Visit England: Saltaire, Yorkshire, World Heritage Site
Saltaire, Yorkshire, United Kingdom is steeped with history dating back to the early 1850’s. As a resident, I find enjoyment discovering the history of the picturesque village that I call home. I often venture down to the historic mill that once housed the working residents that lived in the model village, a pioneer of its time.
Sir Titus Salt was born 20th September 1803 in Morley, near Leeds, United Kingdom to Congregationalist parents. Salt’s father, Daniel was a reasonably successful businessman which allowed Salt and his siblings to enjoy a comfortable existence at a time when poverty was strive amongst the working classes.
Salt’s father decided to move him and his family to Bradford in 1822 to work as a Wool-stapler - a dealer in wool who buys directly from the producer and then grades it to then sell on to manufacturers. The move would prove to be the start of Salt’s career in the wool industry and lead to his fortune.
Salt trained with Rouse & Sons for a period of two years learning the skills required within the wool industry, sorting, weaving, spinning and combing - skills that were the foundation of his growth to his success. After completing training with Rouse & Sons Salt joined his father’s business, Daniel Salt and Son in 1825.
In 1829 Salt married Caroline Whitlam of Grimsby, United Kingdom daughter of a wealthy sheep farmer. They had 11 children together, all of which have streets named after them in Saltaire.
After his father’s retirement in 1833 he took over the family business and started out specialising in Russian Donskoi wool which was widely used in the woolen trade but not in worsted cloth. Worsted cloth is derived from Worstead in Norfolk, United Kingdom, it’s name refers to the name of the yarn and the cloth used.
Titus visited the various mills of Bradford and the country in an attempt to interest them to use it in worsted manufacturing but his efforts were fruitless, no one was interested in the product. This was due to the difficulty in processing the tangled fibres. At this point many people would have considered giving up on the concept of the Donskoi wool but not Salt he had bigger plans. Salt decided to set up as a mill and spin the wool himself. Salt not only worked with the Donskoi wool he also decided to work with alpaca wool. This was not a new concept at the time, but was one of the first to create the very fashionable ‘alpaca cloth’.
By 1848 he was one of the richest men and one of the biggest employers in Bradford thanks to the unusual wool he used that allowed him to exploit the possibilities of alpaca wool. The mill prospered and at the time of him purchasing the land to build Saltaire he owned 5 mills in the Bradford area. His success led him to become the Mayor of Bradford in November 1848 to November 1849. Salt did not hide away from his public persona, and was an active in a number of issues affecting Bradford at the time.
To add to his list of achievements and success, Salt was also a borough magistrate, a Deputy Lieutenant of the West Riding and a Liberal member of parliament for Bradford between 1859 and 1861. He was given a baronet in 1869 something that is still passed down his descendants to this day.
The Victorian village was founded by Sir Titus Salt in 1853. The idea for the village is thought to have been devised toward the end of 1850.
The name ‘Saltaire’ is derived from its founder ‘Salt’ and the River Aire in which it is located. The village of Saltaire were once fields set in the backdrop of the Yorkshire Dales. Salt paid for the land and thus started the foundations for Saltaire a self contained village for workers at his mill, the focal point for all who lived there. Saltaire is steeped in history and it is still evident in the beautifully crafted stone buildings and engravings on their facades providing an insight into time gone by.
The village was built for purpose but in its plans were designs to ensure it encapsulated the beauty of the surrounding area and provide a good standard of living for the workers away from the stench and vice of the city of Bradford.
Salt’s design of the village encompasses a grid style layout with two main streets running parallel to one another - Victoria Street and George Street, named after the then King and Queen of England. The theme has continued throughout the village with many of the streets named after one of Salt’s 11 children, his wife and the architects of the village.
Salt wanted to ensure a good quality of life for his workers and this is reflected in the buildings he chose to have commissioned. Salt provide a mill, church,hospital, bath houses (these didn’t prove popular and were later demolished), concert hall, a school, allotments, park and a boathouse situated on the River Aire, now a popular bar and restaurant often frequented by locals who enjoy the views of Roberts Park and the river.
All the houses in the village offer a unique style that encapsulates the presence of its time and still manages to hold its grandeur after almost 150 years. The houses are stone built each having their individual style from small terraces, to the grand three storey properties that once housed employees that held a good position at the mill. Saltaire became extremely popular and many local councillors and senior figures wanted to live in the village and do so in the grandest houses.
The concert hall, known as Victoria Hall is still used today and has a number of musicians playing live at the intimate venue. It also hosts a number of craft fairs, clothes sales that attract visitors to pick up a bargain and marvel at the array of goods available.
However Salt refused to build a public house for his workers and actioned a ban that no alcohol be sold or drank within the village confines. This however has now changed and the village boasts around 7 different bars, one aptly named as “Don’t tell Titus”.
Salt died in 1876 over 100,000 people attended his funeral in Bradford, a show of respect and consideration for such a wealthy and well loved man by the community in which he created. Salt’s eldest son took over the reigns of the business, but his untimely death saw the descent of the family business that Salt had worked so tirelessly to build.
The business was taken over but unfortunately the owner at the time chose to invest money overseas which caused a significant loss in his fortune. The village started to lose its statue and presence, and over the years people began to move away leaving many buildings unoccupied and boarded up, a shell of its former self.
Thankfully however the council commissioned plans to reinstate the historical site back to its former glory and encourage locals to move back into the area. The village became a UNESCO World heritage site in 2001 and almost all the buildings have been given grade 1 or 2 listed.
Today, Saltaire has not changed structurally and it is design but some of the buildings are now used for different purposes all in keeping with the traditions of the village. The mill now hosts one of the largest collections of paintings by the artist David Hockney and is a popular place for visitors. The mill hosts a bookshop, cafe, museum, and a host of shops for all age groups, a must see on a visit to the village.
If you visit Saltaire there are a host of activities to enjoy from treading the cobbled streets and enjoying a cake and a coffee in the numerous cafes to taking a boat along the canal and taking in the breathtaking scenery.
Take a walk through Roberts Park which has recently being regenerated and boasts a band stand where during the summer months many bands take to the stand for intimate and enjoyable entertainment.
The park has gone under recent renovation by the local council through a lottery fund and has seen a vast improvement in facilities including the band stand, cafes, seating and improved walkways for visitors.
Saltaire is also home to the oldest Victoria tramway- The Shipley Glen Tramway dating back to 1895 which was recently renovated and now offers visitors the experience of the tramway through the idyllic woodland.
In September there is an 11 day festival, originally started in 2003 to commemorate the life of Salt and tradition has continued for the past few years. The festival often attracts tourists from around the country with locals opening up their homes for a guided tour and to marvel over the original features. There is a continental market offering copious stalls of foods from around the world from French cheeses to Kangaroo or Ostrich burgers (an acquired taste I would think!) For those that enjoy a tipple or two there is a beer festival usually over one of the weekends that has ales from across the county and beyond, be warned they can be strong!
This is a snapshot of my home village and would recommend to all of you if you visit Yorkshire to visit Saltaire. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing about this wonderful place.