Sunday, 13 September 2009

Saltaire - one man's remarkable vision

The massive Salt's Mill
I can't commend the "model village" of Saltaire on the L&L Canal near Shipley highly enough. It makes a fascinating visit on so many different levels.
First and foremost, there's the history. It was devised and created by woollen mill entrepreneur Sit Titus Salt who was shocked by the appalling conditions of mill workers in nearby Bradford in the 1850s. The woollen milling boom meant that the town had over 40,000 inhabitants and nearly 150 mills - but no sewage system. Raw effluent ran in the streets, life was grim and short. The life expectancy of a mill worker's child was just 14 years.
So Salt relocated his mill to what we'd call a 'green field' site. There he built not just a huge new mill but decent housing (left) for 4500 people, schools, a hospital, a church,a hall...but no pub. He didn't approve of the demon drink! Instead he encouraged them into healthy pursuits.
His public buildings are remarkable for their architecture - all built in a flamboyant Italianate style while around them are neat, simple Victorian back-to-back houses. Today the houses are privately owned and there's a thriving artistic community.
Which brings us to the third element of a visit to Saltaire. Salts Mill, saved from ruin and near destruction in the 1980s, now houses a museum, up-market arty shops and restaurants plus a terrific collection of David Hockney art and opera sets (he being Bradford born).
The whole lot is a World Heritage Site and deservedly so. My only minor criticism is the lack of a coherent guide to the
place for visitors. Some signs, some map boards, some easily sourced literature would all help. So make sure you study the website before you visit.

Footnote: Old Sir Titus was probably up there going "I told you so" when we woke up to discover that a group of noisy lads who we thought had tried to climb on the boat late last night had untied one of our ropes and clearly tried to undo the other -- all while under the influence of The Demon Drink.
Ironic indeed that the only time this has happened in the trip should be at his once teetotal town.

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