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Saltaire United Reformed Church – a Cathedral of Congregationalism

Updated: Mar 30, 2023

A real architectural gem – Saltaire’s beautiful United Reformed Church (originally Saltaire Congregationa Church) can be found in the model village of Saltaire. It was built back in 1859 by Titus Salt and is a great example of Victorian Italianate religious architecture.

Salt’s wife Caroline actually laid the foundation stone in 1856.

It is often described as a “Cathedral of Congregationalism” and whilst it was funded by Salt, he used the architects Lockwood and Mawson to design the building, who had designed a number of other Italianate buildings around Bradford as well as Salts Mill and many of Saltaire’s future public or civic buildings.

The church was the first public building on the Saltaire site and cost Salt the princely sum of £16,000 at the time to build. Salt was deeply religious, a congregationalist and believed that his talents and wealth were given to him by God.

Incidently, Titus salt’s adopted family motto is ‘quidnon deo juvante’ (everything is possible with God’s help), so positioning the church opposite his textile mill makes sense.

The building is Grade I listed and is situated in the Aire Valley on the edge of the Pennine Moors and the Yorkshire Dales, next to the Leeds -Liverpool Canal. It was built using ashlar – a finely dressed Yorkshire stone, with a roof of French slate.

The church itself is entered by a doorway up six steps from the portico, supported by six Corinthian columns. But what really gives it its sense of place is the fretted tower with its cupola and three clock faces.

The building contains a Mausoleum and this is where the mill owner and philanthropist who gave the Village is name – Titus Salt has been laid to rest.

To find out more about Titus Salt and his links to Saltaire – click here to visit a previous blog

The church is still a living, working church with an active congregation. Funding helps with ongoing refurbishment of this magnificent building and the church remains open during the summer months for tourists visiting Salt’s Mill and Saltaire to come and see the interior at first hand.

The interior is as spectacular as the exterior, with dark blue scagliola pilasters, richly decorated coffered ceiling and straight-backed oak pews for a congregation of 600 people.

Sadly the interior was damaged by storms in 2020 and refurbishment completed during 2021 and 2022 to return the wonderful ceiling to its former glory. The nave has no aisles but a semi-circular portico.

It’s well worth a look at the church if you are heading to Saltaire for a look around the Hockney Gallery at Salts Mill.

One final note I find interesting which backs up much of what has been written about Titus Salt caring for his workforce, is that a small gallery was built to the rear of the church at the insistence of Salt’s wife, Caroline, basically so the family could sit over the rest of the congregation. Salt refused to use the balcony himself, as he preferred to sit with his workforce.

A real man of the people who built this church for the benefit of his workforce!

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Nov 29, 2022

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