A new book details the lives of legendary Yorkshire philanthropist Sir Titus Salt - and of the men who followed him as owners and managers of Salts Mill. STEPHEN LEWIS reports.
WHEN Sir Titus Salt died just after Christmas 1876 at the age of 74 his fame had spread far and wide, throughout his own country and far beyond its shores.
"He was known to Queen Victoria...he had been presented with the Grand Medal of the Legion of Honour in 1856... and was a great pioneer in a new era for the United Kingdom," write Maggie Smith and Colin Coates in their new book Salts Mill: The Owners and Managers.
Sir Titus' funeral procession, from the family mansion at Crow Nest near Halifax to his final resting place in the mausoleum at Saltaire's Congregational Church, took many hours. "Most mills were silent and many workers lined the streets to see his funeral carriage passing, the numbers assembling estimated at around 100,000," Smith and Coates write.
But why was there such an outpouring of grief and affection following the death of this hugely rich industrialist and textile baron?
The answer, of course, is that Sir Titus wasn't just any industrialist.
In 1833 he took over his father's textile business and, having worked out how to spin highly desirable cloth from the fleece of Peruvian alpacas, within twenty years expanded the business to be the largest employer in Bradford. One of his great legacies was a specially-designed 'vertical' mill - today's Salts Mill - that could taken in untreated raw alpaca wool and, in one place, take it through all the myriad processes needed to turn it into finished cloth of the highest quality.
But he didn't stop there. Instead of ploughing his fortune into a landed estate, as might most industrialists, he decided instead to do something extraordinary. He built a purposely-designed industrial community - Saltaire - to house his workers and managers.
He began the arrangements for building Saltaire as soon as his mill was completed and open.
"In October 1853, tenders were invited for the first fifty-three 'cottages' and, by October 1854, fourteen shops were ready for occupation, 163 houses and boarding houses had been completed, and around 1,000 people were in residence," Smith and Coates write.
The village was developed around a series of clear street patterns. There were three types of accommodation, depending on a family's need for space or their status and position at the factory. Each was supplied with gas, and had its own lavatory in the yard. And there were public buildings, shops and even a communal dining room to provide cheap meals for workers.
Today, Saltaire is a Unesco world heritage site. But in Salt's day it was a supreme example of the kind of forward-thinking, enlightened Victorian philanthropy practised so generously here in York by the Rowntree family. No wonder Salt was so much mourned after his passing.
In Salts Mill: The Owners and Managers, Smith and Coates give a generous account of Sir Titus' life. But they go beyond that, following the fortunes of later members of the Salt family and of Salts Mill itself right through to the present day.
The book is copiously illustrated with black and white photographs, many of them from the Saltaire archive. For anyone interested in the history of Salts Mill and Saltaire, or in the life of the man who created them, it's a must-read.
Salts Mill: The Owners and Managers 1853 to 1986, by Maggie Smith and Colin Coates is published by Amberley, priced £12.99.
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