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The Foundation of Saltaire

Titus Salt builds his mill and model village

During the early nineteenth century Titus Salt achieved great success in the textiles industry in the growing Yorkshire town of Bradford. By the middle of the century Bradford had become hugely overcrowded and insanitary.

Titus decided to create a whole new industrial site away from the city. He not only built one of the largest mills in the world at the time, but also a whole model village, a community of houses, shops and public buildings for his workforce and their families.

Read on to find out how, and perhaps why, he did this.

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. 

Titus’s 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 foul and overcrowded. Many new mills increased the levels of untreated industrial waste. There were high levels of poverty and lawlessness.

H1-018a: Sir Titus Salt
H1-018a: Sir Titus Salt

Salt's success in textiles

Drawing of Bradford in 1873
Drawing of Bradford in 1873

In 1835, Titus Salt set up on his own in business. He had already 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. 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.

Salts Mill

Titus purchased land to the west of Shipley from eight different owners to build the new mill and community. The area was adjacent to the Leeds-Liverpool canal and the railway so that his raw materials and finished goods could be transported with ease. 

The Architects, Lockwood and Mawson, were selected to design the exterior of Salts Mill in the Italianate style. 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. Its 3,000 workers could produce 30,000 yards of cloth every working day.

Salts Mill opened with great pomp and ceremony on 20 September 1853, Titus Salt’s 50th birthday. Shortly after the celebrations, work commenced on the industrial community of Saltaire.

C2b-181.1: Painting of Salts Mill and Saltaire 1860s
C2b-181.1: Painting of Salts Mill and Saltaire 1860s

Saltaire Houses

C2b-154: Houses in William Henry Street, Saltaire
C2b-154: Houses in William Henry Street, Saltaire

The residential area covers just over 25 acres and eventually consisted of 21 streets, 2 roads, 2 terraces and 4 ‘places’. 850 residencies of varying sizes were built, and numerous shops completed the model village.

The houses varied in size from 2-bedroom dwellings to those with 7 bedrooms. They were superior to working class houses in nearby Bradford and Shipley. There was a proper system of drainage; water and gas were supplied to every house and each had at least a back yard and a private lavatory. The streets were built to be open ended to let in sun and air.

It is a common myth that the larger houses were built for senior operatives in the Mill. House occupancy depended on the ability to pay the graded rents. By 1871 the community had 4,389 residents.

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

The earliest public amenity

Salt had plans for a wide range of public buildings and amenities. Before these were all built, one building provided a place for education, religious worship and leisure: the Dining Hall: (Now the Mill Building of 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 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’ also provided space for a factory school, church services, Sunday school, a reading room, and a library. There was space for 500 or more to attend social events, concerts, celebrations and lectures on the issues of the day.

B1-032/5/12: Salts Mill Dining Hall in 1920s
B1-032/5/12: Salts Mill Dining Hall in 1920s

Religious Worship: Saltaire’s Church and Chapel

C2b-146: Saltaire Congregational Church 1874
C2b-146: Saltaire Congregational Church 1874

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 “Cathedral of Congregationalism”.

A Grade 1 listed building, it is in the same category as Hampton Court Palace and Salisbury Cathedral. The Mausoleum built onto the church contains the remains of Titus Salt. 

Although a committed Congregationalist, Titus was not restrictive about the type of religious worship in his model ‘town’ and did not compel his workforce to attend a church. In October 1866, the laying of a foundation stone for another place of worship – a new Wesleyan Chapel in Saltaire  was cause for celebration. The land had been given by Titus.

The Salt Schools

Purpose-built Factory Schools opened in 1868 on Victoria Road, accommodating 750 pupils. 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. 

Titus 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. Space was made available for art and science education in the Saltaire Club and Institute immediately opposite the schools.

Titus 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.

E1b-115: Salt Schools on Victoria Road Saltaire 1874
E1b-115: Salt Schools on Victoria Road Saltaire 1874

The Institute, Victoria Hall

C2b-172 Photograph of Victoria Hall taken from the Salts School
C2b-172 Photograph of Victoria Hall taken from the Salts School

Titus was anxious to see his adult workers provided with the means for self-improvement. 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’.

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 the now Sir Titus Salt who had been awarded a baronetcy in 1869.

The name changed in 1920 when the current owner Sir James Roberts gifted the park to the local authority. It was named in remembrance of Roberts’ deceased son Bertram.

The park had provision for a variety of leisure activities including archery, croquet, a cricket field and a number of ‘pavilions’.

D3-083: Roberts Park promenade in the early 20th century
D3-083: Roberts Park promenade in the early 20th century

Health and Social Care

C2b-190: Sir Titus Salt's Hospital with two storeys (late 19th century)
C2b-190: Sir Titus Salt's Hospital with two storeys (late 19th century)

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. 

The hospital is situated at the top of Victoria Road and directly opposite this building are the 45 almshouses 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 almshouses 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.

Exhibition Building, Shipley College and home of the Collection

On January 16, 1886, Titus Salt Junior announced a proposal for a ‘Palace of Delight’. Titus Salt Junior proposed that holding an Arts Exhibition at Saltaire could raise funds for a new building for Art and Science education purposes and act as a memorial to his late father.

The Exhibition Building (as it is now known) was completed in 1887. It housed fourteen large classrooms and a central hall with a gallery. It has had a continuous history as a place of education, home of the Technical School, Institute of Technology and now a main building for Shipley College.

The Saltaire Collection is housed inside the Exhibition Building and can be visited by appointment.

E2b-026b: Technical College (Exhibition Road Building) in about 1919
E2b-026b: Technical College (Exhibition Road Building) in about 1919

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Public buildings

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Travel the timeline of educational provision in Saltaire, from its start in the Dining Hall to huge expansion thanks to Sir Titus and his family.

H1-018a: Sir Titus Salt

Biography of Sir Titus

Read a brief biography of Sir Titus Salt, innovator, industrialist, politician and philanthropist.