How Port Sunlight became the birthplace of The Beatles

Image by Rais Esat
Date: 25/11/2023

It’s safe to say you can’t speak of Liverpool unless you utter ‘The Beatles’ in the same breath. The iconic rock band haven’t stopped touching the hearts of hundreds of millions around the world since their dissolution at the tail end of 1974.

However, not many know of their roots before shooting off into international stardom over 60 years ago,  which saw them acquire the nickname ‘the Fab Four’. And it was all thanks to a peaceful model village in the Wirral that the music scene was changed forever.

The Beatles gave four performances at Hulme Hall in Port Sunlight, the first on the 7th of July 1962, marking a defining period in their early history.

On the 18th of August 1962, Hulme Hall served as the venue for Ringo Starr’s first official performance as a Beatle, following the sacking of Pete Best. They played at the Port Sunlight Horticultural Society’s after-show dance, making it the band’s first official performance as the Fab Four and bringing about the genesis of the rock band’s rise to fame.

Image from Creative Commons License

The iconic plaque at Hulme Hall in Port Sunlight

Other shows followed on the 6th and the 27th of October 1962.  Today, Hulme Hall is used for various private and public events ranging from weddings, parties, tea dances, exhibitions and more. Featuring historical and original features but with a modern twist, the hall prides itself on being the chosen venue for the local community.

Port Sunlight was founded by politician and businessman William Hesketh Lever, 1st Viscount Leverhulme in 1888, who sought for a place to house his soap manufacturers and provide them with decent living conditions.

Facilities such as beautiful parks, well-maintained gardens, schools, hospitals, churches, a fire service and more were implemented to ensure Lever’s workforce had a stable life outside of the factories.

Lever, among his other roles, was also an avid art collector, and displayed his collections on the walls around the 130 acre-village. One of these buildings that functioned as a pseudo-art gallery was Hulme Hall, built in 1901.

It was used initially as a women’s dining hall seating 1500 girls, but later became an art gallery in 1911 prior to the art collection’s removal to the Lady Lever Art Gallery 11 years later.

The grand gallery, still open today, was dedicated to the memory of Lever’s wife after her passing. It houses one of the UK’s finest collections of Wedgwood Jasperware and Pre-Raphaelite paintings.

During World War I, Hulme Hall became a shelter for 111 refugees from Belgium. The east wing accommodated 42 men and the west wing provided dormitory for 31 women and 38 children with the central hall serving as a dining room and place for recreation.

Image courtesy of Hulme Hall

Hulme Hall

Much of the entertainment in the village was organised by the Social and Recreation Department of Lever Brothers Limited, Port Sunlight. The department would book the village halls for the various independent clubs and societies that existed in the village – there were no less than 34 at this time with over 6,000 members. Over 100 dances were held each year at Hulme Hall, attracting up to 45,000 people.

After the refugees were gone, the hall was converted to a military hospital for the remainder of the war. It was then used as a hostel for Dutch and Belgium refugees at the beginning of the Second World War, before later taking on a military role sheltering US and Canadian troops.

The ‘Beatles Over The Water’ exhibition at Port Sunlight Museum, Wirral includes tales and nostalgia of the historic events of the band’s relations to the quaint Merseyside village.

Complete with film showings, interactives, models and an array of intriguing artefacts, the museum space acts as a cultural marker depicting the manifestation and creation of Port Sunlight, the model village created by industrialist and philanthropist William Hesketh Lever 135 years ago, that seems to be continuously growing in popularity as a tourist destination in recent memory.

  • Find Port Sunlight Museum at 23 King George’s Drive, Bebington, Wirral, CH62 5DX. Open Wednesday-Saturday 10am-4:30pm
  • Images and research from Rais Esat, Hulme Hall and Port Sunlight Museum