Main Image Credit: SCT73 Photography

“Throughout the village, cleanliness, cheerfulness and order must prevail.”
– Sir Titus Salt’s first rule

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The fully restored Salt’s mill, village and park are now a fully fledged tourist attraction but at the same time is still a working village, with permanent residents, station and shops. The houses and street plan are still similar to those built by Salt and the properties are still highly sought after, these days complete with 21st century conveniences.

Saltaire offers something for everybody, whether you are interested in history, art or enjoy a walk along the canal. The six-storey mill looks from the outside much like it would have done 150 years ago, apart from the large chimney which was demolished in 1971 and blinds in some of the windows. It was designed by architects, Lockwood and Mawson and is 545ft long. The building was made from local sandstone and other non-combustible materials on purpose to reduce the risk of fire. It housed 1200 looms in its heyday and the layout was made in such a way that the entire worsted wool process could be manufactured entirely under one roof.

There is plenty to see and do inside the mill. The David Hockney 1853 gallery contains 300 exhibits the largest permanent collection of his work in the world. One of his most famous pictures called, “Twenty five trees” is on display, based on a scene in Bridlington, along with several paintings of the Yorkshire Wolds landscape. Hockney also embraces modern techniques in his art, using computer generated technology in some of his images.

Gallery 2 displays work from other artists in keeping with the area, including Henry Marvell Carr’s “The Industrial Process,” and a series of drawings of the village from Simon Palmer. On this floor there is also a Saltaire history exhibition, which charts the story of the village with artefacts, photographs and displays. The mill also contains numerous independent retailers, including jewellery, books, antiques and music to name but a few. Salt’s diner was opened in 1993 and sells a variety of quality food and drink while upstairs there is a fish restaurant called Cafe’ in the Opera.”

When Sir Titus Salt was alive he built several amenities for his workers to use. This included a church, school, park and the Victoria Hall.

The latter was one of his most impressive structures, opened in 1871 as a centre for culture, learning and recreation for the villagers. It is 15th Century in style and housed a ballroom, library and games room. The Institute as it was known in the village also hosted several important speakers, including Benjamin Disraeli and the explorer John Livingstone. This was all part of Salt’s plan to provide and enhance the lives of his workers.

The hall is still in use today for similar purposes and in recent times Tony Blair and Sir Paul McCartney have both visited here in the traditions of the venue. The Victoria Hall is also available to hire for conferences, weddings and community events.

Saltaire Congregational church was one of the first civic structures to be built by Salt and was completed in 1859. It was designed by Lockwood and Mawson the same architects who devised the mill. It is Italianate in design and has Corinthian pillars supporting a dome at the top. Notably the interior of the church has no religious imagery whatsoever but is beautifully decorated with marble and chandeliers on the ceiling. There is also a bust of Titus Salt on display, which was given to him by his workers.

Saltaire church is a unique design for a place of worship
Saltaire church is a unique design for a place of worship

Salt’s life in the village was also tinged with sadness. In 1851 two of his children, Whitlam and Mary died in infancy, followed ten years later by his daughter, Fanny aged just nineteen. A mausoleum was built for the family in 1861 and is where Titus and his wife, along with other family members are also buried.

Saltaire Park was a revolutionary feature of the village. The canal and river which flows through the village made an ideal setting for a green space and most importantly gave the mill workers access to fresh, clean air. It opened in 1871 and was one of the final features to be completed. The mill even stopped production for the day as all the workers were invited to its opening by Titus Salt and his daughter, Amelia. The fourteen acre site has plenty of wide open spaces for sport to be played including cricket, croquet and swimming in the river. It also features flowerbeds, woodland walks and a bandstand. The space was renamed Roberts Park after a former owner of the mill, James Roberts who died in 1920 and helped to carry on Salt’s legacy into the 20th Century. Modern features have also been added including a skate park, children’s play area, cafe’ and pub, the latter of which would never have been allowed in Salt’s day. Overlooking the park is a bronze statue of Sir Titus himself unveiled in 1903 to commemorate his 100th birthday and the 50th anniversary of the park.

The statue of sir titus in roberts park source saltaire daily photo
The statue of sir Titus in roberts park source saltaire daily photo

The original schoolhouse, nowadays part of Shipley College was built for the purpose of educating the millworker’s children. While in other parts of the city it was a common sight to see uneducated minors working long hours in the mills, Salt imposed a rule which meant that they could only work half-days. At the front gates of the schools are two carved lions which represent “vigilance” and “determination.

Alexandra Square is also a prominent feature of the village. This area is where forty-five almshouses were built in 1868 to take care of Saltaire’s elderly residents. These contained workers who had retired from the mill and also any person in the community who were deemed to be “of good moral character.” Residents had access to their own private chapel and had good views of the mill and surrounding moors. Nowadays the houses have been fully restored and occupied.

Robert's park, saltaire
Robert’s park, Saltaire

One of the biggest advantages of Saltaire’s location, apart from being near a river, canal and away from the slums of Bradford was the fact a new railway line from Shipley to Colne ran nearby. This was extended to Saltaire in 1856 and was useful for the transportation of both goods and workers, before the village had been completed. The station was closed due to the Beeching axe of the 1960s, but re-opened in 1984 as one of the first re-developments to the area. Nowadays the Airedale line is busy with workers, residents and tourists who wish to visit this World Heritage site. It runs services to Leeds Bradford and Skipton.

Saltaire station
Saltaire station

Saltaire is a story which still captures the imagination today. While most industrialists during the Victorian era were notoriously uncaring about the condition of their workforce, Sir Titus Salt stood apart from the rest. His vision to create a utopian working village was to set the standard for improvements to working life in this country. The work of modern day entrepreneurs has helped to preserve this village and corner of British Industrial history for all to enjoy.
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The model village of Saltaire until 1851 was an unoccupied tract of land adjacent to the town of Shipley, on the banks of both the River Aire and Leeds-Liverpool Canal. The area was bought by the industrialist, Sir Titus Salt to build his factory and houses in order to give his mill workers somewhere to live. This kind of practice was very common in Victorian England but Saltaire was to be very different from the rest.

Titus Salt was born on 20th September 1803 in Morley, West Yorkshire. He was the son of Daniel Salt and worked with his father selling wool to factories around the country. During this time he tried to sell Russian Donskoi wool in Bradford, but with limited success. Undeterred he decided to set up his own spinning factory and use the wool he could not sell. In 1836 his business was further enhanced, when as story has it, he uncovered bales of alpaca wool at a warehouse in Liverpool. Intrigued, he took samples home with him to experiment with and eventually came up with a successful method of production. The texture of the cloth that alpaca wool made when woven was perfect to make garments for the very rich.
By 1848 Salt had taken over his father’s business and with his five mills became the largest employer in Bradford. However he was not altogether satisfied. The entrepreneur became aware of the poverty and terrible conditions in which his workers lived. He concluded that if his workforce was healthier and stronger to work, then production in his mills would be increased meaning more wealth could be created. Moreover his religious beliefs and social conscience made him want to help the people who laboured for him. During his tenure as the mayor of Bradford in 1850 Salt tried to improve the city’s air quality by introducing laws to make the Rodda smoke burner compulsory in factories, which reduced emissions from mill chimneys. When the other industrialists refused Salt decided much more drastic action needed to be taken.
He decided to merge all his factories into one and build a large purpose-built mill on the edge of the city, away from the filth of the centre. He found a tract of land, just West of Shipley, a mill town in its own right, which conveniently lay next to the relatively new Leeds-Liverpool Canal, the fast flowing River Aire and a recently built railway line. These water sources were essential for the operation of the mill and the railway for transportation purposes. The landscape wasn’t bad either with moorland surrounding the site to the north. Salt’s vision was to build a place free from the dirt and slums of Bradford where his workers could lead healthier lives. The name, “Saltaire,” a combination of its founder and the nearby river was opened on his 50th birthday, September 20th 1853. The mill had 1,200 looms, which were operated by a workforce of 3,000 people and produced eighteen miles of cloth per day.

Sir titus salt created saltaire to help his workers
Sir titus salt created saltaire to help his workers

The village he created afterwards contained streets named after his wife, Caroline and his eleven children. The accommodation was not like the back to back housing which were present in the slum areas, but terraced ones that contained their own private toilets and backyards. They also had their own gas and water supplies, run from the mill. By 1871 there were 775 houses with a population of 4,000. In the village itself a church, school, library and park were added to make it a self-contained settlement, where the vices of drink and other illicit activities were banned. Famously there were no pubs or “beer shops,” built on purpose because in Salt’s eyes sobriety was crucial to the health of the community and production at his mill.

The streets in saltaire were named after members of the salt family
The streets in saltaire were named after members of the salt family

In return for Salt’s provisions in his village there were also a strict set of rules in which the residents must abide by or face punishment, either financially or in serious cases, eviction from the entire community itself. These were as follows:

  1. Throughout the village, cleanliness, cheerfulness, and order- must reign supreme.
  2. Only persons who are good, obedient, honest and hardworking will be allocated a house in each village
  3. Anyone caught in a state of inebriation will immediately be evicted.
  4. All persons living in Saltaire will enjoy ‘comfort utility, healthfulness and convenience. Each house and its’ immediate exterior is to be kept clean by, or at the expense of the occupant.
  5. Any damage to any of the houses or fixtures, must be made good by the occupant, otherwise the cost thereof will be deducted from the weekly wage……….
  6. No animals to be kept in the village including chickens, rabbits, or pigeons.
  7. The founder will make a periodical inspection of the village & housing…………..
  8. No washing to be hung out to dry in front or behind any of the properties, or in the vicinity of the village.
  9. The founder would recommend that all inmates wash themselves every morning, but they shall wash themselves at least twice a week, Monday morning and Thursday morning; any found not washed will be fined 3d for each offence.
  10. All children living or working in the village must attend school half time, up to the age of twelve years and learn reading, writing and arithmetic.
  11. None of the inmates…..shall underlet the tenement assigned to him……or take any person to lodge or reside therein, without the written permission of the founder……..
  12. Gatherings or loitering of more than eight persons in the streets is strictly forbidden.

These rules were designed to make sure that the mill workers remained in a healthy condition to work, free from the effects of alcohol and disease spread by animals. Their environment also had to be maintained so that the place was an oasis of order and calm amongst the chaos which was to be found outside its borders.

Although it was not the first of its kind, Saltaire was a revolutionary model in mid- Victorian Britain and sowed the seeds for Public Health legislation and improvements to the quality of life for industrial workers across Britain. Salt’s work also led to him being given a baronet by Queen Victoria, meaning that he became known as “Sir Titus Salt” in 1869.

In 1876 Sir Titus Salt died aged 73 and his civic funeral was said to be attended by 100,000 people. The village was passed onto his wife, Lady Caroline and their three sons, Titus Junior, Edward and George, who tried to carry on their father’s work.

In the last two decades of the 19th Century the mill and village project were under threat for a number of reasons. Firstly the alpaca wool, which Salt’s mill produced, became less fashionable amongst the elite, as other fibres became available on the market. Moreover tighter trade barriers imposed by America meant higher duties on imported goods, which would affect production at Saltaire from a key market.

Secondly the conditions in the rest of the city began to improve, due to the Public Health Act 1875, which meant that houses had to contain internal sewage systems and a running water supply. This stopped the spread of disease and helped clean up the city streets. As this act was enforced more and more towards the end of the century it meant that one of the biggest reasons why Saltaire was built became more irrelevant.

The mill and village left the Salt family in 1893, after an unsuccessful attempt to establish an enterprise in the USA, which resulted in the liquidation of their company. The mill and village were passed onto four Bradford businessmen and slowly the tight restrictions imposed by Salt on its tenants began to loosen. By 1933 villagers were able to buy their properties for the first time and during the inter-war period the mill flourished with a variety of fabrics and clothes leaving the production line.

The streets and houses were purposely built for the workers source walking englishman
The streets and houses were purposely built for the workers source walking englishman

The outbreak of World War II led to the mill producing clothes for the services. It also started to employ workers from outside the village, with many men coming in from Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth to cover nightshifts, which women were not allowed to do at the time.

In the latter half of the 20th Century as Bradford’s woollen industry declined, production at Salt’s mill also began to suffer. In 1971 the mill’s chimney, which stood 76m high was removed for safety reasons, while the village around it began to fall into disrepair. The properties, which were now more than one hundred years old began to show their age and some, had been empty for years.

In 1986 Salt’s mill spun its last wool and was closed down. Two years earlier a committee had been set up to try and preserve the historic village. The mill was bought by Jonathan Silver who transformed Saltaire into the tourist attraction and world heritage site that it is today. His friend, artist David Hockney started an exhibition inside the mill and other areas were sublet to other industries, such as PACE technology who established themselves here in 1990. Three years later the restaurant opened and the park was restored to its former glory. In 1997 Jonathan Silver died, but his ten year impact on redeveloping Saltaire had been immense and has been carried on by his family ever since. In 2001 it became a UNESCO world heritage site, which means that it is a “site of outstanding cultural or natural importance to the common heritage of humanity.” This status also protects any building within the village from demolition. It is nowadays a popular Yorkshire tourist attraction with tours around the village, mill and park, providing a fantastic insight into Yorkshire’s industrial heritage and Victorian philanthropy.
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