Saltaire is a place with a special atmosphere and a special place in British history, but also a place which very few people have ever heard of. We visited last year but then because of time and terribly wet weather we did not have time to look around the village itself. At that time we spent the day exploring the Salts gallery, where you can see so many pieces of art work from David Hockney, as well as galleries of furniture and beautiful craftwork.
Saltaire is a World Heritage Site and is recognised for the part it played in the development of the society we live in today. When you visit it is hard to believe it was the creation of one man, Titus Salt, a true visionary. He began as a successful business man, indeed one of England’s most eminent Victorian industrialists. He began by building a mill where he aimed to produce the finest wool fabrics utilising the most efficient methods available at the time.
What made Salt stand “head and shoulders” above his contemporaries was his desire to provide his workers with the healthiest working conditions possible. coupled with this was his ambition to provide his workers and their families with social and community benefits virtually unknown during this period of British social history. We discovered how he achieved this as we explored the “model village” of Saltaire.
It was great to arrive again at Saltaire with the weather slightly better than on our last visit. Dull, overcast but not raining! So follow in our footsteps along the cobbled streets as Jude the Undergardener negotiates the town trail leaflet which took us down into Albert Terrace.
We turned into William Henry Street where we noticed a variety of styles and sizes of house, from the smallest terraces with no front garden to three story town houses and larger semi-detached homes with gardens. This reflected the status and responsibilities of the tenant. Every street in Saltaire is wide enough to ensure natural light for every home. The three story buildings comprised shared lodgings for single workers whereas those adjoining with a small front garden were homes to the factory foremen.
In Caroline Street the front door of every house opens directly onto the street showing that these tenants were the lowliest workers. The back lanes between the rear yards of these terraces, which once would have been home to the washing lines and ash cans have become the habitat of the wheelie-bin.
When we turned the corner into Albert Road we noticed a distinct change. The houses here were larger, grander residences and all semi-detached. These were home to company executives, teachers and the church minister. These would have been built on the outer boundary to ensure their tenants had a view of open countryside as befitting their status at that time. Open spaces throughout were left for small squares and gardens for communal use. The bunting hanging in the trees shows that this still holds true today.
All homes whatever the status of the tenant had better conditions than anywhere else in the country at that period. Every house had running water, gas lights, a yard and an outside toilet. There must have been a great sense of pride here. The alternative conditions which most of their contemporaries endured would have been a different world. Salt had moved his factories and his workforce out of Bradford which was then the fastest growing town in the UK. The mill workers of Northern mill towns such as Bradford would have suffered terrible, dirty, dangerous working conditions and slums as homes. Working conditions would still have been difficult and the hours long but Salt was a philanthropic employer.
One of Titus Salt’s most thoughtful and forward thinking ideas was the provision of almhouses, which we found situated around Alexandra Square. These were homes for elderly and infirm persons “of good moral character”. The inhabitants of the almhouses were also given a pension, all this 40 years before the first state pension. The buildings themselves were very decorative and overlooked an open area of garden.
We were by this time well in need of a lunch break so made our way to the small area of shops and cafes in the centre. In part two you will find us in search of the social and community buildings, of which Titus Salt provided many. I leave you with another view of the mill with the allotments in the foreground. Salt ensured that there were green areas between the mill and his workers’ homes. The green spaces around the church served the same purpose.
Sadly someone left Saltaire less happy than we were – they went home with only one glove!