Our next stop, shortly after Shipley, was Saltaire. We’d heard about this “model village” that was now a world heritage site, but we weren’t prepared to be as awestruck as this. The canal cuts right through the middle of the site and were were graciously permitted the grand total of 6 hour mooring along side the famous mill.
Frustratingly there’s loads of mooring with rings immediately before this little section but there’s a concrete shelf just below the water level which means you can’t get close enough to step off safely. But gripe over, we took our 6 hours then found an idyllic spot about 1/4 mile beyond which meant we could stay up to 14 days and really absorb the atmosphere of the place.
Saltaire grew out of the vision of Titus Salt, entrepreneur and philanthropist. A very sucessful local business man, manufacturing cloth in Bradford, he naturally wanted to expand his empire. Being an upright Christian man with a strong social conscience, he was concerned by the squalid living conditions of his workforce. Seeing the ecconomic potential of both canal and railway, he set about building a new mill along the banks of the River Aire. And so in the 1850s “Saltaire” was born.
A purpose built town,”model village” where the whole production of cloth, from fleece to fabric, was done under one, albeit very large one, roof. And the 4000 employees rented well built houses with amenities for their health and wellbeing. I suspect it was still a very hard life. There were strict rules about moral conduct, but Sir Titus recognised the financial benefit of caring for his community, and it was undoubtedly a better life than living in the slums.
The town was meticulously planned, generally speaking the higher up the ladder you climbed, the more space you got. There were libraries, schools parkland and playing fields, even a hospital and alms houses for those unable to continue working. Strangely though, the bath houses were never accepted, so they were converted into more living accomodation.
Sir Titus demanded the very best and in true victorian style the buildings were ornately decorated. He managed to obtain the 4 lions that were originally intended to stand at the base of Nelsons column in London (The Trafalgar Square commission had been given to another sculptor after Milnes had made the Saltaire lions, hence the reason they were looking for a home.)
But perhaps one of the most impressive buildings is the congregational church, which is still an active place of worship. And very beautiful inside.
Nowadays Saltaire has expanded and is home to more tourists than residents. As the British cloth industry was taken over by cheaper forgein imports, the grand mill fell into decline and disrepair. In the 1980s Johnathon Silver bought the mill and created a thriving environment for artists, visitors and small businesses. The most famous collaboration was with the artist David Hockney, another local man, who’s works are showcased in the many galleries. Hockney’s work is contemporary and not to everyone’s taste, certain aspects of his work are quite simplistic at first glance. But I enjoyed the grandeur of seeing whole series of large pieces displayed together.
It wasn’t all expensive gallery, there was some fascinsting historical information and artifacts on display, in fact with several eateries, something for everyone.
Mum was able to come down by train to share some of my explorations. We discovered 2 craft shops just off the main street, Barley Crafts and the Craft house, insentive enough to return, especially as the ladies at Barley craft insisted I stopped and had a cup of tea with them. I was able to talk to people who had worked in mill before it closed production and had real living memories of how it was their grandparents day.
Then we pretended to be promonading Victorian ladies and went to meet Sir Titus in Roberts Park.
And his alpacas, Sir Titus was instrumental in popularizing worsted cloth made with Alpaca.
And finished the day with a traditional “Yorkshire Rascal”, now where did Eric go…
The town is now a recognised World Heritage site, recognising the concept and the architecture. We spent several days just wandering around and left knowing there was still more that we hadnt seen.
We might get to see more of Saltaire next year because a film crew was making a feature for Netflix charting the rise of the Football association.