People with pianos

Titus Street, Saltaire, West Yorkshire

Titus Street, Saltaire, West Yorkshire

I’ve just finished reading a recently published architectural survey of Sir Titus Salt’s mill town, Saltaire, at Shipley, west of Bradford.

The story is well-known:  Mr Salt, as he then was, chose to remove the family woollen mill from the grossly polluted centre of Bradford to a green-field site in the Aire valley, with ample supplies of clean water, canal and rail connections and space to construct a model village.  The Bradford architects, Henry William Lockwood and William Mawson, built the mill, which opened in 1853, and constructed the village in seven phases up to 1875, the year before Salt’s death.

Believing firmly in temperance, though not himself a teetotaller, Salt declined to provide a public house, saying he saw no reason to spend money on something which would damage his trade.  In Victorian times, other Shipley folk supposedly looked upon Saltaire residents as the sort of people who had pianos in their front parlours.

Saltaire is one of three major British industrial settlements that are designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites – the other two being the Derbyshire Derwent Valley Mills [see Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site] and New Lanark.  Up to the early 1970s all three were unregarded, and piecemeal demolitions threatened their integrity.  At Saltaire the magnificent Wesleyan Methodist Chapel and the Congregational Sunday School came down:  their sites are now occupied, respectively, by an undistinguished modern replacement and a public car park.

The refurbishment of Salt’s Mill after its closure in 1986 was the work of Jonathan Silver (1950-97), who had built up a fortune in retail clothing and successfully invested in a 50% share of Sir Ernest Hall’s landmark redevelopment of the Dean Clough Mill in Halifax.  His offer to develop Bradford’s Manningham Mill as a home for the Victoria & Albert Museum’s South Asia textiles collection was turned down by the City Council [see Manningham Mills].  The huge Saltaire mill building is now home to high-tech industry, high-quality shopping and a diner, a café and the 1853 Gallery, showcasing the work of the Bradford-born artist, David Hockney.

Saltaire makes an excellent day out.  Salt’s Mill [] is the obvious starting place:  admission is free.  The Victoria Hall & Institute [] is home to Pam and Phil Fluke’s Reed Organ & Harmonium Museum and what claims to be “Yorkshire’s finest Wurlitzer Cinema Organ”.  Across the river is the Shipley Glen Tramway (though its website still shows 2009 opening times).

On the edge of Salt’s village is The Old Tramshed restaurant []:  as the name implies this is a sumptuous conversion of the front end of a former Bradford Corporation tram and, latterly, trolleybus depot, with huge glass windows where the vehicles entered, and the most implausible tramlines in the world outside where the smokers indulge their addiction.

That fills a long day, and probably the evening too.

The new study of Saltaire is Neil Jackson, Jo Lintonbon & Bryony Staples, Saltaire:  the making of a modern town (Spire 2010) [].

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2012 Yorkshire Mills & Mill Towns tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £10.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

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