Let’s all go to Saltaire to celebrate World Heritage Weekend

Victoria Hall, its architecture is just one of the reasons Saltaire is a World Heritage Site

Victoria Hall, its architecture is just one of the reasons Saltaire is a World Heritage Site - Credit: Joan Russell

If you’re wondering where in the world to go for your next weekend jaunt, might we suggest Saltaire? And, while we’re being bold, can we also recommend you head there on April 22nd-23rd.

The landmark United Reform Church in Saltaire

The landmark United Reform Church in Saltaire - Credit: Joan Russell

If you’re wondering where in the world to go for your next weekend jaunt, might we suggest Saltaire? And, while we’re being bold, can we also recommend you head there on April 22nd-23rd. It’s not just that we like telling you what to do (although we do) but we wouldn’t want you to miss out on World Heritage Weekend, when the whole community comes out to celebrate its internationally renowned status.

The annual weekender, which was launched in 2011, has been organised on the theme of ‘People’s Stories’ this time around and aims to tell the amazing day-to-day tales of life in the village, looking back in history at how residents used to live, work and play, and coming bang up to date with contemporary experiences.

‘It’s important that we keep the stories of Saltaire alive and relevant,’ said Rob Martin, who’s part of the ongoing Saltaire Stories project run by Saltaire World Heritage Education Association. ‘Most people are very proud of the village, but it’s important to keep talking about why it’s such an important place in terms of its history and heritage so future generations don’t forget.’

Among the many activities going on at this month’s weekender are story explorer trails (with stickers!), a Victorian fancy dress parade, an archive exhibition, a brass band, workshops, guided walks, a choir, cream teas, rides on Shipley Glen tramway and – brace yourselves – alpacas.

Locals are rightly proud of their village’s World Heritage Site status, which was granted by UNESCO in December 2001. There are only 30 such sites in Great Britain, including Canterbury Cathedral, Caernarfon Castle, Hadrian’s Wall and Blenheim Palace.

So, what’s it like to live in an important piece of history? Frankly, Pete Chambers, co-chair of Saltaire Village Society, can’t believe his luck.

A game of football in Roberts Park

A game of football in Roberts Park - Credit: Joan Russell

‘It’s a real privilege to be able to live in and help preserve a piece of history,’ he said. ‘It’s not like anywhere I’ve ever lived before.’

He’s originally from Stafford, relocating to Saltaire in 2008 when he and his wife, Liz from Guiseley, finished their degrees and were looking for work.

‘We just fell in love with Saltaire,’ he said. ‘The scenery when you step outside your front door is unique. There are beautiful villages all around the country but this place has a distinctive character. The walk up to the railway station every morning is the perfect way to start my day. Being able to see the woods over at Baildon as I walk past the mill each morning is amazing. Honestly, it’s like walking through an artistic masterpiece, even when the clouds are low and it’s a bit gloomy.’

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Saltaire Village Society was initially set up in 1984 to stop Bingley bypass ploughing through the village. Since then, its brief has grown exponentially and it’s now widely regarded as the official voice of the residents; connecting, representing and supporting the whole community.

The group, a registered charity, manages Washhouse Gardens, a community garden tended by volunteers, and organises the Christmas lights switch-on and carol singing every year alongside Saltaire Inspired’s Living Advent Calendar in which secret windows in shops, homes and businesses are revealed in the run-up to the big day.

‘Our remit has evolved and is continuing to evolve,’ said Pete. ‘It certainly helps that we live in such an active community where people genuinely seem to like being together. We have quite a large rental population, which means we have a relatively quick turnover of people, but we still manage to maintain a solid community core.’

One of the few downsides to living in a listed World Heritage Site is that you can do very little to change or modernise your home and, because the houses were originally built for mill-workers, the gardens tend to be on the small side. But even that can have positive consequences.

‘Roberts Park is beautiful and a really lovely place to go if you haven’t got much in terms of a garden,’ said Pete. ‘We have two young daughters so we spend a lot of time there, and I’m actually really grateful for that. If we had a bigger garden, they’d be out there playing without us. As it is, we get to spend lots of time with them.’

Salts Mill, the heart of Sir Titus Salt’s original vision for his landmark village, is of course a must for visitors, particularly art-lovers who can revel in its world-class displays and its large Hockney collection. But Saltaire is by no means a one-trick-pony kind of place.

It’s also home to Shipley Glen Tramway, built in 1895 and still running carriages along a quarter of a mile of woodland track; Victoria Hall, commissioned by Sir Titus as a ‘centre of recreation, culture and learning’ and now a popular and well-used event venue (with Yorkshire’s finest Wurlitzer cinema organ tucked neatly underneath the main stage); and Saltaire United Reform Church, a beautiful example of Italianate religious architecture built by Sir Titus Salt for his staff in 1859.

‘There are lots of reasons for coming to the village,’ said Trevor Hart of Saltaire History Club. ‘I would encourage visitors to perhaps look a little further than Salts Mill to some of our other positive attributes: Roberts Park, Shipley Glen, Baildon Moor and the houses themselves.

‘It’s important that visitors – and residents – understand the significance of the settlement as a whole. Saltaire worked as a community in the 1870s and it still works today. It’s quite remarkable really.’

Dates for your diary

The World Heritage Weekend is not the only not-to-missed event in Saltaire this year.

:: There’s also Saltaire Festival on September 8th-17th, when residents and visitors join forces to enjoy two weeks of live music, markets, exhibitions, performances and cultural happenings.

:: Bradford Dragon Boat Festival is on the weekend of May 5th-7th at Roberts Park. The three-day event comprises a youth day for secondary school and youth clubs; a community charity day; and a corporate race day.

:: There are two Heritage Open Days on September 8th and 9th, as part of a national history and culture event that encourages organisations to throw open their doors so visitors can see hidden places for free.

:: Saltaire Arts Trail, which runs from May 27th-29th, is a community event organised by Saltaire Inspired. It offers an imaginative visual arts programme, including new exhibitions, open house demonstrations and art in unusual places.

:: The final day of this year’s Tour de Yorkshire bike race will thunder down Victoria Road on April 30th. The pack will roll out of City Park in Bradford and take in Salts Mill before the start flag is lowered.

:: For more information about what’s going on in the village throughout the year, visit saltairevillage.info.

Why is Saltaire a World Heritage Site?

According to UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation): ‘Saltaire has outstanding universal value because it is an exceptionally complete and well-preserved industrial village of the second half of the 19th century.

‘Its textile mills, public buildings and workers’ housing are built in a harmonious style of high architectural quality and the urban plan survives intact, giving a vivid impression of the philanthropic approach to industrial management.

‘Saltaire provided the model for similar developments, both in the UK and elsewhere including in the USA and at Crespi d’Adda in Italy, and exerted a major influence on the ‘garden city’ movement.’

:: To find out more about this and other UNESCO World Heritage Sites around the country, visit whc.unesco.org.

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