Saltaire History Timeline 1851-1857

1851: Bradford Population 103,778. Spinning Mills 129.

It had only taken Bradford fifty years to become one of the major powerhouses of the Industrial revolution, and by 1851 there were 129 operational mills in the town in comparison with just one in 1801.

Coat of Arms of Bradford Council. Valid for non-commerical use only, under UK law.

Coat of Arms of Bradford Council. The incorporation of the town would ultimately lead to significant improvements in local sanitation and public health.

But this economic development had come about at a heavy price. The bowl of Bradford was now the living embodiment of Blake’s “Dark Satanic Mills”. Every waterway was polluted, sewage ran in open drains, black pits of refuse dotted the landscape and sickness and death stalked the streets. In the middle of the nineteenth century average life expectancy in Bradford had dropped to just eighteen years of age, and scarlet fever, tuberculosis, smallpox, polio and rickets were rife.

No one had ever imagined that this would be the true price of wool.

The incorporation of Bradford that occured earlier in 1847 would ultimately lead to major long-term improvements in health and sanitation. Much of the death and disease was a legacy of this city’s rapid and unregulated economic growth. The new local authorities introduced rubbish collection, clean drink water supplies and slum clearances. Over time this led to major improvements in the quality of life within the city.

1853: Salts Mill opens

Salts Mill, by Wikipedia User Foto43. CC-BY 2.0 License.

Salts Mill, by Wikipedia User Foto43. CC-BY 2.0 License.

Salt’s mill was opened on September 20th 1853 to coincide with his 50th Birthday. A huge banquet for three thousand workers and guests was provided in the combing shed.

Salt had at last achieved his final vision of a cutting-edge (for the time) integrated production facility, with “five great engines and some three miles of shafting”. Contemporary accounts also describe how “From a sanitary point of view the new works were much superior to the average factory” with “Especial provision…made for light, warmth, and ventilation”.

All the necessary means for turning raw wool into fine worsted cloth now housed under one roof, with a combined floor space of over one million square feet.


1854: House building begins in Saltaire

Salts vision for Saltaire included not only housing for his workers but also recreational facilities such as Victoria Hall with its gymnasium. By Wikipedia Foto43, CC-BY 2.0.

Salts vision for Saltaire included not only housing for his workers but also recreational facilities such as Victoria Hall here, with its gymnasium. By Wikipedia Foto43, CC-BY 2.0.

Salt had always envisaged a fully functioning, self-contained village in which to house his workers.

Construction of the first houses began shortly after his new mill was in production and eight-hundred houses were built in total. Titus and Caroline had eleven children with each having a street named after them in the village. These were followed with factory schools, public baths and and a washhouse in 1868, and almshouses, an infirmary, and club and institute in 1868-1869.

It is difficult for modern historians to pinpoint Salt’s precise motivations for building Saltaire, as he rarely voiced these directly. Apparently he commented at the mill opening that his motivation was to “to do good and to give his sons employment”.

The indications are though that he appears to have been driven partly from a feeling of Christian duty in line with his own devout religious beliefs, and also partly from reasons of economic self-interest and a desire to retain effective control over his own workforce. So a mixture of duty and self-interest probably led to the construction of Saltaire village in the form that we recognise it today.

Interestingly although Salt banned “beershops” and similar drinking houses within the village, he himself was not actually teetotal as is often supposed. In fact specific provision was made in Sir Titus’ will for the disposal of his liquid assets!

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