Saltaire is a Victorian model village located in Bradford, Shipley to be exact. It has something to offer everyone with its extensive history, famous art, and it’s relaxing walk along the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and River Aire.
- Saltaire Village
- Salts Mill
- Victoria Hall
- Saltaire Park
- Alexandra Square
- Education in Saltaire
- Religion in Saltaire
- Transportation in Saltaire
- The History of Saltaire
Saltaire village is home to Salt’s mill, Victoria Hall, and Alexander Square. Nowadays it’s a fully fledged tourist attraction.
Despite welcoming visitors daily, it’s still a working village. Saltaire is home to permanent residents, a railway station, and shops.
The houses and street plan are still very similar to those originally built by Sir Titus Salt. These properties are highly sought after and are complete with 21st Century conveniences.
Salts Mill has plenty to see and do. The mill is known for the David Hockney 1853 Gallery which contains over 300 exhibits of his work.
This gallery is the largest collection of David Hockney’s work in the world. One of his most famous pictures, “Twenty five trees” based on a scene in Bridlington, is on display here.
There are also several other paintings of the Yorkshire Wolds landscape. Hockney has embraced modern techniques in his art including computer generated technology.
Gallery 2 displays work from other artists in keeping with the area. These include 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. This tells the story of the village with artefacts, photographs, and displays.
The mill also contains numerous independent retailers. A few of these include jewellery, books, antiques, and music.
In 1993, Salt’s diner opened which sells a variety of quality food and drink. Upstairs there is a fish restaurant called “Cafe in the Opera”.
In 1871, Victoria Hall was built within the Saltaire Village. Since then, it has become a Grade II listed building.
Originally, the hall was used as a centre for both learning and recreation. It’s still currently in use today for similar purposes.
The hall is available to hire for conferences, weddings, and community events. In more recent times, Tony Blair and Sir Paul McCartney have visited here in the traditions of the venue.
Saltaire Park was a revolutionary feature of the West Yorkshire village. The canal and river which flows through the village made it ideal for green space and also gave the mill workers access to clean fresh air.
It opened in 1871 and was the final feature to be completed. The mill stopped production that day and all the workers were invited to its opening by Titus Salt and his daughter Amelia.
There are plenty of wide open spaces. In total there are fourteen acres on this site which makes it suitable for a range of activities.
It’s perfect for playing sports including cricket, croquet, and swimming in the river. The park also features flowerbeds, woodland walks, and a bandstand.
The space was renamed Roberts Park after the death of James Roberts in 1920. He was a former owner of the mill who helped carry on Salt’s legacy into the 20th Century.
Since then, modern features have been added. These include 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. It was unveiled in 1903 to commemorate his 100th birthday and the 50th anniversary of the park.
Alexandra Square is also a prominent feature of the village. In 1868, 45 almshouses (houses founded by charities) were built to take care of Saltaire’s elderly residents.
These contained workers who had retired from the mill. They were also home to anyone in the community who were deemed to be “of good moral character”.
Residents here had access to their own private chapel and good views of the mill and surrounding moors. Nowadays, the houses have been fully restored and occupied.
The original schoolhouse was built for the purpose of educating the mill worker’s children. Nowadays it’s part of Shipley College.
In other parts of the city, it was common to see uneducated minors working long hours in the mills. Titus Salt imposed a rule which meant that they could only work half-days.
At the front gates of the school are two carved lions which are still there today. These represent vigilance and determination.
One of the first civic structures to be built by Salt was the Saltaire Congregational Church. Construction of the church was completed in 1859.
It was designed by Lockwood and Mawson, the same architects who created the mill. The church has an italianate design and corinthian pillars supporting a dome at the top.
Notably, the interior of the church has no religious imagery. However it is beautifully decorated with marble and chandeliers on the ceiling.
Inside the church is a bust of Titus Salt on display. This was given to him as a gift by his workers.
Saltaire Railway Station originally opened in 1856. Since opening, it has been busy with workers, residents, and tourists who wish to visit the World Heritage Site.
This train station runs on the Airedale line. It offers services to Leeds, Bradford, and Skipton.
Saltaire is a story which still captures the imagination today. Whilst most Victorian industrialists were notoriously uncaring about their workers, Sir Titus Salt truly stood apart.
His vision to create a utopian working village set the standard for improving working life in this country. Modern day entrepreneurs have preserved this village and corner of British Industrial history for all to enjoy.
The model village of Saltaire was originally an unoccupied tract of land adjacent to the town of Shipley. That was until Sir Titus Salt bought the area.
Salt built his factory and houses in order to give his mill workers somewhere to live. This was very common in Victorian England but that didn’t stop Saltaire being very different from the rest.
Titus Salt was born on the 20th of September in 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. However, this didn’t go as well as he’d planned and only had a small amount of success.
Undeterred, Titus Salt decided to set up his own spinning factory. He used the rest of the wool that he wasn’t able to sell.
In 1836, he further enhanced his business. Titus uncovered bales of alpaca wool at a warehouse in Liverpool.
Intrigued by this, he decided to take samples home and experiment. After a bit of trial and error, Salt came up with a successful method of production.
The texture of the alpaca wool was unique. When woven, it was perfect to make garments for the very rich.
Salt took over his father’s business
By 1848, Salt had taken over his father’s business. With his five mills, he became the largest employer in Bradford.
Despite this, Salt was not completely satisfied. The entrepreneur became aware of the poverty and terrible conditions in which his workers lived.
He concluded that if his workers were healthy and strong, production in his mills would increase along with his money. Salt’s religious beliefs and social conscience made him want to help the people who laboured for him.
In 1850, Titus Salt became mayor of Bradford. During his tenure, Salt introduced new laws.
These were to improve the city’s air quality. Rodda smoke burners were compulsory in factories to reduce emissions from mill chimneys.
Other industrialists refused to accept this law. As a result, Salt decided to take much more drastic actions.
He decided to merge all of his factories into one. A large purpose built mill was constructed on the edge of the city away from the filth of the centre.
The beginning of Salt’s vision
Salt found land just West of Shipley which would later become a mill town. It’s conveniently next to the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, the fast flowing River Aire, and a recently built railway line.
These water sources were essential for mill operation and the railway for transportation. 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. His main goal was to help his workers have healthier lives.
The name “Saltaire” is a combination of its founder and the nearby river. On Salt’s 50th birthday, 20th of September 1853, the village opened.
In total, the mill had 1,200 looms. These were operated by a workforce of 3,000 people and produced eighteen miles of cloth per day.
From the outside, the six storey mill looks very similar to what it would have done 150 years ago. The differences are the blinds in the window and the 1971 demolition of the large chimney.
It was designed by architects Lockwood and Mawson. In total the mill is 545ft long.
The building was made from local sandstone and other non-combustible materials. It was built with the purpose of reducing the risk of fire in mind.
In its heyday, the mill housed 1,200 looms. The layout of the mill was done in a way that the entire worsted wool process could be manufactured entirely under one roof.
Developing the Village
After the mill was built, Titus focused on creating the rest of the village. Streets were named after his wife Caroline and their eleven children.
Accommodation was not like the back to back housing which were present in the slum areas. The houses were terraced and contained their own private toilets and gardens.
Each of these houses also had their own gas and water suppliers run from the mill. By 1871, there were 775 houses with a population of 4,000.
In the village itself, there was a church, school, library, and park. This was to make the village into a self-contained settlement.
Drink and other illicit activities were banned. There were no pubs or beer shops because Salt believed sobriety was crucial to the health of his workers and production in his mill.
In return for Salt’s provisions in his village, there was a strict set of rules. Residents had to abide by these or face punishment.
Punishment could be financial. In more serious cases, it could be eviction from the entire community itself.
These rules were:
- Throughout the village, cleanliness, cheerfulness, and order must reign supreme.
- Only persons who are good, obedient, honest, and hardworking will be allocated a house in each village.
- Anyone caught in a state of inebriation will immediately be evicted.
- 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.
- 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.
- No animals to be kept in the village including chickens, rabbits, or pigeons.
- The founder will make a periodical inspection of the village & housing.
- No washing to be hung out to dry in front or behind any of the properties, or in the vicinity of the village.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Gatherings or loitering of more than eight persons in the streets is strictly forbidden.
These rules were designed to make sure mill workers remained in a healthy condition to work. They would be free from the effects of alcohol and disease spread by animals.
Their environment also had to be looked after. This was to maintain an oasis of order and calm amongst the chaos which was found outside of its borders.
Although not the first of its kind, Saltaire was a revolutionary model in mid Victorian Britain. It helped sow the seeds for Public Health legislation and improve the quality of life for British industrial workers.
The beginning of Victoria Hall
Salt’s work led to Queen Victoria giving him a baronet. This meant he became known as Sir Titus Salt in 1869.
Victoria Hall is one of Salt’s most impressive structures. It opened in 1871 and was used by his workers for learning, recreation, and culture.
The building was created in a 15th Century style. Inside it had a ballroom, library, and games room.
In the village, Victoria Hall was known as “The Institute”. In the past it hosted several important speakers including Benjamin Disraelie and explorer John Livingstone.
This was all part of Salt’s plan to provide and enhance the lives of his workers.
An Ideal Location
One of the biggest advantages of the village is Saltaire’s location. It’s close to the river, canal, and away from the slums of Bradford.
It wasn’t only water transport the village benefited from. A new railway line from Shipley to Colne ran nearby.
In 1856, this extended to Saltaire. It was useful for transporting goods and workers before the village was completed.
Due to the Beeching axe in the 1960’s, the station closed. However, in 1984, it reopened as one of the first redevelopments to the area.
The life & death of Sir Titus Salt
In 1876, Sir Titus Salt died aged 73. 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. After Salt’s death, they tried to carry on their fathers work.
Salt’s life in the village was tinged with sadness. In 1851, two of his children Whitlam and Mary died in infancy followed ten years later by his nineteen year old daughter Fanny.
In 1861, a mausoleum was built for the family. Titus and his wife, along with other family members, were buried here.
Trouble at t’mill
In the last two decades of the 19th Century, there was trouble at t’mill. Both the mill and village project were under threat for a number of reasons.
The alpaca wool which Salt’s mill produced became less fashionable amongst the elite. Other fibres became available on the market which were becoming more popular.
There were also tighter trade barriers imposed by America. This resulted in higher duties on imported goods which reduced profit margin.
Improved Living Conditions
Living conditions in the rest of the city began to improve. This was down to the Public Health Act 1875.
It meant that houses had to contain internal sewage systems and a running water supply. As a result, it helped stop the spread of disease and clean up the city streets.
This act was enforced more towards the end of the century. It was one of the biggest reasons why Saltaire became more irrelevant.
In 1893, the mill and village left the Salt family after an unsuccessful attempt to establish an enterprise in the USA. This resulted in the liquidation of the company.
The mill and village were passed onto four Bradford businessmen. 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. During the interwar period, the mill flourished with a variety of fabrics and clothes leaving the production line.
World War II
The outbreak of World War II led to the mill producing clothes for the services. It also started to employ workers outside the village.
Many of these men came from Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth to cover night shifts. At the time, women weren’t allowed to work this shift.
Decline of the Woollen Industry
Bradford’s woollen industry declined in the second half of the 20th Century. Production at Salt’s mill also began to suffer.
In 1971, the mill’s chimney, which was 76m high, was removed for safety reasons. During this time, the village around it began to fall into disrepair.
The properties were now more than 100 years old and began to show their age. Some have even been empty for years.
In 1986, Salt’s mill spun its last wool and closed down. Two years earlier, a committee had been set up to try and preserve the historic village.
Transformation of Saltaire
The mill was bought by Johnathan Silver. He transformed Saltaire into the tourist attraction and world heritage site it is today.
Silver’s friend, artist David Hockney, started an exhibition inside the mill. Other areas were sublet to industries such as PACE technology who established themselves here in 1990.
Three years later, the restaurant opened. The park was also restored to its former glory during this time.
In 1997, Jonathan Silver died. His ten year impact on redeveloping Saltaire had been immense and has since been carried on by his family.
Saltaire village became a UNESCO world heritage site in 2001. This means it’s a “site of outstanding cultural or natural importance to the common heritage of humanity”.
This status also protects the village. Saltaire cannot be demolished as a result so visitors can continue to enjoy it.
Nowadays, it’s a popular Yorkshire tourist attraction with tours around the village, mill, and park. It provides insight into Yorkshire’s industrial heritage and Victorian philanthropy.