Titus Salt was born in Morley on 20th September 1803, the son of a successful wool merchant. He joined the family firm, which became one of the most important worsted companies in Bradford. He took over the running of the firm in 1833 when his father retired, and eventually owned five mills in Bradford. The city became a horror story of the Industrial revolution, with poor working conditions, squalid housing, polluted air and water supplies. Life expectancy, of just over eighteen years, was one of the lowest in the country.
To improve matters, Titus decided in 1850 to move his business to a green field site where he built an industrial community on the banks of the Aire and next to the canal. Salt’s mill, Italianate in style, was the largest and cleanest in Europe. At first his 3,500 workforce travelled from Bradford, but to improve their lot over the years he built housing for them. He integrated into the Saltaire village: parks, churches, schools, hospital, almshouses, railway station, public baths, libraries and shops. But no Public House. Clean water was piped in, gas for lighting and heating, and outside loos for every house. He did charge a rent for his properties but provided superior living and working conditions, a model of town planning in the C19th.
Titus Salt died in Dec 1876 having given away much of his wealth to good causes. The business continued under his sons but over the years declined, wound up and sold to business syndicates in 1893. Textile production continued into the mid C20th and finally closed in 1986. The village itself had been sold to the Bradford Property Trust in 1933 thus enabling the houses to be bought by their occupiers.
An outstanding entrepreneur, Jonathan Silver, bought the Mill the following year and within months opened a gallery exhibiting the work of his friend, Bradford-born artist David Hockney. With Silver’s enthusiasm, the mill developed into the vibrant space we see today. He died young, but the enterprise is still run by his family.
Saltaire was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2001, recognised for its international influence on town planning.
Well with all that write up it was time I paid a visit to Yorkshire. A wet Sunday in February was chosen. I drove through the floods down the Aire Valley. You realise the scale of the mill and village as you pull off the hectic suburban road. The car park was busy despite the foul weather. As well as the historic buildings and the connection with the artist Hockney: the mill now houses cafés, upmarket retail outlets, artist materials, an excellent book selection, antiques, cycles etc. All waiting to make a hole in your wallet, though the parking and entry are free. I had come basically to see Hockney’s artworks, but was impressed with everything else that was on offer. Everything is on a grand scale here, from the size of the stone building blocks to the massive indoor floor spaces.
You enter into the long ‘1853 Gallery’ with works by Hockney from different periods as well as a large selection of artists’ materials, all under the gaze of Titus Salt. The walls are all windows, so ingenuity has been needed to display the Hockney pictures. Time to get used to the large scale of this place. Hockney started his career at Bradford College of Art school (1953–57) and the Royal College of Art, London (1959–62), Portraits have always been an important part of his works and some early examples are exhibited here…
…as well as some of his more recent computer generated portraits.
The next floor up was a gigantic book and poster shop where I had to be extra strict with myself. The queue for the diner looked daunting. Somewhere behind in the depths of the mill was an antique centre, an outdoor outlet and an upmarket home and kitchen showroom.
Round the corner was a stunning ceramic installation depicting Batley and Bradford by Philippa Threlfall, 1972.
I eventually found the way up to the top floor where I sat and watched a video of the history of Saltaire from which I gleamed my information for this post. In the next room were some historical artefacts.
The major Hockney exhibition was on the top floor. In the first space was a video presentation of his iPad and iPhone pictures using the brushes app, which he emailed to friends. They came up three at a time and were a variety of vibrant styles. The larger exhibition was entitled “The Arrival of Spring” – a series of iPad paintings done on different days from his car parked on a Yorkshire Wolds lane from January to May in 2011. He made the most of the portability and speed of using the hi-tech iPad, capturing subtle changes in the light. He was able to print them out on a large scale
I’m ready for Spring – aren’t you? Worth clicking for enlarged images.
I came out of the mill to a broody winter day with hail showers moving in. I wanted to have a look at some nearby Saltaire streets, under the shadow of the mill, before the light disappeared. The terraced houses were obviously now desirable properties, and the shops on Victoria Street appeared prosperous. Chic Yorkshire.
Next time I will give myself more time – a grand day out.