Saltaire Heritage Trail: Discover the history of this fascinating Yorkshire mill town

September is when Saltaire comes alive.

Salts Mill on the banks of the Aire
Salts Mill on the banks of the Aire

It's the month of the Saltaire Festival, which celebrate the UNESCO World Heritage Site's history and culture with ten days of art exhibitions, street markets, live music and comedy, and food and drink demonstrations.

Visitors can also walk the Saltaire Heritage Trail, which features 10 key buildings and sites that date from the founding of Victorian mill baron Sir Titus Salt's model village in 1851.

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Workers' housing in Saltaire

He built the giant Salts Mill beside the railway and canal, workers' housing, allotments, schools, a church, park, hospital, canteen, recreational facilities and bath-houses.

The majority of Saltaire has been preserved and although many of the buildings today have different uses, they still look much as they did in Salt's lifetime.

These are some of the highlights of the trail:-

Salts Mill

The Saltaire Institute is now Victoria Hall

The enormous woollen mill stopped producing textiles in the 1980s. Local businessman Jonathan Silver bought it, with a vision to transform it into one of the biggest cultural spaces in the north. It's now home to an art gallery - which includes the world's largest collection of David Hockney paintings - independent shops, offices and retail units.

Dining room

Salt built a canteen for his workers beside the mill - it's now occupied by Shipley College.

The old schools and the dining hall are now part of Shipley College

United Reformed Church

Salt was a paternalist who believed in the importance of worship for his employees. Saltaire URC is still used for its original purpose.

Roberts Park

Although the park was laid out according to Salt's wishes, it is actually named in honour of the Roberts family, who later took over the business and ran it into the 20th century. The boathouse on the River Aire has now become a pub, but the sports grounds are still used for cricket, bowls, football and tennis. Salt believed passionately in the benefits of exercise and recreation.

The old infirmary is now apartments

Housing

There are around 800 homes in Saltaire, and most of the residential streets are named after members of the Salt family. There were different kinds of property, including shared lodging houses for single workers, larger homes for the foremen, and, for most families, two-up, two-down terraces. There are also executive properties intended for the managers, schoolteachers and church ministers. Contrary to popular myth, although the housing stock was owned by the mill, it wasn't exclusively rented to workers, and some tenants even worked in rival mills. The portfolio was sold to a development company in the 1930s, and the houses were then marketed to private buyers.

Salt himself did not live in Saltaire, preferring to rent Crow Nest Park in Lightcliffe, which he later bought and where he died. His son Titus Jnr built a mansion called Milner Field in Shipley Glen, overlooking Saltaire, but it was demolished in the 1950s and only the estate farm remains. Some parts of the old brickwork can be seen in the woodland.

Almshouses

These were built for elderly people of good moral character, an early form of sheltered housing, and tenants were provided with a pension.

Saltaire United Reform Church

Hospital

In the days when accidents in mills were common, Salt proved himself to be a humane employer by providing a hospital close to his factory. It's now been converted into apartments.

Victoria Hall

Victoria Hall was the centre of Saltaire life - originally the Saltaire Institute, it had reading rooms, a library, a gymnasium and lecture halls intended for the workers' education and advancement. Nowadays it's a wedding, conference and events venue.

Factory schools

Salt provided elementary schools for both boys and girls - they're now part of Shipley College.

Allotments

Salt encouraged his workers to garden and grow vegetables in plots alongside the railway.