‘An enjoyable day out in Bradford’ is not a phrase that would spring unbidden to many minds. But if you substitute ‘Saltaire’ for ‘Bradford’ the enterprise looks altogether more hopeful and, formally speaking, Saltaire is part of Bradford/Shipley. The entirety of Saltaire Village is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (and is ranked first for Bradford sites on Trip Advisor!) and as such cannot be messed with – and it shows. It has maintained its integrity and is both interesting and beautiful.
Saltaire is fundamentally a model village built for his mill workers by Sir Titus Salt (1803-1876) and takes its name from its founder and the River Aire that runs through it. Titus Salt was a local man, educated at Batley Grammar School, apprenticed to a woolstapler and married to a wealthy sheep farmer’s daughter. His father was a businessman and wool was where the money was… He was neither the first nor the only industrialist (in Salt’s case, woollen mills) to take an interest in the welfare of his workers but it is generally accepted that Saltaire is the best and most comprehensive example of its kind. Salt was motivated by his religious views (Dissenter and Congregationalist) and his experience as mayor of Bradford when he was appalled by the conditions of the working poor. He also remembered the industrial disputes that occurred with the introduction of mechanisation into wool production in the 1830s. He deduced that workers given decent housing, working conditions and wages would be much less prone to strike or destroy machinery. His solution was to choose a healthy site outside Bradford with virtually unlimited supplies of water, good potential for transport of his raw materials and finished products (River Aire and Leeds-Liverpool canal) and build a small town, self-contained with all facilities (decent housing, sanitation, schools, churches, shops, park, almshouses, health clinic) and a humungous great mill – state of the art for its time – that combined and extended the functions of his existing 5 mills in Bradford. And when the railway came there was, of course, a Saltaire station (still there and functioning) conveniently situated right next to the mill. In the years before Salt’s death workers and their families numbered at least 3,000. For the first work’s outing he invited every one of them to his house for tea. When he died it was estimated that between 110,000 -120,000 people lined the route of his hearse. He chose to be buried in Saltaire. So what do visitors need to know?
Getting there; on public transport take the train from Leeds. Saltaire is on the Skipton line and trains leave from the lower numbered platforms (eg 2A) to be found on the right hand side of the station as you go in.
Information; the Saltaire tourist information office is visible from the station. Head there first and pick up the leaflet with the route for the walk through Saltaire village.
What to see:
The mill – you cannot possibly fail to find it. It contains three galleries including a restaurant (table service only, wide choices and reasonably priced). Probably the most outstanding feature is the display of David Hockney’s original works. He also designed the menus and a picture of his dog, Stanley, is featured on the crockery, napkins and staff T-shirts. Significant space is given over to a retail area named The Home featuring domestic objects you never knew you wanted. There is also a substantial selection of books, cards and Hockney prints available for purchase. Some space has been reserved for machines and equipment from the period when the mill was working. The mill is open from 10am to 6pm 7 days a week with the exception of December 25/26
The village – many streets are named after members of the Salt family, giving it a very personal feel. Definitely worth at least an hour of either wandering at will just to appreciate the beauty of the architecture; or following the trail, complete with the (printed) guide so that you have a better idea of the significance of what you are looking at.
Roberts Park and the river – the park was opened in 1871 and the river widened to make it suitable for swimming and boating. It has plenty of green space, mature trees, a bandstand (complete with a band when I visited) and a café. Mr. Roberts, after whom the park is now named, was a director of Salt’s who donated the park to the Corporation in 1920.
Shipley Glen Railway – Britain’s oldest working cable railway, opening in 1895. It has a gradient of 1:7 and runs up and down a ¼ mile track through woodland. From the top station you can walk to Shipley Glen and to the moors beyond. The railway is run by volunteers and is open from noon until 4.30pm every Sunday throughout the year, on Saturdays from Easter to Boxing Day and Bank Holiday Mondays.
Photos by David Dixon for Geograph.