Saturday, 16 February 2013

Don't tell Titus


About 30 years ago, I discovered Saltaire, just outside Bradford. I honestly believed that no one else in the world knew about it.

It was clearly a small Victorian town, planned along, almost US type grid lines.... and seemed to have been built to house mill workers at what was then, 30 years ago, the completely derelict Salts Mill.
 
I was fascinated. I saw two cassocked priests playing badminton over a net strung between lampposts on the drive way up to the rather gorgeous church.....but apart from them, I saw hardly anyone.
No badminton playing vicars when I took this photo....but those are the lamp posts where they had strung the net.
 
Many of the houses were boarded up, the patches of green, between the derelict mill and factory buildings were overgrown, and the whole place had a feeling of the Marie Celeste.
However...the historian (well, history teacher) in me, recognised something special about the place.

The mill buildings were huge...the biggest I had ever seen. I later discovered that it had been the biggest factory in Europe when it was built.
 
The houses were solid, good Victorian stone buildings. They had interesting  and decorative arched window and door features. Each street contained dozens of small 2 up 2 down artisan classic well built terraced houses, but at each end of the street were larger, more imposing buildings.
 
The names of the streets fascinated me too.Not just the usual Coronation St, Sebastopol Terrace and Victoria Road that could be found in any old Victorian street plan.....but Ada St., Caroline St., and Titus St.
 
The mill buildings were in a valley.....water rushing past, a clear power source, the canal ran through the valley.....as did the railway......it all started to fit together. This had clearly been a huge industrial centre......and various images began to emerge from the grander buildings that I kept coming across.

Lamas featured heavily.....and a few other woolly looking beasts...alpaccas..they featured on coats of arms hidden within the grime of the buildings.
 
At the bottom of the valley, even lower down that the factory buildings, and the canteen, the hospital building , the church, and the public assembly rooms, there was a park.....very Victorian in lay out.....flower beds, walk ways, tree lined avenues, and beyond....the hills....and the vast Yorkshire sky.
 

All of this could have been seen from the huge windows in the main factory building. My understanding of 19th century factory conditions, was that workers were not encouraged to look out of windows. In fact most would have had very little natural light to have worked by. They slaved away at their looms for 12 -14 hours a day,no looking out of windows allowed.
Everything I saw smacked of Victorian philanthropy......decent solid houses for workers, a factory with light, and views of the hills and the sky, somewhere for workers to worship, to meet and socialise, to walk at the weekend, out of the city.

It did all fit. As it happened I apparently had not discovered Saltaire. Possibly, a bit like Columbus did not discover America.
In the church I found a brief poorly produced leaflet explaining how Titus Salt had envisaged this model town for the workers in his factory.  He wanted his workers to be healthy, partly for his own benefit of course, but also because he was genuinely philanthropic.The church, where Titus is buried, was finished before anything else, and although workers were allowed a day off, and the park was built for them....they were not allowed to drink alcohol anywhere in Saltaire. There were no licensed premises...no beer halls for Titus’s workers.
The streets were named after his children, and the larger houses, dotted along each street were for the factory supervisors. So the workers were supervised at work and at play.
 
He imported exotic south American fibres and contributed massively to the Yorkshire textile industry....and his own wealth.
Now of course..... 30 years from my discovery......Saltaire is a tourist destination. The fabulous redeveloped Salts Mill is the centre for a fabulous Hockney gallery. Brilliant use has been made of the vast floor space that was the original mill building. Beautiful books, art, pottery, rugs and tapestries can be viewed and bought there. Operatic arias played on the ground floor gallery fill the space, accompanying the tourists looking at the Hockneys .Gorgeous meals can be eaten in the lovely restaurant on the top floor, diners able to look out across the mill roof, and to the hills beyond.


 
Mark, browsing....imagining those looms.


 
Now, it is also possible to drink alcohol within the town boundaries.....and a clever wine bar owner has called his bar “ Dont tell Titus”.
 
I love this place, partly because it represented real improvement in living and working conditions for Bradford’s textile workers, albeit for Titus Salt’s profit.....but mainly because I discovered it.

33 comments:

  1. Sorry Janice, I was there before you! I went every week to Victoria Hall to Saltaire Ladies Gymnastics Club when I was about 9 or 10. And then, at 17 or 18, I used to go to Band rehearsals there. I admit that around 30 years ago, I was living in London and didn't visit much but it was top of my list of where I wanted to live when we moved back to Yorkshire - but did you notice, the houses don't have gardens...? But of course, I've done chocolate stalls there!!
    And then, during 1995 and 1996, I lived just a stone's throw from Saltaire village and was there almost every weekend. When I went back last Christmas, we had to go and the guy in Salt's Diner recognised me immediately - he must have been there since it first opened.
    It is one of my favourite places in all the world and can't believe we never bumped into each other there. You describe it so very well - it is such a 'you' place!
    Couldn't have enjoyed this post more - and the hair looks fantastic!
    Axxx

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    1. I was, of course, expecting you to have discovered it before me ! I was teaching in Leicester when I made my first trip to Bradford, to stay with another teacher friend. His term dates were different from mine, so I had a whole week, exploring Bradford, on my own, while he worked. I didn't drive in those days, so wandered around using public transport, and had the most amazing week. Saltaire was my best discovery. I was so excited about it. The following year, my CSE social and Economic History group learned so much about it....as I had taken dozens of photos, made maps, etc etc....then when they opened the exam paper at the end of the year....they were faced with a map of Saltaire, and a paragraph all about Titus Salt's philanthropy. I had no idea it was going to be on the paper....the kids were thrilled !
      Glad you enjoyed the post. J xxx

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    2. Loved it - we must go there together one day. I'd love to see it through a historian's eyes. Axxx

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    3. Sorry Annie but the houses do have gardens, albeit small ones. The grander ones have nice front gardens and rear yards. Most have a rear yard and some of the smaller ones have communal areas at the rear. I know this as I'm currently sitting in my car on Mary Street, waiting for the rain to subside as I'm working here this week. As a Bradford lass, born and bred, it's been a nice reminder of the industrial heritage of my home town.

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  2. Dear Janice - first of all you look great, and yes, I think perhaps the red hair is definitely you.
    I know someone who lives there and have admired the photos on his Facebook thinking that it looked a place that I would like to visit. Now you have confirmed it. If I remember rightly I think that it was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but you discovered this before they did!!!

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    1. Somehow, Saltaire being a UNESCO World Heritage site feels strange. Perhaps its because it is so near to where I live....and I did see it when it was in a somewhat more dilapadated state than it is now. However, it is certainly worthy of the title, and brings alive the incredible industrial and social history of this fabulous bit of the UK.
      It is certainly worth a visit. Jx

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  3. Oh, I did enjoy this, Janice! Growing up surrounded by Lancashire cotton mills I thought I'd seen some huge factories but Salt's is stupendous. I've heard of Saltaire and its founder, but have never visited the town and your post fills in a lot of the gaps in my knowledge. I'm so glad the neglected place you discovered 30 years ago has been restored so beautifully and is being so well used.

    Titus Salt was one of a grand line of Victorian and Edwardian philanthropic industrialists (think Cadbury and Rowntree) and when she was young my mother lived and worked for a while at Port Sunlight, another model village built by the factory owner (this time William Lever) for the good of his workers.

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    1. PS You're looking fantastic - love the hair. Pxxx

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    2. I have never been to Port Sunlight, but it is on the list. I certainly find places like this fascinating....and as I felt I had found it, and worked out for myself what it all meant, I am particularly fond of Saltaire. I now have the image of Annie going to gym classes at the Victoria Hall to add to my thoughts about the place. It is a great place to visit, on a busy Saturday when there is an antique fair on. I make it a point to take visitors to Yorkshire to see it, my Australian cousin loved it, as did my very good friend from Wisconsin who used to visit regularly. Jx

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  5. Dear Janice, you look wonderful! Fantastic post - I enjoyed it so much! We love history too, and you bring the threads together so well. I am pleased to learn some mill owners were philanthropic and built so beautifully for their workers. So much history I read and watch concentrates on the wretched conditions of Victorian workers in the mills. The art centre is a fabulous use of that huge building; that is something I always love to see. My HB was involved in the conversion of an old factory into an arts centre back in the 80s - we were so proud of him! Take care and good luck and good health xxx

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    1. Thanks Patricia. I think they did an amazing job when they renovated the mill buildings. Enough of the original features have been retained, and the huge scale of the building is perfect for the gallery use it has been put to. When I was there this week, one gallery was full of children working on an art project, amongst a fabulous display of children's literature, for browsing or buying.
      I dont kid myself too much though... I'm pretty sure, for all Titus's "good works"....profit was his aim !
      Jx

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  6. Good to see you looking all. I remember learning about Saltaire in geography at school, along with Bournville. I've never been to either, but will make the trek to anywhere if Hockney is mentioned.

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    1. The Hockney stuff is fabulous. On the top floor, they have the 27 tree project..... 3 huge murals, showing the same street scene, with 27 trees, somewhere on the road to Bridlington, at different times of the year... it spans the whole length of the building, I could look at it for hours. Jx

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  7. Sorry Janice, you don't look "all" you look "well".

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    1. Thanks !.... I am looking forward to feeling well...all of the time ! X

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  8. You're looking good! That's great to see.

    I wish I'd seen the complex before it became what it is today....you describe it so vividly, however, that I could just about see it in its dilapidated state.

    I know all the stuff about re using a site, bringing in visitors and whatnot, but that whole scene leaves me cold. I'd rather see the looms and the machinery...but that would never oil the works of commerce, would it!

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    1. Ther dilapidated state was incredible. There is something special about seeing places before the renovators have done their work. I visited Ellis Island before they turned it into the theme park visitors centre that it is today...and was enthralled to see the remains of such history, just lying around the place.
      However, I think they have done an incredible job with Salt's Mill. The vastness of the space inside the main building is incredible....and I believe, if you close your eyes, you can just about hear those looms, and the clogged footsteps of the workers. Jxxx

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  9. What an interesting place, Janice. I imagine it would have been a hard life for the workers. Sue

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    1. I have no doubt Sue, that despite Titus Salt's belief that healthy workers were good workers...their life was incredibly hard. It was, however, undoubtedly better than the workers who were based in the mills in Bradford itself. he was a very interesting character, and Saltaire is fascinating.Jx

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  10. Dear Janice......firstly I just want to mention you look fabulous and a nice smile.

    This looks like an amazing place, and I can just imagine the poor workers there at that time. I love anything Victorian, but I'm sure they all had a very hard life.
    Would have loved to see this before it was renovated, but maybe it's better that they renovate for at least the building will be standing and not fallen into a pile of ruins.
    I love going through historical places but living in Toronto there is not too much anything really that is old and historical.....so I guess I get excited when I travel over seas....or read other people's blogs. But we do have something similar here in the city where it was a Distillery in Victorian times and have now renovated basically into something like the place you are describing here.
    Thank you for sharing this post...it was most interesting into a place which I probably would have never known existed.
    ((HUGS)) stay well.......

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  11. The distillery sounds great. Those huge Victorian buildings were so impressive, and although I sometimes think that the renovations are a bit Disney like, sometimes they are brilliant.I like what has been done to the Guinness Factory in Dublin, and Salt's Mill has been done very well.
    Thanks for your comments.... I'm not feeling fabulous at the moment....but I am starting to feel better after chemo round 4. Another couple of days and I'll be fine again. Jx

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  12. Doh! I always wondered about Ada Street & Caroline Street - it's obvious when you know. Your photos have shown me some buildings & details I hadn't spotted so I'll have to find them next time. Textile mills in West Yorkshire were like coal mines in the North East - nearly everyone worked there. My ex's family managed to drag themselves up from being mill-workers to mill-owners. We had a photo of Great Grandfather in South America, checking out the alpacas!

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    1. That photo sounds amazing, your' ex's boot straps must have been pretty strong to enable that transition to take place. I think the supervisors homes, dotted along each street in Saltaire is one of the most interesting aspects. Those workers were being watched all the time.I was just sorry there wasn't an antiques fair on last Saturday when I visited....the next one is just 3 days after my next chemo, so I wont be up to it...never mind, perhaps another time. Jx

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  13. What fun to read this post this morning! I absolutely love the story of the priests playing badminton between those lampposts!
    When I lived in Bradford, 30+ years ago I found the shadowy existence of Saltaire, just off to the side of Shipley as one went through occasionally on the main road, quite mysterious. (My husband's from the Wirral, and Port Sunlight felt a little eerie too.)
    At junior school I remember each year we would take part in some competition or writing project that Bourneville sponsored, and receive a tin of chocolate with a picture of the factory village on it. Do you know anything about that? I loved the tin and the social history seemed appealing, the neatly laid out little world with everything take care of for you. I don't remember much emphasis on the 12 to 14 hours a day hard labour.

    Last year when we were back visiting friends they took us to Salts Mill and I was just amazed the wonderful use of the space and resources. When so much of Bradford's old buildings have been destroyed it's so good that this has been respected and preserved. David Hockney must love it!
    I will put it on my "to-do" list for this summer, glad you reminded me. I'll look out for those llamas too.

    My very best wishes for round 5.

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    1. Thanks Jill. I really regard it as a special place, and agree that Hockney must love what they have done with the spaces. I haven't heard about the Bournville sponsored competition, but I wish I had. I'm sure the kids I taught would have loved it.I certainly agree about the eeriness. When I wandered around 30 odd years ago, it was such a strange place...and those frolicking vicars summed the whole thing up for me. Thanks for your good wishes...all going well so far. J.

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  14. How you enlightened my day with this, Janice; both the history and the photo of you. Your discovery of Saltaire and its subsequent renovation are exciting and it is a place I know I would want to see, over and over again. On a smaller scale, there is a similar village in southern Wisconsin, Kohler and Chicago has it's Pullman District. Interesting, isn't it, the planned villages around industry, as well as some of the philanthropy that followed.

    Fabulous post, Janice.

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    1. Penny, I have just been telling Mark that I feel an appropriate follow up to my Saltaire post would be to do one about Kohler ! Living in Sheboygan in the mid 80s, I knew it well, and in fact, my dearest friend from Wisconsin, who died just over a year ago, lived in Kohler. She lived in the house that her father was allocated when he worked for the Kohler company back in the 1930s. This is such a coincidence.... the conversation with Mark was really only about 3 minutes ago !
      I am going to spend the next few days sorting out all my Kohler images....and I have a considerable amount, having stayed with my friend at her School St, Kohler home many many times.
      Blogging does make some amazing connections. I will also have to look up the Pullman district. Thanks again Penny. xxxx

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  15. I grew up knowing about the Salts of Saltaire as my brother went to Bradford Grammar School. After reading your post it is on my list places to visit. Love the wine bar title and I'm looking forward to you 'discovering' somewhere else!

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    1. Thanks so much... it is a special place..it's a small world isn't it...my daughter in law began her teachig career at Bradford girls grammar...just down the road from the prestigious boy's school. I though the wine bar's name was brilliant too. J.

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  16. What a fascinating place! I love all your photos :-)

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    1. Thanks Maria...I just wish I could find my photos of my first visit to saltaire, 30 odd years ago. J.

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