Cream Of The Country: Saltaire

This Yorkshire mill town is a perfectly preserved slice of Victorian history. And it's a mecca for art-lovers, too
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The Independent Online

After three decades spent immortalising the blue skies and swimming pools of Los Angeles, the Bradford-born artist David Hockney has returned home to paint Yorkshire's distinctive landscapes and mills towns instead. And one place not to be missed is Saltaire, a former textile industry town four miles north of Bradford, whose spectacular centrepiece, Salt's Mill, has graced the artist's canvas in the past.

As a World Heritage Site where all the houses are Grade I or II-listed, little has changed since the Victorian wool baron and philanthropist Sir Titus Salt designed his vision of a healthy and morally uplifting model industrial village for the 3,000 mill workers.

There is no exaggerating the vastness of the magnificent, six-storey Salt's Mill which, when opened in 1853, was the biggest factory in Europe, covering seven acres and boasting a 250ft high chimney modelled on a Tuscan campanile.

In the 1980s, Leeds entrepreneur Jonathan Silver converted the disused mill into a vibrant arts space, with long galleries mainly devoted to the work of his friend Hockney, alongside stylish book and craft shops, cafés and offices.

Today, the mill attracts thousands of visitors each year, and its conversion has inspired similar displays of urban regeneration locally, with old industrial buildings such as Victoria Mills and Riverside Court now parading luxury apartments.

Like a child's drawing of the perfect village, everywhere in Titus Salt's Utopia - from the river and the mill to the train station and the church - is within a stone's throw, and just across the road from the mill is the pristine grid pattern of 22 cobbled streets comprising 850 terraced houses and 45 almshouses.

Salt also built a church, school, hospital and park to keep the workers in good spirits - though not those of a bibulous nature, as he insisted Saltaire remained strictly teetotal. Incredibly, the alcoholic drought only ended eight years ago with the opening of the Boathouse pub on the River Aire. Now there is Fanny's too, but locals wanting a wider choice must still decamp to nearby Shipley.

Salt's old hospital has now been turned into apartments and the school has become part of Shipley College, but the Grade I-listed United Reformed Church has been perfectly preserved and is considered one of Britain's most precious Victorian architectural gems.

The short terraces of listed houses are charming in their uniformity, with not a satellite dish or dubious loft conversion in sight, but Saltaire-based estate agent James Ickringill from JI & Co says such regulation can come as a shock to prospective buyers with grand plans for renovation, so he advises they consult a local town planner first to find out what improvements will be permitted. "Changing doors, windows or chimney stacks is out of the question, but you are fairly free to do what you want inside the houses as long as it doesn't involve removing internal structural walls," says Ickringill.

"The most desirable and expensive streets are George Street, William Henry Street and Albert Road, because the houses - which sell for about £210,000 - are set back slightly from the pavement and have small front gardens and rear terraces. If there's a favourite property type, it's a well-appointed and improved three-bedroom terraced house for about £155,000, with a small back terrace facing west, so people can sit out and have a beer in the evening."

The market is fairly static at the moment, although Saltaire's history and appearance means there is always demand for the typical "Titus Salt" terraces. Young couples who work in Leeds, 13 miles away, but can't afford the city's house prices are increasingly buying in Saltaire, and there is solid demand from buy-to-let investors. The recently converted Grade II-listed Riverside Court, part of the mill complex, is also desirable among investors, including entertainer Paul O'Grady, aka Lily Savage.

The lowdown

Cost of living: Two-bedroom terraced houses start at £100,000. Three-bedroom terraces cost from £160,000, and four-bedroom houses from £180,000. A two-bedroom apartment in Riverside Court costs from £130,000.

Attractions: Salt's Mill ( is the star attraction. Victoria Road's shops also make for pleasant browsing. Walk along the pretty towpath of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal to Shipley. Or head 30 miles north and you are in the Yorkshire Dales.

Downsides: The new Bingley bypass means traffic is now squeezed through Saltaire.

Getting there: Trains to Leeds (18 mins); change at Leeds for King's Cross (2hr 50mins).