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The history of Thornton Manor - the historic Wirral landmark

20:15 17 January 2010



A look inside Thornton Manor, once home to Lord Leverhulme <br/>Pictures: John Cocks Words: Gillian Hook

THORNTON Manor may have hit the headlines earlier this year as the venue for Colleen McLoughlin's lavish 21st birthday party, and in 2001 it entered the record books when most of its contents were sold for £9million.

But there is a great deal more to this historic Wirral landmark than just headlines. It is the former home of the Leverhulme family who pioneered the soap industry and developed the global empires of Lever Brothers and Unilever.

In 1881, William Hesketh Lever purchased the then modest Victorian villa that was Thornton Manor, conveniently close to the developing works and village Port Sunlight.

With the purchase completed, however, he had the house replaced by a multi-gabled neo-Jacobean mansion designed by the Chester architects Douglas and Fordham.

Little of this house now remains apart from the present entrance, for it was not long before Lever wanted additions, which were completed by 1914.

In 1910, the outstanding gatehouse and sheltered forecourt was built to the design of James Lomax Simpson, the son of the Lever's best school friend. This eliminated a portion of the driveway and the sheltered forecourt was added at the same time.

The great entertaining room, The Music Room, was added in 1902 by JJ Talbot. It was fitted out in the style of Wren, the sumptuous wall panelling and an elaborate plaster barrel vault framing painted panels by Giovanni Cipriani. The Music Room in the words of Lever's own employees of the time 'betokens comfort, beauty and happiness'.

Lever adopted many different styles throughout the house. The beautifully ornate French drawing room, library and Adams room were used both for relaxing and the expansion of Leverhulme's empire. The early Georgian style dining room has unpolished walnut panelling and spectacular plasterwork.

Of all the bedrooms at Thornton Manor, the most remarkable in Lever's own, the Outdoor Bedroom. All his life he slept in the open air. He would sleep out in all weathers and was even known to have awoken in the morning with snow sprinkled on his counterpane.

On to the gardens and grounds and the spine of the garden is an immensely long central walk stretching from the house, past lime avenues, columned pergolas, yew hedges and borders to a great, circular rose garden.

The full circuit of the grounds runs for more than two and a half miles completed by a 14-acre lake and canal set in 20 acres of mixed woodland. Two permanent waterside marquees are currently under construction to allow for entertainment, located on the lake and in the secret garden area known as The Dell.

Ina Schmidt, marketing director at the mansion, said: 'Thornton Manor is managed and run as a private venue. Our goal is to keep the charm and spirit of this fantastic, beautiful historic building.'

Thornton Manor is a spectacular venue for celebrations of all kinds, especially weddings.

To find out more ring 0151-353 1155

The life of Lord Leverhulme

WILLIAM Hesketh Lever was born in 1851, the son of a wholesale grocer. He joined the family business but in 1880s he decided to expand into other areas, and eventually settled on soap. He began in a Warrington chemical works where he experimented with different ingredients before finally settling on a mixture of tallow, resin, cottonseed oil and palm kernel oil, which he called Sunlight soap.

It was such a success that the Warrington factory couldn't cope with demand and so he commissioned a purpose-built factory on the Wirral and named it Port Sunlight. He also built a model town to house his workers. Port Sunlight also produced Lifebuoy Carbolic Soap, Sunlight Soap Flakes and cleaning product Vim. A charitable man, Lever's contribution to society was recognised when he was given the title Lord Leverhulme. He died in 1925.


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