Antiquarians: The history of Titus Salt, Salts Mill and Saltaire

Sailtaire Mill from the North side

Sailtaire Mill from the North side

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Each bookmark pertained to a Salts Mill worker, taken from a 19th century census which Maria has researched during her decades of studying Sir Titus Salt and Saltaire. Maria lives in Saltaire. The model industrial village was appointed a World Heritage Site in 2001.

Titus was the first born son of 9 children. His father Daniel had made his fortune from an iron foundry making armaments for the Napoleonic Wars, before becoming a mill-owner. Titus was also a driven and obsessive man. His early textile success was based on buying up unwanted, soiled alpaca bales from a Liverpool dockside warehouse. Titus then spent 18 months pioneering work to weave overlong fibres into cloth. He gave a soft alpaca-wool gown to Prince Albert for Queen Victoria and she set this new fashion. Titus cornered £2,000,000 from this enterprise!

Maria continued that Titus the entrepreneur became richer through incredibly hard work and little sleep. Life expectancy at the family-based Bradford Mill was just barely 21 years! Cholera was rife in mid-19th century. Titus requested Lockwood & Lockwood to seek a new potential worksite. Saltaire proved an ideal, cleaner location beside the River Aire, Leeds – Liverpool Canal for transporting Peruvian imported alpaca-wool and later Roberts Park and Saltaire Railway Station.

From 1851 the village took 25 years to complete and included workers houses in grid style with roads named after the Queen, Prince Albert, Titus and his 11 children etc. Maria continued that there were almshouses, schools, halls, a 5-warded hospital and dentistry. Albert Road was tops, followed by Victoria Road for Ministers, teachers, traders etc. The workers streets had strict hierarchy hence “going up in the world”. Sir Titus Salt was knighted in 1861 and had his own initial-style logo on every building. His coat of arms reads ‘What is not possible with God’s help?’

But there were no pubs, pawn-shops, police or pets permitted! There were strict rules for employees and high hygiene standards were enforced. Life expectancy rose from Bradford’s 20+ to Saltaire’s 70+ years of age! Clean environments proved amazingly beneficial. Gardens and allotments were beautifully tended.

Nothing was wasted at Salt’s Mill! No smoke pollution as chimney-sweep boys swept soot converted to black dye. Ladies urine was saved for fabric-dyeing processes, and men’s urine was sold to local tanneries. Maria’s wealth of information included ‘taking the piss’ originated from this work! Lanolin went to Bradford soap-makers and cosmetics factories.

Sir Titus Salt boasted about his monthly money-making. In 1850 he employed 3,500 people including 1000 under 12 years – he probably ignored some of the child-workers Factory Acts -? A huge dining room seating 250 workers at 3 sittings saved time, but cost the workers! Waste food was sold to pig-keepers. Only unmarried women were trained for promotion.

Though he was a private person, he held many public roles including Member of Parliament, Justice of Peace, Deputy Lord Lieutenant. Just before his death, Titus had his sons gather all paper information about him for a bonfire!

Maria concluded her countless anecdotes that Sir Titus died in 1876, aged 73 years. He had made £450,000,000 which was divided between his 11 children.

Our next Todmorden Antiquarian meeting will be on Tuesday 1 November at 7.30pm in the Town Hall Courtroom when Kevin Illingworth will present ‘Lancashire and Yorkshire Farmhouse Porches from 16th-18th Centuries’. Visitors are most welcome, £3 at the door.