With a Pinch of Salt?

_pw_7741William Blake’s poem that questions whether there is any truth to the legends that Jesus Christ once came to England refers to England’s dark Satanic mills, and though there are conflicting interpretations, many take the literal option that this refers to the fruits of the industrial revolution.

Bradford was a fertile ground for the mills to take root, being ideally situated to access stone to build the mills, coal to power them, and the soft water of the Pennines to wash and dye the textiles produced there.  There were over 50 built here._pw_7794

The mills needed a workforce, and in the first half of the 19th Century the town’s population is said to have grown from 6000 to over 100,000 with a reliance on immigrants that continued for another century after that.  The work was hard, the hours were long and the environment was hazardous.  Children as young as five worked alongside the adults.

_pw_7746Home was no refuge.  Without housing regulations many lived in unsanitary slums.  Whole families might share a damp cellar room.  An epidemic of cholera claimed over four hundred lives.  Dark and Satanic?  It’s easy to reach that conclusion.

Enter Sir Titus Salt.  Builder and owner of Salts Mill which on completion in 1853 was the largest industrial building in the world, but also a philanthropist who build the adjacent Saltaire village (a conflation of his surname and the name of the nearby river) to house his workers in what were then exemplary conditions.  As well as the housing there were washhouses, a school, a hospital, almshouses and an institute for public meetings, concerts and education.  It incorporated a library, a gym and a scientific laboratory.

Titus, it seems, cared for the minds and bodies of his workers, and their souls too.  My favourite structure there is the Congregational Church which could accommodate 600 worshippers, though rarely Titus as he and his family often worshipped elsewhere.  He did return to take his place in the family mausoleum which stands to one side of the church looking a little like an ostentatious afterthought.  Salt was a devout Christian himself and many believe this to be the driving force behind his enterprise.

Others see a more selfish motive; he was looking after a critical asset of his business and their productivity.  Perhaps this is why Saltaire is a rarity in being an English village without a pub (and check out the name of the licensed restaurant that is now at the heart of the village)_pw_7800

And then there’s a third option.  Self aggrandisement.  If he wasn’t out to impress, why adopt an Italianate architectural style in the embellishment of many of the buildings (the chimney of the New Mill building being a direct copy of a Venetian campanile for example)?  Would Victorian millworkers really appreciate the cultural reference?  At one stage the mill, village and park all bore his name (though a subsequent owner imposed his surname on the park).  Perhaps Titus just lacked imagination.


Stencil of David Hockney, Salts Mill, Bradford

Whatever his motivation he has left us a village that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and even the mill has found a modern use.  Converted into smaller units it features, warehousing, specialist retailers and galleries.  It’s the perfect place to exhibit the output of a more modern Bradfordian son of note.

So Saint or Sinner, Control-Freak or Egotist?

Or maybe a soupçon of each.

Just a pinch?

Rest in peace Titus._pw_7765_6_7



Mancunian Magnificence

Back in Manchester, and time to turn my attention away from Salford Quays to the city proper, but what should be my subject?

For a historic city, Manchester is missing a vital ingredient.  A castle.  The chester suffix derives from there being a Roman fortification here, but visit Castlefields and there is no trace of a fortification (unless you count the turrets on the railway bridge).  I need to find a different structure to write about.

Medieval options are out generally.  Manchester’s growth to prominence was a product of the industrial revolution, so there is little left predating the Victorian era.  That still leaves a huge variety to choose from; neo-classical, high-tech, gothic, art-deco and more.  One of the notable features is the brown terracotta tiles that clad many of the buildings.  The same industry that made the city wealthy made it polluted (think of the mill chimney’s of Lowry’s paintings).  These tiles were supposed to shed the dirt.

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I could easily have opted for Manchester Town Hall, a temple to municipal power and the status of he officials within.  There are few structures in the gothic revival style to rival it.  The shame is that the Town Hall extension alongside it should be such a plain building (though the 1930’s were not a time for exuberant design).

I may return to the town hall on another occasion; when I can add some interior shots to the story.

Then there’s the The Manchester Free Trade Hall.  Built to mark the repeal of the Corn Laws, this magnificent structure stands on the site of The Peterloo Massacre, when cavalry charged a group of protestors seeking parliamentary reform.  I was ignorant of all that until I read the commemorative plaque on the building’s facade, though another moment in its history resonated with greater strength.  The hall was Manchester’s premier concert venue for both classical and popular music, though on the one occasion I made the return trip over the Pennines it was to the Apollo to see Alice Cooper.  Despite Alice’s excesses, that evening has faded into obscurity, but a single word uttered by a member of the audience in the mid 60’s has become legendary.  Dylan was playing the Free Trade Hall with a show that marked his adoption of the electric guitar.  In a quiet moment during the second half of the show a voice rang out shouting “Judas”.  Dylan was still talking about the incident as recently as 2012.

Manchester Free Trade Hall
Manchester Free Trade Hall

The building now houses a hotel, although tragically two of the facades were demolished for its construction.  The details that remain though are an entertainment in their own right.

Manchester Free Trade Hall detail
Manchester Free Trade Hall detail

In the end it was a hotel that I opted for, but you’ll have to wait for another post before I reveal my choice.

Peace at Last

A town with Roman origins that developed through Saxon settlement into a medieval market town with an important textile trade.  There are several places that come to mind but I suspect the places that come to mind don’t include my destination this week.

Perhaps its Palladian Town Hall, rated by Pevsner as the finest late 18th Century home in South Lancashire.  South Lancashire?  APW_7436_7_8-EditProbably not where you had in mind.  This is a region famed for its industrial heritage and the industrial revolution really brought prosperity to the area.APW_7455-Edit

The town hall was originally the private home of merchant Thomas Patten, but this elegant property and some of its surrounding grounds were sold to the borough council a century later, the grounds becoming the town’s first public park. APW_7426-Edit Sadly the public toilets in the same grounds are more indicative of the more recent fortunes of Warrington.APW_7442

Now mention Warrington to me and I think of Rugby Union, and the team which has the unique record of being one of the founder clubs and the only one who has never slipped out of the top league.  Or rather that was the first thing that came to mind about this Merseyside town.

That all changed twenty years ago when the town was rocked by the explosions of two bombs planted by the IRA.  This came just a month after a gas holder was bombed in the same town which caused enormous damage but no casualties, though a policeman was shot and injured after stopping the bombers’ van.  Sadly the second event was more tragic.

The two bombs were small, and planted in cast iron waste paper bins in the town centre. The warnings given at the time are in dispute, but whatever the truth, Warrington was not the focus of police efforts to save lives.  The location and timing of the two bombs in Warrington meant that shoppers fleeing the first explosion were driven into range of the second, a tactic frequently used by terrorist bombers since.

The cast iron of the bins was turned to shrapnel and caused carnage.  Dozens were injured, but it was the death of two children that made the event notorious.  Three year old Jonathon Ball died in the explosions, but 12-year-old Tim Parry, who suffered the full force of the blast died in hospital a few days later when his life support was ended.APW_7356

People react to such attacks in a variety of ways.  In Northern Ireland loyalist paramilitaries predictably sought revenge, but this was eclipsed by a number of peace campaigns including that of Tim’s parents who began a campaign to promote greater understanding between communities in Britain and Ireland.  Now those efforts have a physical presence.  A large timber clad building in Warrington that bears the names of the two victims in now an international centre promoting peace and conflict resolution.

The ability of some to channel the pain of grief into positive action continually astounds me.APW_7397_8_9