Saltaire is a small town north of Bradford. It is located on the river Aire, next to Shipley. The area is the heartland of the former British textile industry. Since it was designated a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2001, Saltaire has become one of the most well-known industrial tourism destinations in England. There is just one other World Heritage Site in Yorkshire – Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal in North Yorkshire.
Saltaire was chosen by the Unesco because it is perfect example of an English mill town. Moreover, Saltaire is an example of a ‘model village’, created by a philantropist firm owner who wanted to provide his employees with an ideal place to work and live. Saltaire has a train station and it is easy to reach from Leeds and Bradford.
In the last decades, Saltaire has become a bit of a trendy place. Its nice residential areas are much sought-after by families, while independent shops, restaurants and galleries have sprung up on the main street and in the former mills.
Saltaire is both on the river Aire and the Leeds-Liverpool Canal. Before the 19th century, the area was farmland and neighbourhing Shipley was yet a small village. During the Industrial Revolution, the local textile industry boomed and a huge number of mills were built along the river. Saltaire was eventually created in 1851 by Titus Salt, a manufacturer and a Liberal MP who already had a large factory in Bradford. He had made his fortune on alpaca wool – he was one of the first to sell it in England and he wanted to open a second plant. Because he was a philantropist, he wanted Saltaire to offer good living conditions to his workers. The town was named after him and after river Aire (Salt – Aire).
Workers in Saltaire enjoyed many commodities – a school, a church, a hospital, a library, public baths, almshouses for the elderly. They also had a beautiful concert hall, called Victoria Hall (it is usually open to passerbys, the inside is worth a look). Every house was built according to the same model and special care was taken to avoid overcrowding. Most of the streets were named after members of the Salt family (Amelia, Edward, Herbert, Ada, Mary and the like).
In contrast to the slums that existed in Bradford or in Leeds at the same period, Saltaire was quite an advancement. Houses were quite big and they were designed to favour a good level of hygiene. Each family had a least a living room and a kitchen downstairs, and two bedrooms upstairs. More qualified workers of course even had better housing. Every house had an open fire and a backyard leading to a backstreet to ease rubbish collection; food waste was collected to feed animals.
Titus Salt also created a park near the river, where locals could enjoy some open-air activities. There is a statue of him as well as pavillions, a bandstand and bowling greens. At the time of its completion, pawshops and pubs were not allowed in the village, in order to protect workers from immorality. Saltaire is a nice area to have a walk around, but unfortunately it lacks information boards about the local history and some interesting buildings such as the church are rarely open. If you are looking for a café or restaurant, you can go to Salts Mill, or on busy Bingley Road, which is a bit off the central conservation area.
Salts Mill is the former textile mill around which Saltaire developed. It is a huge building and it was at the time of its construction the largest factory in the world. It remains one of the largest industrial building in England. It started operating in 1853 and shut down in 1986. Unlike many mills which were left derelict, it was soon reconverted into a leisure and arts centre.
Salts Mill now houses a number of trendy shops – library, cafés, restaurant, designer furniture store, antiques. A part is dedicated to contemporary art, with galleries housing temporary exhibitions and a part about local artist David Hockney. The entrance to the mill is rather hard to spot and it closes quite early on weekdays, but it is definitely worth a look. Open daily, see website.