildings devoted to the religious, educational and social well being of its inhabitants. It is laid out on the best principles of modern town planning, The housing conditions are almost ideal. Each building is well constructed, picturesque, well situated and let at a rent that averages about five shillings a week. In every case there is a garden patch with trees in front of the house, and at the back are extensive allotment gardens. It is the realisation of the hack-to-the-land cry in England. Water is laid on and supplied free of charge. Tuition is given by a practical gardener, and for flowers and vegetables grown in the village prizes are awarded annually at the horticultural shows organised by the controlling firm. In the village it-self there is a theatre, a public library, technical and elementary schools, a lecture hall, a museum, boys' and girls institutes, an employees' provident society, scientific, literary and mutual improvement societies, a telephone system, fire brigade, ambulance society, bowling and tennis greens, swimming baths, football grounds, rifle range, gymnasium, hospital and church. In all this there is to be seen nothing of the monotonous and depressing rows of brick and mortar, the hard distressing regularity of design that is so common to so many English and Colonial cities. Port Sunlight, in fact, sets a standard above the modern suburban area as well as providing healthy homes and refining influence in the environment of its four thousand workers. The enterprise is described by Mr. Lever himself as "prosperity-sharing"—the best means he can find of sharing profits with his work people. He has recently stated that the firm gets a return from the money invested in the better health and consequent increased industrial efficiency of the workers. Mr. Lever in short has given practical recognition of the relation of housing to industry.

In order to realise how far a private firm can, side by side with its commercial success, make enlightened provision for its workers, the institutions of Port Sunlight are well worth studying. The village is no Utopian project any more than the other model communities in England like Letchworth, Hampstead, Ealing, Bourneville, Leicester and Hull are. It is a commercial project designed to secure and develop industrial efficiency. Port Sunlight proves that men and women working eight hours a day can turn out more and better work than those labouring ten or eleven hours in other concerns and living under poor housing conditions. Prominent among advantages enjoyed is that of the Em-

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A charming type of workman's collage at Port Sunlight, which is let to tenants at 7/9 per week.

A charming type of workman's collage at Port Sunlight, which is let to tenants at 7/9 per week.

Workmen's Houses in Port Sunlight.

Workmen's Houses in Port Sunlight.

There are many people in New Zealand who would like to possess homes as picturesque in design and surrounding as these, yet the weekly rental, in a valuable area as Port Sunlight is, reaches only 7/- per week for each of the above cottages.

[See Chapter IX.

page 61

[unclear: ployers]' Benefit Fund, which is provided entirely by the company. To every employee retiring after at least 20 wears' service at the age of 65, and 60 of a female, is paid a yearly allowance. The basis is such that, if an employee is receiving 38s. per week, he will on retiring after 40 years' service receive an allowance of £50 per year. Similar provisions are made for those retiring through ill-health or to the widow and children of a deceased worker. A Holiday Club is in operation by which a fund is automatically created for workers when the time for relaxation arrives. Faithful service is acknowledged by the presentation of a gold watch together with a long service badge. The Port Sunlight order of Conspicuous Merit is awarded in cases of personal bravery. The male workers labour 48 hours and the female 45 hours per week. Free tram and train tickets are provided to those who come from a distance. Cash prizes are awarded in the soap works itself for the best suggestions for labour saving devices and increased comfort of the workers.

These are a few of the more interesting and suggestive phases of life at Port Sunlight. The spirit of the workers is said to be very appreciative, although there are times when a more restless spirit than the mass is apt to rebel against what has been termed "the benevolent autocracy" of the firm. The drawback to the scheme is that many of its advantages which the workers receive cannot be translated into terms of pounds, shillings, and pence—at least not at present. That is what seems to be in the future between labour and capital. The prosperity-sharing scheme as it works at present is no guarantee that the demand of labour, for a full share in the wealth that it creates, is being fulfilled. But compared with what exists for the majority of British workers to-day, Port Sunlight is a guarantee that a considerable share of its prosperity is going into the health, the happiness and surroundings of its workers. It is the half-way house to an absolute scheme of co-operation or co-partnership between the labourer and the employer, which seems to be a debatable alternative to State control, but it has yet to develop and be given practical demonstration. Judging by the opposition of the trade unions and labour generally to Sir Christopher Furness' scheme of co-partnership, that realisation is a long way off.*

But there is a more immediate and an essentially practical side to Port Sunlight that is of great importance to young communities. That is the principles upon which it has been laid out, designed and beautified. Those principles are the foundation of the modern town planning movement in England, which takes its cue from what has already been accomplished in Germany. In British cities to-day there are comparatively few good houses, and a mass of slums. There are a few wide main arteries for through traffic and a network of unordered or undirected streets—a few large parks, but no smaller open spaces or playgrounds for the children of the gutter. Most of the towns are being extended by private speculation and individual owners on lines that are neither healthy, attractive, nor even economical. What the congestion of city life represents is shown in the remarkable figures that 12 millions of England's people are housed on 152,000 acres—an average of 79 to the acre. It is mainly towards the prevention and solution of the evils associated with this page 62 sort of thing that town planning is directed. Under the model by-laws of the Local Government Board it is possible to build fifty-six houses to the acre. Health experts say that there should be not more than twelve, which on town planning lines is economically feasible. The movement is briefly to do for a town what an architect does for a house. Everything is planned out and estimated according to the resources available. The geometrical design of most of our colonial cities, with streets running at right angles to each other, is abandoned, for the reason that no thoroughfare can, on those lines, present much symmetry or grace. The streets are laid out, on the other hand, in a series of curves and straight lines, of varying widths, and planned so as to give the greatest convenience to traffic, to demarcate areas of business, manufacture, and residence with every provision for open spaces, sunlight, and beauty. An important provision is to reduce the cost of estate development by allowing roads in strictly residential areas to be of considerably less width than an arbitrary sixty-six feet, but securing the desired open space by insisting that the houses shall be built several feet back from the roadway. Provision is made to ensure that the architecture of a particular thoroughfare is designed and placed in such a way as to secure a harmonious perspective. Tree-lined avenues and the preservation of all existing natural features are also secured. Town-planning aspires to be a safe permanent four per cent, investment. Its aims may be summarised as follows:
1.Reduction in the cost of estate development.
2.The bringing into the market of more land for housing purposes.
3.Co-operation between local authorities and landowners, and landowners amongst themselves.
4.The pooling and the re-distribution of small plots of land.
5.Harmony between buildings located on adjacent sites.
6.Prevention of overcrowding evils in stead of ratepayers having to pay heart compensation for their cure later on.
7.The assistance of thoroughly qualfied men in town planning, with bus ness experience.

The Garden City idea, such as is embodied in Port Sunlight, has undoubtedly captured the imagination of the British people. It comprises in one enters price the advantage of Town and Country. The existence of building societies co-operative housing bodies, and privates companies, have made it financially a sound investment to the residents and the shareholders. The advantage that is at once apparent is the provision of open spaces where the children and the young people can play, whilst the older people rest and enjoy themselves in a natural manner. There are also all the influences of environment associated with nature, beauty, art, and health, as opposed to those exerted by ugly house and streets, by "artificial brick boxes with lids of slate," and absence of air space. To have captured the imagination of the British people, unimaginative as undoubtedly they are, is a recommendation in itself. Town planning, in short, is claimed to be the solution of the housing problem.

Letchworth, the first Garden City, Limited, situated thirty-four miles from London, amid beautiful surroundings, is the materialisation of the town planning dream. The Garden City Company was registered in 1903, with a capital of £300,000, divided into shares of £5 each, for the purpose of developing the Letchworth estate on the lines suggested by Mr. Ebenezer Howard in his book entitled, "Garden Cities of To-Morrow."

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A specimen of the insanitary property that existed on the estate before Port Sunlight was built.

A specimen of the insanitary property that existed on the estate before Port Sunlight was built.

In Port Sunlight.

In Port Sunlight.

One of the features of Port Sunlight is that every house commands a view of park or garden-like plots.

[See Chapter IX.

page 63

So far the project is a decided success. The estate has nearly doubled in value since the company acquired it, and it is designed on such a basis that the land in time will become the property of the individual householders. Letehworth has drawn thousands of visitors from all parts of England to its picturesque and charming surroundings. The estate, which is six miles square in area, carries on its town area (one-third of the average) a population of 5,000 inhabitants, 1,000 houses, besides factories, workshops, shops, hotels, churches, and 200 acres of parks and open spaces. The area is quite independent of the 2,500 acres of rural land comprising the agricultural belt round the town, which it is intended shall not be built on. The Garden City has its own gas, water, sewerage and electric supply. The health statistics for 1906 show a death rate of 2.75 per thousand. Compare this with extensive areas in Leeds, for instance, where the average is 26.2 per thousand. There is not a note or scene in the whole place that is not in harmony with nature or art. It is an antidote to the slum, rural depopulation, infantile mortality and physical degeneration. It is exerting a remarkable influence upon the Muncipalities, upon whom the realisation grows that powers are absolutely necessary to bring the principles of town planning into effect within their own rapidly developing suburban areas.

The decentralisation of the crowded areas of the modern city, the limitation of the number of houses to the acre and the people that shall live therein, the creation of air spaces, of picturesque environment and the inspiring of mankind to a higher plane of thought and consideration for his habitation are all one with this remarkable movement of the twentieth century. Their essentials are crystallised into the principles of the town planning, that made it possible for Port Sunlight to arise in beauty and scorn with loathing the hideous picture that stares from across the river. Unfortunately, that picture cannot always be entirely disassociated with our Colonial cities. Is it, therefore, a good or a wise policy, that they should go on developing as they are doing without some regard or some appreciation of the knowledge and the experience that lies beyond the sea in modern England to-day?

* Since the above was written, a cable announcement has been made that Messrs Lever Bios have entered into a comprehensive agreement for profit sharing. The details, however, are not available.