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(Sir) Titus Salt (1803-1876), The founder of Salts Mill and Saltaire

Born in Morley near Leeds and educated in Wakefield, Titus Salt first served an apprenticeship with a wool stapler in Wakefield. He moved to Bradford in 1820/1821 with his father, mother and siblings when he was 17 or 18 years of age. In his first two years in Bradford he was apprenticed with William Rouse and Son, gaining a broader insight into textile manufacture. His father, Daniel, established himself in business as a wool stapler in Bradford and in 1824, Titus joined his father’s wool stapling business and the company became ‘Daniel Salt and Son’, expanding to add a spinning business in Thornton Road in 1834.

By the 1830s Bradford had become a magnet for people seeking work or business opportunities and had experienced a population growth of 78% in just over 30 years. This was due to the rapid industrialisation of the processes required to convert raw wool into manufactured cloth.  Bradford had become a foul and overcrowded place, with many new mills increasing the levels of untreated industrial waste, attracting large numbers of migrant workers and where high levels of poverty and ‘lawlessness’ prevailed.

Map of Bradford 1835
Bradford in 1873

In 1835, Titus Salt set up on his own in business when the family partnership was dissolved. He had made extensive use of Donskoi wool from Eastern Europe and had begun to experiment with alpaca wool, in secret, from 1834. After 3 years work, in 1837, he found that by using alpaca as the ‘weft’ and cotton as the ‘warp’ he could produce durable, light, lustrous cloth at a reasonable cost. He became the first manufacturer of this new cloth and  greatly expanded his business in Bradford.  By 1850, he had had enormous success in business, but unlike many of his fellow industrialists he did not choose to buy a landed estate, instead – influenced by the poor living conditions of workers in Bradford, his religious beliefs and, it is said, to provide work for his five remaining sons he had decided to build a grand new mill, in rural surroundings, and create an industrial community which he was to name Saltaire.

Titus Salt had chosen an area for his new mill in the Aire valley that was adjacent to the canal and railway and had good road access so that his raw materials and finished goods could be transported with ease. Salts Mill was designed as a ‘vertical mill’ – able to take in raw materials, scour and wash, comb, draw, spin and weave, design and finish these materials into high quality cloth. It had the capacity to produce 30,000 yards of cloth every working day and to have employment for 3,000 people. The Architects, Lockwood and Mawson, were selected to design the exterior of the mill in the Italianate style and it opened with great pomp and ceremony on 20 September 1853, the occasion of Titus Salt’s 50th birthday.

Sir Titus Salt
Sir Titus Salt
Salts Mill
Salts Mill

Shortly after the 1853 celebrations work commenced to establish the industrial community of Saltaire.

Saltaire ‘Village’ Layout, its Streets, Roads and Residencies

The land purchased by Salt to build his mill and community had been in the ownership of no less than eight people and the pieces of land were juxtaposed in narrow parallel strips. The residential area secured covers just over 25 acres and there are 21 streets, 2 roads, 2 terraces and 4 ‘places’. Including the Alms-houses, 850 residencies of varying sizes were built, and numerous shops completed the ‘model town/village’. The houses vary in size from 2-bedroom dwellings to those with 7 bedrooms and it is a common myth that the larger houses were built for senior operatives in the mill, but this was not the case and house occupancy largely depended on the ability to pay the graded rents. By 1871, the community had 4,389 residents.

Saltaire house roof tops
Saltaire house roof tops
Saltaire houses
Saltaire houses

Though economy was applied to the building and layout of the residential area, the ‘cottages’ and houses were superior to working class houses in Bradford and Shipley. There was a proper system of drainage; water and gas were supplied to every house and each also had at least a ‘back yard’ and a private lavatory. The streets were built to be open ended to let in sun and air.

The range of shops built included grocers, a chemist, a post office, butchers and a range of other hardware and retail facilities.

Saltaire’s Amenities to Meet the Education, Social, Health and Leisure Needs of Residents.

Earliest Provision for Education; Religious Worship and Leisure: Salt’s Dining Hall: (Now the Mill Building: Shipley College)

On the 12 August 1854, the Architects Lockwood and Mawson placed notice in the local press that they were seeking contractors to erect a large dining hall opposite the mill with a cooking kitchen and offices. The dining hall was built to provide meals for the mill’s workforce, who at this point were mainly living outside the site. As the first public space to be erected, the ‘lofty and spacious hall’ initially, primarily provided space for a factory school, church services, Sunday school, a reading room, a library and eating space that served a dual purpose for 500 or more to attend social events, concerts, celebrations and lectures on the issues of the day.

The Dining Hall today
The Dining Hall's Royal Cafe
The Dining Hall's Royal Cafe

Religious Worship: Saltaire’s Church and Chapel

The new, beautiful Congregational Church was opened in April 1859 and is one of the nation’s most precious Victorian architectural gems. It boasts many architecturally and historically important features and has been described as a classic “Cathedral of Congregationalism”. A Grade 1 listed building it is in the same category as Hampton Court Palace and Salisbury Cathedral. Fittingly, the Mausoleum built onto the church contains the remains of Sir Titus Salt himself. In October 1866, the laying of a foundation stone for another place of worship – a new Wesleyan Chapel in Saltaire was cause for celebration. Titus Salt was not restrictive about the type of religious worship in his model ‘town’ and did not compel his workforce to attend a church.

Saltaire Congregational Church
Saltaire Congregational Church
The Original Wesleyan Chapel
The Original Wesleyan Chapel

Purpose built Factory Schools opened in 1868 could accommodate 750 pupils and their facilities were advanced. The classrooms had central heating, gas lighting and fitted cupboards. Playgrounds at the rear of the schools included covered areas for use in bad weather. Sir Titus Salt and his fifth son Titus Junior were ahead of their time in establishing well provisioned education, but the new school’s capacity was soon insufficient to meet numbers of children requiring education. From the outset, some space had been made available in a grand structure immediately opposite the schools – for art and science education. In addition, Titus Salt Junior and his wife Catherine strongly advocated education for children aged from under five years, and this resulted in the provision of a new and separate elementary school on Albert Road, Saltaire (Albert Road Board School – now Saltaire Primary School) for the younger children, opened in February 1878.

The Salt Schools
The Salt Schools
Titus Salt Junior
Titus Salt Junior

Leisure and Social Life: The Institute (Now Victoria Hall)

Salt was anxious to see his adult workers provided with the means for self-improvement and the building of the ‘factory schools’ was quickly followed by a grand project located directly opposite the new schools. The Saltaire Club and Institute was completed in 1871.  The Institute’s facilities were extensive and included a reading room, library, laboratory, chess and draughts rooms, smoking room, billiard room, bagatelle room, lecture hall seating 800 people, lecture theatre, classrooms, a gymnasium and a rifle drill room. In Titus Salt Junior’s address to the people of Saltaire in May 1870, he explained that his father’s purpose in creating this new building was to provide a ‘social club and an educational institute to supply the advantages of a public house without its evils’.

The Institute, Victoria Hall
Saltaire Park, now Roberts Park
Saltaire Park, now Roberts Park

Outdoor Leisure: Saltaire Park (Now Roberts Park)

An extensive park, across the river Aire, was opened on the 25th July 1871. The park was designed and laid out by William Gay for Sir Titus Salt (who was awarded a baronetcy in 1869). The name changed in 1920 when Sir James Roberts gifted the park to the local authority. The park had provision for a variety of leisure activities including archery, croquet, a cricket field and a number of ‘pavilions’.

Health and Social Care: The Infirmary and Dispensary and Alms-houses (Now apartments and private dwellings)

In 1868 an Infirmary and Dispensary with six beds was completed and was sufficiently well equipped to perform surgical operations. As demand for its services grew it began to provide treatment for the local community as well as for mill workers. It provided over 100 years of service before it closed in 1979. It is situated at the top of Victoria Road and directly opposite this building are the 45 Alms-houses erected to care for the infirm or aged within the community. These are fronted by a peaceful area of trees and plants. Occupants of the Alms-houses were personally selected by Salt during his lifetime and subsequently by a board of trustees. Once accepted, the tenants lived rent free and received a weekly pension.

The Infirmary and Dispensary
The Infirmary and Dispensary
The Alms Houses

Continuing Education: The New Schools of Art and Science (Now Exhibition Building & Home of Saltaire Archive)

On January 16, 1886, Titus Salt Junior announced a proposal for a ‘Palace of Delight’. Titus Salt Junior explained that holding an Arts Exhibition at Saltaire could perhaps provide the means for raising a new building for Art and Science (education) purposes and act as a memorial to his late father, Sir Titus Salt. The building, when established, housed fourteen large classrooms and a central hall with a gallery running around this. It was completed in April 1887 and is now the main building  for Shipley College and known today as Exhibition Building.

Exhibition Building, Shipley College and home of the Collection
Early Interior of the New Schools
Early Interior of the New Schools

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