Saltaire, World Heritage site in West Yorkshire

PUBLISHED: 20:45 14 February 2010 | UPDATED: 17:50 17 May 2016

Victorian philanthropist Sir Titus Salt

Victorian philanthropist Sir Titus Salt

Jo Haywood visits one of the 1031 places in the world that has 'outstanding universal value' - and it's right on our doorstep PHOTOGRAPHS BY MATT DAVIS

Thailand has the historic city of Ayutthaya, Nigeria has the sacred grove of Osun-Osogbo, Spain has the botanical garden at Padua, India has the sun temple at Konarak and West Yorkshire has Saltaire.

The 19th century model village stands shoulder to shoulder with 1031 World Heritage Sites across the globe, 27 of which are in the UK. It joined the prestigious club in 2001 as 'a major influence on the development of the garden city movement'.

'The layout and architecture of Saltaire admirably reflect mid-19th century philanthropic paternalism,' the UNESCO adjudicators noted, 'as well as the important role played by the textile industry in economic and social development.'

For those of you not aware of its place in history, Saltaire, which sits snugly alongside Shipley - there's barely a thread's breadth between them - in West Yorkshire, is a purpose-built model industrial village created by Victorian philanthropist Sir Titus Salt (you don't get names like that anymore, do you?). He chose to build a massive mill on a site adjoining the Leeds-Liverpool canal, the River Aire and the newly-opened railway station, working with innovative architects on a fine Italianate building to put the dark, satanic mills of Bradford and Leeds firmly in the shade.

The mill opened in 1853 on Salt's 50th birthday, swiftly followed by an entire village of houses in streets named after his children and extended family, a park, school, library, recreation and learning institute and sports facilities. The last building was completed in 1876, shortly before Sir Titus died. Bradford gave him a civic funeral, watched by 100,000 people, and he was buried in the mausoleum at Saltaire United Reformed Church (which he also built).

The church remains a major point of interest in modern Saltaire. Yes, the original mill building is impressive in its sheer size and innate grandeur, but there is something about this relatively small religious centre that makes it difficult to drag your gaze from. It is simply beautiful. From its unfluted Corinthian columns to its fretted tower, this stunning Italianate church somehow manages to dominate despite its relatively petite stature.

Inside this grade I listed building, which puts it on a par with Hampton Court Palace and Salisbury Cathedral, are two ornate chandeliers of ormolu and cut glass - additional roof trusses had to be installed to support them - and an organ originally built in 1890 by Peter Conacher in Huddersfield and rebuilt twice at the end of the Second World War and again in 1991 by local organist Michael Fletcher.

Visitors don't only flock to Saltaire to gaze adoringly at its church though. They are usually on a much more materialistic mission; namely, to spend, spend, spend at the splendid mill. The gigantic Victorian relic was transformed into an upmarket retail destination in 1987, when it was taken over by local entrepreneur Jonathan Silver and renamed Salts. It is now home to the prestigious 1853 Gallery and one of the largest collections of art by worldrenowned Yorkshire artist David Hockney, as well as a selection of shops including The Home, Book and Poster Shop (bet you can't guess what it sells), the Kath Libbert Jewellery Gallery, Foothills and Zeba.

The rest of the village has also undergone something of a facelift in recent years with all manner of chichi shops, cafes, bistros and bars emerging. Honourable mention must go at this point to a rather chic little place called Don't Tell Titus... a cheeky reference to Salt's staunch advocacy of abstinence from alcohol. All this might imply that Saltaire has moved away from its working class roots into more gentrified territory, but it still retains its honest, hard-working feel.

You might need to carry your wallet round in a wheelbarrow if you want to buy anything at the mill now, but the building is still surrounded by common or garden allotments with homemade, slightly wonky looking scarecrows and rows of indomitable millworkers homes. And the village also retains a vibrant arts and crafts community. It is home to a designated Arts Trail involving a multitude of artists, photographers, writers, musicians, sculptors and potters, and runs its own annual festival providing two weeks of music, theatre and entertainment alongside popular continental, organic, farmers' and flower markets.

Saltaire Festival was founded in 2003 to celebrate the bicentenary of Sir Titus Salt's birth and the 150th anniversary of the mill built in his name. It now attracts a diverse audience of around 50,000 every September - not bad for a little West Yorkshire mill village, is it?



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