Salts Mill at Saltaire stands as one of Yorkshire’s top contemporary arts centres. A choice of art galleries await within the converted Salts Mill. Salts may have started life as a paternalist worker village, but today it’s a contemporary arts village with quirky gift and art shops, fine restaurants and cafes, a digital library and film archive all on-site. Salts Mill pays due attention to its industrial heritage in the superb Saltaire History exhibition. Saltaire village’s many historic buildings outside of the mill, constructed by mill owner Titus Salt for his workers, offers a fascinating insight into what historian Edward Thompson dubs ‘symbolic paternalism’.
Industrialist Sir Titus Salt, Saltaire History Exhibition
For industrialists like Sir Titus Salt (1803-1876) ‘symbolic paternalism’ was crucial in a context where business was heavily dependent on customary bonds and personal relationships based on trust and good repute. Products were more likely to be purchased from a manufacturer with strong local standing – so Conservative Salt built a village, with alms houses, a school, a church, an institute, public wash houses and homes for his workers. Social reputation for family dynasties and firms were of key importance, and less so innovative production processes. (Savage & Miles, 1994). All that effort channelled into social standing saw Salt finally as Mayor of Bradford in 1848 and a Member of Parliament in 1849.
Workplace Independence at Salts Mill
Salt’s symbolic paternalism and the development of a ‘factory village’ was a bit more of a project of surveillance than most industrialists in the second half of the 19th century – no public houses and he forbade his workers from becoming trade union members, but real involvement in workers lives was in fact minimal.
No pensions – no sick pay – no protection during business slumps. Housing might be used as a threat to evict workers who made trouble. Workers were more likely to police themselves as responsibility was handed down, and skilled workers often recruited extended members of their family below them and were paid for the group.
Saltaire United Reformed Church
The United Reform Church was originally Congregationalist – Congregationalism is a way of organising churches rather than a theology. The key feature of Congregationalism is the independence of the local church. A significant statement of symbolic paternalism, both visually and in its choice of polity.
Salts Mill Specialisation – Worsted
Salt’s success lay partly in specialisation of worsted wools and his particular blending of alpaca and mohair with cotton warps. Pick up a copy of ‘The Salt and Silver’ book at Salts Mill for an excellent guide to the processes involved in the worsted production process and Salt’s blending also of silk in combination with alpaca to produce the renowned stripped waistcoats.