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Hidden heroes and heroines

Some less well-known people who built, served and preserved Saltaire

Titus Salt’s story and influence on the building of Saltaire is quite well known. There are many other less well-known people who made their mark on Saltaire, helping to build it, educate its children, support its institutions, and preserve its heritage.

In 2019 we celebrated a few of these hidden heroes and heroines in an exhibition held with the Saltaire History Club to as part of Heritage Open Days and the Saltaire Festival.

William Fairbairn - engineer

William was a leading British engineer and was contracted by Titus Salt to design the interior of Salts Mill. William's significant engineering skills enabled the mill to operate smoothly and perform all the functions that took raw materials through the series of processes required to make high quality cloth.

William was responsible for the Mill's iron structure, the lay-out of the machinery, the design and manufacture of the boilers, steam engines and line-shafting. He also designed a tubular-girder bridge over the river Aire that runs through the village.

Fairbairn published his plans for the mill in a book that ran to four editions and was translated into French and Spanish. He was justly proud of Salts Mill, his largest work of mill construction.

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Catherine Salt - supporter of education

Catherine was born in 1846 into one family of textile magnates, the Crossleys of Halifax, and married into another when Titus Salt Junior became her husband in 1866.

In some ways Catherine was quite conventional, raising four children and running her privileged Victorian household, including hosting the Prince of Wales and later his sister Princess Beatrice at her home. But Catherine clearly had deep and wide interests in social and educational issues, particularly the education of girls. She helped found Bradford Girls Grammar School and served for many years on its board, and also the board of the Salt Schools.

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George Morrell - headteacher

George arrived in Saltaire in 1860 to be an assistant teacher in the Factory School that provided part-time education for some of the children working in Salts Mill. By the early 1870s he was the headmaster, later moving to be head of the nearby Shipley Central School.

George was a member of the Saltaire Congregational Church and long-serving Superintendent of its magnificent Sunday School. A life-long teetotaller, George promoted responsible drinking and was one of the founders of the Shipley Temperance Union in 1892, becoming President in 1902.

He finally retired after 45 years of service. He was obviously fondly thought of and well respected. A magnificent illuminated presentation book was given to him on retirement, paid for by public subscription and to which Sir James Roberts and many eminent past-students contributed.

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Medina Sarah Griffiths - headteacher

Medina Griffiths was appointed the first headmistress of Salts Girls’ High School in Saltaire when it opened in 1876. Her progressive views on girls’ education is summed up in her words:

I would have girls placed on an equality with boys so far as educational advantages are concerned… I would have girls stand in the foremost rank.

Medina introduced a wide curriculum that included Latin, Greek, French, English, maths, drama, art and music. She encouraged the girls to remain in education and take a university degree.

Her progressive ideas were built on by her successor Harriet Byles who you can read about below.

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William Fry - school administrator

William Fry started working life on the railways but his life was transformed in his thirties when he moved to Saltaire to become the long-serving Secretary and General Manager of the Salt Schools.

In the late 1880s a new School of Art and Science was instigated by Titus Salt Junior. To help fund the new school and partly celebrate its opening, and Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee, Salt devised the Royal Yorkshire Jubilee Exhibition. William Fry became heavily involved in its planning, travelling round the country to visit other exhibitions at Edinburgh, Folkestone and Liverpool as well as the Colonial Exhibition in London. He wrote numerous letters to obtain exhibits and enlist support for the Exhibition.

This was a difficult task because of competition with other exhibitions and attractions. William wrote that ‘obscurity, too small an affair’ were ‘prominent ideas to be combated’.

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Harriet Byles - headteacher

Harriet Byles first taught at the Salts High School for girls when Medina Griffiths was headmistress. Harriet became the second, and longest-serving, headmistress of the school in 1886.

From what she wrote in her lengthy 'reminiscences', Harriet clearly admired her predecessor and followed Medina's enlightened principles in the education of her students. Her philosophy was that both work and play ‘honestly and heartily done’ was of equal importance. Many of her pupils achieved university places and worthwhile careers.

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Isabel Salt- campaigner, suffragist, pacifist

Isabel Salt, granddaughter of Sir Titus Salt, was the only daughter of four children of Titus Salt Junior and his wife Catherine. By the age of twelve her family had entertained two visits of Royalty and mourned the death of her father.

By the late 1890s Isabel had started to work for the welfare of the poor and the independence and equality of women. She became continually active in the Women’s Liberal Association and became a prominent speaker on getting women’s right to vote, although she clearly stated that she was a suffragist not a suggragette.

Isabel was also a committed and campaigning pacifist, a subject that became highly contentious during the First World War.

Many of Isabel's campaigning speeches and letters to the newspapers are recorded in her own newscutting books, part of the Saltaire Collection alongside travel diaries, letters, photographs, clothing and an intriguing tin of acorns.

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Dorothy Sharp - heritage preserver

Over 6,000 Items make up the Saltaire Collection today and it all started with one person, Dorothy Sharp. Dorothy came to Saltaire in 1984 and was employed temporarily at Shipley Library, then located in Victoria Hall. Her first job was to sift through the local history collection to find materials suitable for schoolchildren.

Later in 1984 Dorothy moved to nearby Shipley College as an assistant librarian and developed her interest in Saltaire's history. In 1987/88 Dorothy helped set up the 'Saltaire Resouce Base' - to support visiting schools - in the reopened Salts Mill, now a business, leisure and art centre being developed by local entrepreneur Jonathan Silver.

Dorothy became known locally as someone who was interested in collecting and preserving materials to do with Saltaire. And so the donations came in, and the Saltaire Collection (as it is called now) was born and began to grow!

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Clive Woods - heritage campaigner

Clive Woods gave up his life as a teacher and moved to Saltaire in 1986 to continue his researches on Titus Salt and his model village. He opened a bookshop, worked for a while as a caretaker at Victoria Hall, and became a well-known guide, leading tours around Saltaire.

Clive helped found the Village Society and became a vigorous campaigner to preserve Saltaire and its heritage. In the late 1980s he was part of the successful campaign against plans to build a major trunk road through Saltaire. He also worked to get Saltaire listed by English Heritage, work that helped prevent the village from being recklessly changed.

In the late 1990s he became a leader of the campaign, supported by the local MP and Bradford Council, to have Saltaire recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. This was awarded in 2001, a success widely hailed as the most important for Saltaire since its foundation 150 years before.

Sadly, Clive died in 2007 but his legacy is a Saltaire preserved for the future. The Saltaire Collection is proud to host his archive of research documents, books, leaflets and photographs.

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E1b-009a: Albert Road Board School infant class, 1910
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A portrait photograph of Medina Griffiths
Biographies Read brief life stories of some of the famous and not-so-famous people who built, worked in, lived in, and saved Saltaire

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F1-173a: The Ricciardo sisters
Personal memories Browse the stories of some of the people who lived in Saltaire, worked in Salts Mill, and travelled from afar to start a new life in the village

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