The Wharfedale Family History Group met at the Salem Church Hall on Thursday 5th May. President Stanley Merridew opened the meeting which began with the AGM at which all present committee members were re-elected.

The Group is now in its 36th year and continues to be popular for family history enthusiasts whether or not their roots lie in Wharfedale. Chairman Lynda Balmforth welcomed new members and introduced speaker Alan Pugh, Leeds tour guide and Chairman of Friends of Becket Street Cemetery, whose lively, illustrated talk was on the subject of the Titus Salt and Saltaire.

Bradford industrialist and philanthropist Titus Salt (1803 – 1877) joined his father in the woollen trade. He discovered the hitherto hidden qualities of Alpaca wool from Peru and the business went from strength to strength, amassing a great fortune for him. Meanwhile the overcrowded, badly sanitised living conditions of industrial workers in Bradford meant an early death for most of them. Titus decided to make a difference and selected a site outside the city for a new mill which was ideally situated near rail, river and canal transport links. He employed architects Mawson & Lockwood to design an adjacent village for his workers which still stands today as Saltaire. The housing was laid out in wide streets named after members of the Royal family and Titus’ own family. Public buildings included two churches, a school, alms houses, a hospital, lecture hall and dining hall for up to 700 people. Houses ranged from simple terraces to more elaborate detached residences. There were no back to backs and every house had its own outside lavatory. These living conditions were certainly more wholesome than the inner city slums but Titus kept a watchful eye on his workers: there were no public houses in the villages and they were prohibited from hanging out their washing.

The mill itself was enormous, accommodating 1200 looms on its top floor which produced 30000 yards of cloth per day. Sadly with the decline of the British textile industry the mill stood derelict by the 1980s until it was acquired by local entrepreneur Jonathan Silver who has transformed the site which now houses the renowned David Hockney Gallery. Along with the adjacent Roberts Park where a statue of Titus can be found the village of Saltaire is a fascinating and enjoyable place to visit and well worthy of its status as a World Heritage Site. A vote of thanks was given by Lynda Balmforth at the close.

The Group’s next meeting will take place 7.30 pm on Thursday 2nd June at the Salem Church Hall, Main Street, Burley when Tony Morris will present his talk, Auntie was an Evacuation Train Marshall. Members and non-members all welcome.