Sir Titus – Salt of the earth...

Saltaire, 19th-century engraving
Saltaire, 19th-century engraving

IT was quite a club, the textile barons of Halifax and Calder Valley. The carpet-making Crossleys, of Halifax, the worsted-manufacturing Akroyds, also of Halifax, the Fielden cotton dynasty of Todmorden, the Fosters of Black Dyke, Queensbury – and many more lesser mortals who made their and this area’s fortunes from wool and cotton.

But there’s a name missing from this list – that of Titus Salt, one of the great names of wool textiles in the West Riding. He was born in Leeds and made his fortune in Bradford, where he famously built his own industrial village, Saltaire, but he lived and died in Lightcliffe.

Sir Titus Salt

Sir Titus Salt

Salt first rented, then later bought the mansion called Crow Nest, sadly demolished in 1969, the name surviving in the guise of the Crow Nest Park Golf Club, whose nine holes lie just to the east of where Salt’s mansion once was. Salt was also instrumental in the building of Lightcliffe Congregational Church, with its landmark spire, and he was also a benefactor at nearby St Matthew’s Church.

Titus Salt was born in Morley, near Leeds, in September 1803. His father, Daniel Salt, who had attended Heath Grammar School in Halifax, was already a leading businessman and politician. The family lived near Wakefield between 1813 and 1819 before moving to Bradford.

Titus, the eldest of five surviving child-ren, attended Batley Grammar School before working as a wool-stapler in Wake-field and then became his father’s partner in the business of Daniel Salt and Son.

The company used Russian Donskoi wool, which was widely used in woollen manufacture but not in worsted cloth. Titus tried to interest the Bradford spinning firms in using the wool for worsteds, but with no success, so he set up as a spinner and manufacturer.

In 1836 Titus found some bales of alpaca wool in a warehouse in Liverpool and, after taking some samples away to experiment, came back and bought the consignment – and was thus the creator of the lustrous and fashionable cloth called alpaca.

In 1833 he took over his father’s business and within 20 years, at the height of the West Riding textile boom, had expanded it to be the largest employer in Bradford.

By then his company had five factories in different parts of Bradford and Salt decided to concentrate the business in one place. In 1850 he bought land near Shipley, between the River Aire and the railway. Building started in 1851 of the village of Saltaire, named after Salt and the nearby river.

Saltaire was so much more than the mill that dominated it. There were 824 neat, stone-built houses, wash houses with tap water, bath houses, a hospital, an institute for recreation and education, a library, reading room, concert hall, billiards room, science laboratory and gymnasium. There was a school, almshouses, allotments, park and boathouse – everything that Salt’s workers could wish for, except, significantly, a pub! Salt banned “beerhouses”.

Salt built the Congregational Church, now Saltaire United Reformed Church, and gave land for a Wesleyan chapel, which was built by public subscription. The standard of housing for the day was exceptional; every house had its own toilet and the rents were reasonable. Salt opened the village with a grand banquet on his 50th birthday, September 20 1853.

Curiously enough, Saltaire might have been built in Brighouse. When he was looking for a site, an area of land close to today’s motorway bridge – now the site of the Wakefield Road Industrial Estate – was apparently considered. But the land was owned by Sir George Armytage, of Kirklees Hall, and Armytage did not want to sell at that time.

The idea is perhaps less surprising than it sounds. Salt had moved from Bradford with his wife and children to the area in 1843, to “the handsome mansion called Crow Nest at Lightcliffe”. The site had a history going back to a 14th-century building in Coach Road, but the Salt mansion was much later, a rebuilding of a mansion built in 1775 by the Walker family, who had also built nearby Cliffe Hill Mansion and Old St Matthew’s Church at Lightcliffe.

The Walkers lived at Crow Nest until 1843, when the Salts moved in as tenants. But in 1854 the last of the Walkers, Ann, died, and the property was inherited by her nephew, Evan Charles Sutherland, who decided he wanted to live there, and the Salt family had to move out.

In 1867 Sutherland decided to sell up and when the property failed to sell at auction Titus Salt stepped in and bought the house, with 700 acres of land, privately for £26,500. He and his family lived there until Salt’s death in 1876, enjoying the luxurious lifestyle of the wealthy upper-middle class.

Salt was said to be a very private man, but Crow Nest saw some remarkable events, not least a grand fete for Salt’s workers in 1856, when he arranged for 3,000 of his workpeople and their families to be transported by train from Bradford to Lightcliffe for “harmless frolics of all kinds” at Crow Nest. This was followed by tea and a return to Bradford and to St George’s Hall, where a bust of Titus, subscribed by the workpeople, was presented to the great man, followed by a concert.

Salt was knighted in 1869 and it was at Crow Nest that Sir Titus Salt called a meeting in 1870 which led to the building of Lightcliffe Congregational Church. Salt headed the subscription list and was joint treasurer of the building fund. After his death his family installed a magnificent stained-glass window in his memory and a second window was paid for by public subscription.

Salt was a major public figure in Bradford, alderman, mayor in 1848–49, deputy lieut-enant for the West Riding, president of Bradford Chamber of Commerce and Liberal MP for Bradford from 1859 until he retired through ill health in 1861.

When Salt died in 1876 it was said that the streets were lined all the way from Lightcliffe to Saltaire as a mark of respect. His death was marked by the tolling of a bell at Lightcliffe Congregational Church and the funeral in Bradford was said to have been the biggest ever seen in the city.

Family mourners gathered at Crow Nest for the long procession to Bradford via Pickle Bridge and Wyke. The hearse was drawn by four horses followed by carriages carrying the mourners to Saltaire, where Salt was buried in the Congregational church he had built as part of his great enterprise.