This book is an unorthodox biography of William Hesketh Lever, 1st Lord Leverhulme (1851-1925), the founder of the Lever Brothers' Sunlight Soap empire. The most frequently recurring comparison during his life and at his death, however, was with Napoleon. What the author finds most fascinating about him is that he unites within one person so many intriguing developments of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The book first sketches out his life, the rise and triumph of his business, and explores his homes, his gardens and his collections. It contains essays on Lever in the context of the history of advertising, of factory paternalism, town planning, the Garden City movement and their ramifications across the twentieth century, and of colonial encounters. Lever had worked hard at opening agencies and selling his soap abroad since 1888. But if import drives proved unsatisfactory, logic dictated that soap should be manufactured and sold locally, both to reduce the price by vaulting tariff barriers on imports and to cater for idiosyncratic local tastes. As D. K. Fieldhouse points out, Lever Brothers was one of the first generation of capitalist concerns to manufacture in a number of countries. The company opened or started building factories in America, Switzerland, Canada, Australia and Germany in the late 1890s. It then spread to most western European countries and the other white settler colonies of the empire, as well as more tentatively to Asia and Africa.
battalions and win
empires, if not in war, then in peace.’6 A writer in Town Topics in 1912 rather
less charitably declared that Lever was ‘more ruthless, more autocratic, more
dogmatic than Napoleon’.7 The landscape architect Thomas Mawson described
his first encounter with Lever in 1905:
WilliamHeskethLever was, I quickly realised, a man of strong personality, who
had absolute control of himself and all his interests, in which I include those
interests which absorbed his few leisure hours. At this our first interview he
struck me as a veritable Napoleon in his grasp of
-Gothic churches made an effort,
at least before they were enveloped in grime. Bolton was an unlovely, lethal
place. More than a fifth of the population did not survive their first year of
life; over a third were dead by age five. Its one saving grace was that it was
still small enough that, for those with the leisure and energy, the surrounding
countryside was easily within walking distance.2
WilliamHeskethLever grew up on one of the more prosperous, middleclass streets of this archetypal Coketown, but within spitting distance of dismal
poverty and squalor. Such an
brand because they bloody well can’t forget it. All you professional
advertising men are scared to death of raping the public; I say the public likes
it, if you got the know-how to make ’em relax and enjoy it.’2
Our Old Man, WilliamHeskethLever, would have concurred at least in
part. He always emphasized the power of advertising in bringing about his
business success. ‘People already in the soap business could have put rings
round me on manufacturing soap,’ he wrote in 1923, looking back to the early
days of his career, ‘but none of them understood how to sell soap
recover their imperial memory; Lever hagiographers should do the same.120
1 Daily Telegraph, 8 May 1925, quoted in Progress, 25:168 (July 1925), 143.
2 Harley Williams, Men of Stress: Three Dynamic Interpretations: Woodrow Wilson,
Andrew Carnegie, WilliamHeskethLever (London: Jonathan Cape, 1948), pp. 298,
3 Jervis J. Babb, The Human Relations Philosophy of WilliamHeskethLever (New
York: The Newcomen Society in North America, 1952), pp. 13–14.
4 Charles Wilson, The History of Unilever: A Study in Economic Growth and Social
Change, vol. I
HeskethLever at Port Sunlight, 1888–1925 (PhD, Louisiana State University, 2003), 198.
The factory in a garden
77 Roberts, A Woman’s Place.
78 Proud, Welfare Work, p. 213. See also Margaret Willes, The Gardens of the British Working
Class (London, 2014).
79 ‘Personal Reminiscences’, CB, 003270.
80 Maddren, Letchworth Recollections, p. 158.
81 Ibid., pp. 89–91.
82 Article by Mr Pearkes Withers in the Daily Mail (10 August, 1928) Cereal Partners
83 The NIIP was founded in 1921. According to their pamphlet, The Human Factor in
Industry (London, c.1930
separately from the factory and less than half
of the residents worked at the chocolate factory which it had its own
WilliamHeskethLever’s village Port Sunlight, built in the 1890s
near Liverpool for his employees at the Sunlight Soap factory was an
integrated industrial site because all the residents of the village either
worked or had associations with the factory. Port Sunlight, planned by
the architect William Owen, became a highly influential factory village
and one of the most visited, including by many of the industrialists
whose factory gardens and
Leverhulme, p. 280; Harley Williams, Men of Stress: Three Dynamic Interpretations:
Woodrow Wilson, Andrew Carnegie, WilliamHeskethLever (London: Jonathan
Cape, 1948), pp. 307–9.
25 Bruce Arnold, Orpen: Mirror to an Age (London: Jonathan Cape, 1981), p. 395;
Lever, Leverhulme, p. 283.
26 T. M. Devine, Clanship to Crofters’ Wars: The Social Transformation of the Scottish
Highlands (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1994), pp. 81–2.
27 Nigel Nicolson, Lord of the Isles (Stornoway: Acair, 2000; 1st edn, 1960), pp. 22,
49–51, 122; Bolton Evening News, 7 May
a supporter of his wife’s militant career and acted as the WSPU’s solicitor, representing
suffragettes in court and visiting them in prison.
WilliamHeskethLever (1851–1925), the industrialist, philanthropist and founder of the
model village of Port Sunlight. Lever’s summer home at Rivington Pike, Lancashire, was
attacked in 1913 by Edith Rigby (1872–1950), the founder and organiser of the Preston WSPU.
Rigby gave herself up to the police and was sent to prison for nine months.
A beef extract.
GARDNER 9781526138040 PRINT regular