What was distinctive about Saltaire’s houses?
Titus Salt provided housing around his new mill to bring workers out of crowded urban tenements into a cohesive settlement with a range of facilities to enrich daily life.
Houses were built in phases on a grid pattern of streets. While maintaining substantial architectural uniformity, their staged construction allowed for more subtle elements of design to suit changing needs.
The first houses were built on Albert Terrace, named for the Prince Consort. It runs east-west above the railway line and is the only street to retain cobblestones. The majority of streets were named for eleven of Titus and Caroline Salt’s children, seven daughters-in-law and grandchildren. Two others were named after village architects Lockwood and Mawson. The later additions of Daisy, Myrtle and Fern Place were nods to popular plants and flowers of the period.
One popular misconception, owing perhaps to its poetic symmetry, is that the two largest streets after Victoria Road were named for the village founder and his wife. Consensus now suggests that Titus did not give his own name to a particular street. Titus Street is named for his fifth son, Titus Salt Jr.
The size of house workers were able to secure normally was dictated by family size and contribution to the workforce, rather than by job status. This integration did much to promote good relations within the community and alleviate class tension. Working for voluntary organisations like the fire-brigade was also a route towards more comfortable accommodation.
A few large dwellings were intended as boarding houses for lone workers. These were unprofitable, as many single people preferred to sub-let rooms from friends in the village. Eventually the houses became single-family dwellings, much sought after today because of their size.
The first phase of building
The first houses were of two main types, built on six streets running north-south between Albert Terrace and Caroline Street. William Henry Street and George Street had larger properties costing approximately £200 (£12,000) each to build. They typically had three bedrooms, a living room with a cooking range, a scullery kitchen and a small cellar. They had a front garden and were set back from the road to allow privacy.
Amelia, Edward, Herbert and Fanny streets held smaller houses costing around £120 (£7000) to build. These were plainer in design with no gardens or cellars. They also tended to only have two bedrooms of which only one had a fireplace.
This was high quality provision for the 1850s but there were restrictions to preserve the design aesthetic of the village. Most notably, although Titus preferred ‘through terrace’ housing, a handful of tiny houses were built at corners on Titus and Caroline streets to conceal the back yards of the side streets. Most of these houses have been demolished, but few examples remain such as 20 and 21 Caroline Street.
The second and third phases
Small streets running north-south between Caroline and Titus streets were built in the second phase, completed in 1857, e.g. Whitlam, Mary, Helen and Ada streets. Their primary additional benefit was a cellar.
All the remaining streets were part of the third phase, completed in 1863. These houses were virtually identical to their predecessors but with a more generous plot, a third bedroom and a substantial cellar. These streets had a change of orientation to run east-west, improving their visual appearance from the Leeds Turnpike.
Completed in 1868, housing on Albert Road includes long terraces, blocks of four and semi-detached pairs. Some houses were intended for higher status occupants: mill overlookers, teachers, doctors and church ministers. They have significant architectural details, front gardens and, when built had a view across fields to Nab Wood. No. 1 was the largest house in the village, tied to the role of chief cashier. Appropriately it is now a building society.
In the 1870s two schools that now block the aforementioned view (Albert Road Board School and Saltaire First School) had to be built in the highest quality stone to ensure that they blended in architecturally.
Good light and drainage
Despite changes in layout, all houses had a back yard and outbuildings to use as ash pits, coal stores and privies. The ‘through-terrace’ design allowed light and air indoors and kept waste at the back where night-soilmen could collect it.
Beyond Exhibition Road to the east are three streets which were not part of the original design. Maddocks Street and Rhodes Street were named for 1893 syndicate members who bought the mill with James Roberts. These two, and Baker Street, are sympathetic later additions and are a key part of the World Heritage Site’s “buffer zone”.