Not much trouble at mill

Muthena Paul Alkazraji visits a Victorian village where a worker's life was pleasant

You could battle your way along Oxford Street to see the modest assembly of the latest David Hockney exhibition - or you could glide on the waterbus along the glassy black Leeds and Liverpool Canal from Shipley for a much more substantial serving of West Yorkshire's favourite son. David Hockney's artistic pied a terre in Britain is at the heart of the village of Saltaire. Conceived by Victorian textile entreprenuer Sir Titus Salt, this "model village" was built on the banks of the River Aire to house workers at his worsted mill. Today, the terraced streets and community architecture remain almost entirely as he envisaged, and are a suitable shrine to Britain's most celebrated contemporary artist.

Salt's apparent impetus came from a ready, healthy workforce and a genuine social concern. Thick smoke, overcrowding and violence characterised working- class life in the textile trade. "If anyone wants to feel how a poor sinner is tormented in purgatory," wrote George Weerth, a resident German poet, "let him travel to Bradford."

A minute's walk from the waterbus stop is the imposing mill complex. It originally employed 3,000 people on 1,200 looms producing 30,000 yards of cloth a day. Salt's speciality was not, as one might expect so close to the moors, in weaving the wool of sheep so much as of alpaca, a strange- looking South American animal of the camel family. The West Mill is now home to a number of modish interior furnishing stores, and its vast, naturally lit workrooms also house three galleries of paintings, drawings, and photo- collages by Hockney.

The 22 streets of Saltaire's workers' housing, from the strictly functional to those with Renaissance-style embellishment, make an absorbing place to meander. Along the back alleys, elderly residents lean over gates, coloured plastic pegs spin around a rigging of washing lines, and outside piping is painted with pride. The houses represented a vast improvement in living conditions for the original wool-combers, and one can still settle here in modest cosiness.

With the exception of the wash-house (including Turkish bath), almost all of Saltaire's Italianate public buildings still remain. There were no public houses built in the original village: Sir Titus was a supporter of the Temperance Movement. He was not, however, so zealous as to prevent residents from keeping the odd barrel of beer in their cellars; he kept a private stash of the devil's brew himself. Those in search of liquid refreshment can visit Saltaire's Victorian boathouse, with its terrace on the River Aire. It is now The Boathouse free house.

The Institute on Victoria Road, a community centre built to take the place of the offending pub, originally provided an art school, library, lecture theatre, gym and billiards room for the workers' use. For the last 10 years, it has been home to The Victorian Reed Organ and Harmonium Museum: a private collection gathered on a shoe-string by an ex-teacher Phil Fluke. It contains an array of instruments, from ship's organs lined with arsenic (to prevent tropical insects eating through mechanisms) to portable harmoniums that were strapped to the rumps of itinerant preachers' horses. The collector's enthusiasm is boundless. "Look at this," he says as I prepare to leave. "I discovered it in that parlour model; it had caused havoc." In his hand is a box containing a mouse skeleton wrapped in a shroud of nibbled organ velvet.

Five minutes walk across Roberts Park is the Shipley Glen tramway. This narrow-gauge, cable-hauled railway, trundles up to open moorland and the glen's famous rock formations.

Down at the United Reformed Church, Sir Titus is interred in a mausoleum under the watchful gaze of a marble guardian angel. Mr Hilton Broomhead, chairman of the church's trustees, gives me his own obituary of the textile magnate and his village. "In those days, it must have been like Utopia compared with life in the cities. A lot of people say, 'Well, he made a lot of money', but it's what he did with it that counts n "

The 1853 Gallery, housing David Hockney's works, is at Salt's Mill (01274 531163) - open 10am-6pm daily; entrance is free. Saltaire Tourist Information 01274 774993.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: MI Developer

    £35 - 45k: Guru Careers: An MI Developer is needed to join the leading provide...

    Recruitment Genius: Fitness Manager

    £20000 - £22500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leisure organisation manag...

    Recruitment Genius: Visitor Experience Manager

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Delivering an inspiring, engagi...

    Recruitment Genius: Learning Team Administrator

    £17500 - £20500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for a great te...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions