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Titus Salt - How Alpaca and Donskoi wool lead to his success

Updated: Dec 2, 2020

Industrialist Titus Salt will forever be remembered as a Yorkshire industrialist who pioneered the use of the model village for his workforce, increasing productivity through his social conscience. The UNESCO World Heritage site in Saltaire which includes Salts Mill is testament to this, but who was Titus Salt?

In the blog article below, we shed some life on Titus salt and his life.

Titus Salt was born in 1803, in Morley, Leeds and was the eldest of 6 children. His father Daniel was a drysalter, but leased a 100 acre farm and became a successful farmer. Having dealt with sheep oh the farm, Titus’s father spotted an opportunity to set up his own business as a wool stapler and in 1822, he gave up farming and set up his own business in Bradford.

Titus, who had been educated in Batley joined his father’s business aged 18 and quickly learnt all aspects of the wool trade. His main role was a middle man between farmers and wool traders which meant travelling as far away as London, Norfolk and Liverpool to buy and sell wool.

He married Caroline aged 27 and went on to have 11 children, each of which now have a street named after them in Saltaire village.

Titus’s success can be based on two types of wool – Donskoi wool from Russian sheep and Alpaca wool…

Aged 28, Titus Salt bought some bales of Russian Donskoi wool, but due to the thick tangled fibres, he could not find a buyer prepared to process the wool. Rather than give up, Titus bought a small mill in Bradford and began to spin the wool himself. The spun wool was seen as very good quality and his business prospered quickly , leading to the purchase and set up of four more mills, all located in the centre of Bradford.

The next type of wool leading to Titus Salt’s success was from the Alpaca (a close relation of the llama). He found a number of unsold bails of alpaca wool at a warehouse Liverpool docks. People at the time not wanting to take the risk on some new type of wool from halfway around the world.

Titus Salt bought the bails, took them home to Bradford and experimented with it and found he could weave it into a beautiful cloth which could be used to produce expensive fine garments for wealthy ladies of the time.

By the age of 40 – Titus Salt was one of the richest men in Yorkshire. He had also served as a Liberal Mayor of Bradford and exhibited his Alpaca wool fabric at The Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace in London.

Industrialisation in Yorkshire had led to pollution on a grand scale and poor quality water in the city centres, particularly in Bradford where his mills and many of his workforce were based. Outbreaks of typhoid and cholera were rife in Bradford and Titus was aware that many of his workforce lived in poverty.

As his wealth grew, Titus Salt drew up plans to build a new mill on the outskirts of Bradford to consolidate all his smaller Bradford based mills, with fresh air and unpolluted water. He first considered the site where Greenholme Mills were built in Burley n Wharfedale, before choosing a spot next to the Leeds & Liverpool Canal and the River Aire close to Shipley, in what now is known as Saltaire.

He built a grand mill in sandstone, based on a classic Italianate architectural style which was opened on his 50th birthday.

His next project was to build a town for his work force, so he set about building houses for workers, a bathouse, an institute, a hospital, almshouses, a school, a park and a church, which now make up the model village of Saltaire.

Whilst not teetotal himself, he was born to Congregationalist parents. He built a Congregational church and donated land for a Wesleyan Chapel to be built by subscription. To tie in with his congregational roots he “forebade beershops” in the village, but it is believed this was to not lose any productivity from his workers being hungover!

Salt found that the improved conditions for his workforce led to an increased productivity. His philanthropy and religious bent should be tempered from the fact that he also moved from Bradford city centre for sound economic reasons and also he very much liked having control over his workforce.

Sadly, Titus Sadly was more a man of action so wrote very little down about his motivations and reasoning for his actions.

He was knighted in 1869 by Queen Victoria making him Sir Titus Salt. He died in 1876 and was given a civic funeral in Bradford with 100,000 people lining the roads. He is buried in the mausoleum at Saltaire Congregational Church which he had paid to build.


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