An Oasis of Beauty in One of Britain’s Ugliest Cities
Bradford is hardly what anyone would describe as an attractive town. In fact, if truth be known, it must be one of the yuckiest towns in the UK. OK, the local city council has done its best to try to smarten the place up, but it really is a depressing place.
But travel to its north-western extremity and a very pleasant surprise awaits you. I’m referring to the model village of Saltaire, located in Shipley. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001, it really is a stunning place that is well worth a visit if you are in West Yorkshire.
Saltaire is a Victorian model village which was built in 1851 by Sir Titus Salt, a leading industrialist in the Yorkshire woollen industry. (The name of the village is a combination of the founder's surname and the name of the river.) Salt moved his businesses, which included five mills, away from Bradford to this site by the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and close to the railway. He built neat stone houses for his workers (a vast improvement on the then-slums of Bradford), wash-houses with tap water, bath-houses, a hospital and an institute for recreation and education, with a library, reading room, concert hall, billiard room, science laboratory and a gymnasium.
The village even had a school for the children of the workers, almshouses, allotments, a park and a boathouse. The new model town represented a landmark example of philanthropic and enlightened 19th century urban planning. It has survived remarkably complete even to this day.
The mill opened in 1853 on Sir Titus Salt's 50th birthday, but closed as a textile mill in February 1986. Today it houses a mixture of business, commerce, leisure and residential use.
Salts Mill was considered a masterpiece of its time and was hugely productive, turning out 18 miles of worsted cloth a day on 1,200 looms attended to by 3,000 workers.
Salts Mill is Italianate in style and was designed by the architects, Lockwood and Mawson. It is 545 feet long – exactly the same as St Paul’s in London. It has six storeys and is 72 feet tall. The top floor runs the whole length of the building. Beneath the mill is a tank which holds 500,000 gallons of rainwater, while on top of the warehouse is another tank holding 70,000 gallons drawn from the river, which was built for use in case of fire.
Nowadays the mill building is home to a number of businesses, as well as galleries used by local artists, the most famous of whom is Sir David Hockney. (Hockney went to Bradford Grammar School about two miles distant.)
At the end of one of the lower galleries is a mini-museum of table ware displaying crockery from as far back as the 1960s and 70s. It’s rather galling when you see items you used to use yourself on display in a museum!)
One of the rather nice things on display is a Hunter Penrose camera which was originally used by a company manufacturing wallpaper in Oldham, across the border in Lancashire.
It is truly massive and is regularly taken ‘on the road’ in a Ford Transit van.
It was designed to use huge negatives 24 inches square. The restorer’s solution was to create a grid which could take smaller negatives, resulting in images made up of 20 separate prints.
The history of Salt’s Mill is very much on display throughout the building, with models such as this one adorning the galleries.
There are also some of the machines that were used to manufacture the cloth.
I mentioned above that several large rooms are given over to the works of the Bradford-born artist David Hockney, including the ‘1853 Gallery’ which displays the world's largest permanent Hockney collection and ‘Gallery Three’ which shows a smaller collection of his, representing a detailed study of the changing seasons, which he executed in 2011.
Personally I am not a fan of Hockney and really wouldn’t want any of his works on my living room walls (fat chance of that anyway, I’m thinking!).
The Saltaire Congregational Church across from the mill was opened in 1859 and, like the mill, was designed by Lockwood and Mawson at a cost of £16,000. It’s also Italianate in style and was designed in the style of a temple with Corinthian columns. It can seat 600. In the mausoleum attached to the side of the church, and opened in 1861, lie Titus Salt, his wife Caroline and three of his children. The church is now a Grade I listed building.
The church is situated right beside the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, which is now used to ferry tourists in flat bottomed barges.
Sir Titus died in 1876 and when his son, Titus Salt Junior, died, Saltaire was taken over by a partnership which included Sir James Roberts from Haworth (who bought the Brontë sisters’ Haworth Parsonage for the nation). Saltaire Park on the north side of the river was later renamed Roberts Park, but it suffered years of neglect and vandalism until Bradford Council stepped in and restored it to something of its former glory.
Opened in 1871, Roberts Park was landscaped by William Gay of Bradford. Nowadays it has 14 acres of lawns, among its six hectares.
The park lies on an east-west axis, with pavilions, a central bandstand and croquet and bowling greens. The original bandstand disappeared a long time ago, but this one was erected in 2009 when the Park was restored.
Across from the bandstand is a statue of Sir Titus Salt, erected in 1903 to celebrate 50 years of the opening of the Mill and Salt’s 100th birthday. The statue was commissioned by Sir James Roberts (who then owned the mill).
Just to the north of Roberts Park you can also find Shipley Glen Tramway – if you look hard enough. It’s the oldest working cable tramway in Great Britain, and dates from 1895, when it was built to serve a local beauty spot nearby. It’s only a quarter-mile in length, and few people can be bothered to use it. But as a piece of local history I guess it’s nice that it is being still preserved. A return fare costs £2, assuming you get there when it is actually open.