Google+ A Bit About Britain: Saltaire & Salt's Mill Google+


Get to know A Bit About Britain - an idiosyncratic view of places to visit in Britain, British history - and stuff. Warts and all. Where shall we go today?

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Saltaire & Salt's Mill

Saltaire, about Britain, Yorkshire
Salt's factory on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal
Call a child Titus Salt and he’ll have to learn to cope.  A bit like the Boy Named Sue, there’s a good chance he’ll either dramatically fail or dramatically succeed.  Titus Salt did the latter; he was an extraordinary man. A 19th century mill owner in Bradford, Titus wanted to expand his cloth business.  However, he also believed he had a moral responsibility for the welfare of his workers.  Between 1851 and 1876, Salt progressively built a new mill and model factory community in Airedale near Shipley known as the Palace of Industry.  Away from the brothels, drinking dens and open sewers of Bradford, the complex included decent housing for his workers, a school, library, church, park, hospital – and so on.  Mind you, Salt was one of those God-fearing-the-devil-will get-you teetotal types; things had to be done his way or not at all and there was certainly no pub.  But the fact remains that his employees enjoyed a better standard of living and health because of this astonishing philanthropist.

Saltaire, about Britain, Yorkshire
It's a photogenic place...
With the decline of the textile trade, and the mixed (and sometime lurid) fortunes of Salt’s successors, deterioration set in.  The houses were sold in 1933 and the mill progressively fell into disrepair, closing in 1986.  The mill was rescued from oblivion in 1987 by another extraordinary entrepreneur, Jonathan Silver.  Now it includes thriving businesses, up-market retail outlets and the world’s largest permanent exhibition of the works of local artist, David Hockney.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t really understand all the fuss about Hockney’s work: sure, some of it is wonderfully perceptive and beautifully executed; then some of it looks almost as good as the stuff produced by our local primary school.  I picked up a book whilst wandering around; it was called “How to appreciate art” or something equally pretentious.  Strikes me if you need to learn how to appreciate a piece of art, then it’s failed.  Just a personal view…
Saltaire, about Britain, Yorkshire
Quality and classic Victorian houses,
each with its own outside loo

But - without its saviour and Hockney's generosity, the place wouldn’t be there and in the state it is.  And it is just wonderful.  As well as art, the mill offers a range of shops, somewhere for a coffee and a bun and a Saltaire history exhibition.  Outside, thanks to the efforts of the Saltaire Village Society and others, it’s like stepping back in time, albeit to a very clean one, of neat Victorian houses with real corner shops, cafes and so on.  Just wandering around the grid of streets (each named after Salt’s children), dipping into places as you go and looking at the listed buildings, is a real pleasure.  Nostalgia’s not what it used to be - but that's why some of the photos are black and white.  The housing, built between 1854 and 1868, was hierarchical; if you were a foreman, you got a better pad than a mere pleb.  It’s not a museum, though; this is a living community – so don’t be too nosey.

Saltaire, about Britain, Yorkshire
Saltaire United Reform Church
Since 2001, Saltaire has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  When it was built, it stood in open countryside; now it perches on the fringes of the sprawling Bradford conurbation, a monument to northern Britain’s past economic glories and the vision of one man, Titus Salt.

Saltaire is about 4 miles north of Bradford, just off the A650.  Rail services from Leeds, Bradford and Skipton run to Saltaire Railway Station, situated just opposite the mill.

Visit Saltaire's village website.

Titus Salt, Saltaire, about Britain, Yorkshire
Sir Titus Salt

1 comment:

  1. A lovely write-up, Mike. I'm fortunate to live in Saltaire and blog about it on a more or less daily basis on


Hi - thanks for dropping into A Bit About Britain. New material is now being posted to and most of the material here will gradually be updated and moved over to that new site. Please drop in there, click on the blog page, and take a look round. TTFN - Mike.