One of Acorn Stairlifts' factories is in Shipley, West Yorkshire, which encompasses the fascinating Victorian model village of Saltaire.
Built by leading textiles industrialist Sir Titus Salt, the village's name is a combination of his surname and the River Aire, which defines the surrounding Aire Valley. It was built between 1851 and 1872, mainly to house the workers at Salt's new mill, but also to provide them with shops and many other public amenities to cater to their health, educational, recreational and spiritual needs.
Born in 1803, Salt was the eldest of seven children in a relatively well off and staunchly Methodist family. As a young man he became interested in health issues and wanted to train as a doctor, but soon came across a major stumbling block to that career choice – he couldn't stand the sight of blood!
Instead he was encouraged to learn the family wool stapling business, his family moving to Bradford when he was 19. It was a major centre for the booming textile industry, but conditions for workers were appalling, with poor quality housing, little or no sanitation, pitiful wages and grinding poverty. Not surprisingly, workers suffered poor health and a very low life expectancy.
As his business prospered, Salt – inspired by his father Daniel – was among the first to recognise the pressing need for humanitarian reforms to improve the lot of his workers. By the 1830s some reforms had been passed by Government. For example, children between the ages of nine and twelve were no permitted to work more than nine hours per day, although they were still expected to work seven days-a-week.
Living conditions in Bradford worsened as the population swelled to more than 43,000. The city was cloaked in choking smog from its mills and infant mortality hit a new high. When Salt became Mayor of Bradford in 1848 he started to work toward improvements for the city and its workers. By now he was very rich, having developed a method of weaving alpaca wool into very fine cloth which was in great demand from his five Bradford mills.
Salt had also been inspired by the early efforts of some industrial philanthropists to improve conditions for their workers through building purpose-built housing around their new mills. He decided to embark on such a project on a grand scale, purchasing a beautiful tract of land three miles from Bradford, ideally situated next to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and the new railway.
The centrepiece of his grand plan was Saltaire Mills, which opened on his 50th birthday in 1853 with a grand banquet laid on for workers in one of the main sheds. A masterpiece of its time, it produced 18 miles of high quality worsted cloth every day from 1,200 looms attended by 3,000 workers. The huge revenue it generated allowed Salt to pursue his vision of a model village over the next 20 years.
Workers' houses each had a supply of clean water, proper sanitation and gas lighting. Around them were provided a range of public amenities, including a hospital and gymnasium to look after their health, a library, reading room and school to provide education, a magnificent park and concert hall for recreation, churches to meet their spiritual needs and almshouses to care for those who made it to old age.
The only thing missing was public houses, as drinking alcohol was scorned by the Methodists. Many of the streets in Saltaire bear the names of Salt, his wife Caroline and their eleven children, as well as the project's architects Francis Lockwood and Richard Mawson. Their work in the Italianate style has produced one of the world's finest examples of a purpose-designed and built "model village".
Today Saltaire has survived remarkably intact and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an Anchor Point on the European Route of Industrial Heritage. Its centrepiece is still the mill, now known as Salt's Mill, which closed as a textile mill in 1986 but has been renovated and converted to house a mixture of business, commerce, residential, retail and leisure use. Its 1853 Gallery showcases work by world famous Bradford-born artist David Hockney and attracts visitors from across the globe, while its many individual shops have also helped make it a popular tourist attraction.
As for Salt, he died peacefully at his home in 1876, just a few months after the final building in Saltaire was finished, completing his life's work. More than 100,000 people lined the streets of Bradford on a bitterly cold day for his civic funeral, and he was buried in the mausoleum at Saltaire Congregational Church, regarded by many as the jewel in the crown of Saltaire.