skip to Main Content
Sir Titus Salt, 1803-1876

Titus Salt, born in 1803, was initially educated in a ‘dame school’ in Morley (near Leeds), then at Batley Grammar School and later given a plain commercial education at a Wakefield school. He was described as tall, stout, with a heavy appearance and as having a studious turn of mind – rarely mixing with his school fellows and being somewhat introverted. He was known to have some difficulty in reaching decisions and was perceived to be unable to speak confidently or coherently in public. He had a highly developed sense of responsibility however and this offset his diffidence.

In 1820 Titus had been apprenticed to a wool stapler, a Mr. Jackson of Wakefield, and when the family came to Bradford, he spent two years with William Rouse and Son where he gained a more comprehensive insight into the textile business. In 1824 he joined his father and the firm became Daniel Salt and Son. Titus worked in the family firm for ten years and the firm began to specialize in Donskoi wools from Eastern Europe. A Congregationalist in religion, he took part in public life alongside his father and was also a committed liberal-radical in his politics.

In 1830 he married Caroline Whitlam of Grimsby, the youngest daughter of Mr. George Whitlam who was a wealthy sheep farmer. He first took a house in North Parade, Bradford, very near to his parent’s house but between 1836 and 1843 he lived at the junction of Thornton Road and Little Horton Lane. This was very near Nelson Court and Fawcett Court, the heart of a deprived area in Bradford and his understanding of and concern for the deprivation of many families may well have developed here. His eldest children spent their early years living very close to this part of town. Of his surviving children, William Henry was born in 1831; George in1833; Amelia, 1835; Edward, 1837; Herbert, 1840; Fanny, 1841; and Titus Jnr., 1843.

Salt and his father had started a spinning department of their wool stapling business, using rooms in Thompson’s Mill at Goitside Thornton Road, Bradford. They had been joined in the business by Edward Salt in 1834 and shortly after this Daniel Salt retired. Within a few months Titus had also left the firm and started to work on his own account. The family partnership was dissolved in 1835. Titus Salt started his new venture at Hollings Mill and quickly acquired premises on or near Hope Street. In 1836 he took over a large mill in Union Street, whose previous owner had been Daniel Illingworth, and this became the headquarters of his rapidly expanding Alpaca manufacturing.

The wealth which his business provided supported his very active public career and at one time or another he occupied almost every local public office. He was elected High Constable of the Manor in 1841-42, organising and presiding at all town meetings requisitioned by the required number of rate payers. From 1847 to 1854 he was the senior alderman in the new Bradford Corporation for South Ward. In 1848-49 he was elected Mayor of the town and presided at almost all full council meetings. He also sat regularly on the bench of the Bradford Court and was an active member of the Chamber of Commerce. He became a member of parliament in in 1859 and remained in parliament for two years. He found parliamentary life something of a burden and in 1861 resigned his seat.

Alpaca, imported from Peru, became known in the United Kingdom in the early years of the nineteenth century when new trading connections were being developed with Latin America. Although several amateur innovators experimented with the new material it was not until the eighteen thirties that its commercial properties were tested. Early trials in worsted manufacture with this material were problematic. The first attempts to produce cloth with it, by Benjamin Outram of Halifax, involved very high costs and the finished cloth lacked lustre. Titus Salt however, no stranger to experimentation, had followed his father’s lead in the use of Donskoi wool. He had the persistence and ingenuity to resolve the problems with Alpaca wool. Salt was experimenting with Alpaca wool by 1837 and there is documentary evidence in his small day book, kept between 1834 and 1837 where he kept notes which recorded costs of the material and its processing. It was to be trials with Alpaca weft and cotton warp that proved to be successful and there are records of his early sales of the new cloth in 1839. Titus Salt was the only spinner of Alpaca weft in Bradford. He had worked in great secrecy for 18 months with trusted assistants and the cloth he produced in this way was durable, relatively light, lustrous and reasonably priced. Alpaca played a significant part in his success in textile manufacture.

By 1843 he had had enormous success in business and had become a wealthy man. He ceased to live in Bradford moving with his family to a handsome mansion called Crow Nest at Lightcliffe (near Halifax), ten miles away from his business and his public commitments. By this point in time there were several Bradford textile manufacturers who, by any standards, were wealthy men. Some joined the ranks of the aristocracy and titled gentry and a number confirmed their success in industry by converting their resources into landed estates. For example, Samuel Cunliffe Lister bought the Masham and Jervaulx estates in North Yorkshire and some years later became Lord Masham and amongst the non-titled, Mathew Thompson bought an estate in Kent, John Wood had many acres in Hampshire and George Hodgson, the textile engineer, bought an estate in Norfolk.

Titus Salt, one of the very wealthy men of Bradford, did not choose to convert his fortune into a landed estate Instead he had the originality of mind to go on to build his memorial to the future through the creation of an industrial community settlement to be named Saltaire. The question as to why he should choose to do this and act differently to his peers has never been satisfactorily answered. The site he chose for his new mill was four miles away from Bradford in a rural area on the banks of the river Aire at Shipley. Reynolds (1983) poses some probable practical reasons for siting his new mill there. Reynolds offers the suggestions that the recent developments in wool combing machinery allowed him to think in terms of total factory production rather than different mills and machinery performing different functions; to buy any quantity of new machinery required him to have a great deal more space than he then had across his six mills; to concentrate all his activities in one large mill would cut out waste and enhance supervision of related functions; at the time, it was impossible to find a suitably large site in Bradford and the site he selected was on commercial grounds alone, one of the best that could be found in the north of England.

The then rural site he selected stood between the river Aire and the Midland Railway line and through its centre ran the Leeds/Liverpool canal. It was a site at the crossroads of the principal lines of communication, north/south and east/west ensuring cheap transport for coal, raw materials and finished goods. Salt set out to build a grand ‘vertical mill’ – one that could take the raw materials in to the factory and have the machinery and capacity to perform the many processes required to complete and finish cloth of high quality. He commissioned the architects Lockwood and Mawson to design the mill and settled on a 15th century renaissance style. William Fairburn, a great engineer of the day, designed the layout of the interior and constructed the engineering facilities. The building of the mill commenced in 1851 and was completed in 1853. It had a production capacity for 30,000 yards of cloth  every working day and employment at full capacity for 3,000 people.

Salt began the arrangements for building an ‘industrial community’ – to be known as Saltaire – as soon as the mill was completed and open. In October 1853, tenders were invited for the first 53 ‘cottages’ and by October 1854 14 shops were ready for occupation, 163 houses and boarding houses had been completed and around 1,000 people were in residence. The village was to develop around the Bradford -Keighley road and house building was started in a series of rigidly defined parallelograms. Three types of accommodation were made available to fit the needs of families either for the space they required or in relation to the family income or status within the village and the factory. Between 1866 and 1869 the first part of the housing programme was completed. The erection of some of the important public buildings had been accomplished on both sides of what had been named Victoria Road. Several shops were included in the new streets and at all levels the housing compared favourably with housing in Bradford. They were supplied with gas directly to each home from the mill, cheaper than that available locally and initially water was also supplied directly by the mill. Each house had its own lavatory in the yard and the streets had been laid out and drained before the houses were built.

Most of the public buildings in Saltaire were erected during the final stages of development, though some general amenities were available from the outset. A dining room for workers was built opposite to the mill and space there was used for a regular programme of speakers and a factory school was established there as were a library, reading rooms and space for religious worship. In 1863 wash-houses and baths were erected, though these did not prove popular with ‘respectable women’ who preferred to take a bath in their own homes. A smaller factory establishment was added in 1868 on the site of an old water mill at the river’s edge (known then and now as ‘new mill’) and the factory school moved to new purpose built premises further up Victoria Road.  Also, in 1868, 45 alms-houses were built at the southern end of Victoria Road and an Infirmary and dispensary was opened on the opposite side of the road. In 1869, the year that Titus Salt was created a baronet, the building of an Institute to provide further education and social/leisure facilities commenced. A park was established across the river with land bought by Salt in 1870 and landscaped attractively by a Mr. Gay of Bradford. The final houses in Dove Street and Jane Street were completed in 1875 and by 1871 Saltaire already had a population of 4,390.

After 1861, Titus Salt lived in semi-retirement, relinquishing much of the day to day control of his grand mill and the settlement of Saltaire to his partners. His wife, Caroline, had borne eleven children, seven surviving him at his death and, after 1843, the family lived firstly at Crow Nest, Lightcliffe and between 1858 and 1868 at Methley Hall near Leeds. The family moved back to Crow Nest, which the family had left unwillingly in 1858, when Salt was able to buy it in 1868 and returned thankfully to what they had come to regard as their family home. Sir Titus Salt died on December 29, 1876. The legend of his charity, compassion and business acumen had spread far and wide long before his death, throughout the United Kingdom and far beyond its shores, where his name and the manufactured cloth associated with it was known and appreciated. His funeral procession from Crow Nest to his final resting place in the mausoleum at Saltaire’s Congregational Church was to take many hours, most mills were silent, and many workers lined the streets to see his funeral carriage passing, the numbers assembling estimated at around 100,000. He is interred in the family mausoleum at the side of Saltaire United Reformed Church.

Back To Top