We Yorkshire folk are proud of our culture, history and their beautiful surroundings every day. But on 1st August each year, we really celebrate “Gods Own Country”. Whilst Yorkshire can boast many world achievements one key aspect of the region is its long tradition in the textile industry.
In the late 18th century the woollen trade accounted for 33% of all of England’s export. Yorkshire, with its countless cotton and wool mills, was once at the heart of that trade. Merchants in the four cloth halls of the city of Leeds handled a sixth of England’s cloth exports.
The city’s mills were enormous; Armley Mills was once the world’s largest woollen mill, and Temple Works accommodated grazing sheep on its roof. Temple Works, with its distinctive façade of columns, was also famous worldwide for its innovative flax production technique.
By the 19th century, Bradford became (and still is) a key wool trading city. Mill owners employed child labour, workers worked long hours and were poorly paid and had a short life expectancy due to pollution and squalid living conditions.
On the city’s outskirts, where the air was cleaner, Sir Titus Salt built a new mill with the aim of improving conditions for workers.
Titus was another textile innovator, having made his fortune successfully experimenting with alpaca wool to weave a very fine cloth. His efforts also earned him a humorous article by Charles Dickens.
Alongside Salts Mill, Titus constructed the village of Saltaire for his workers. Titus’s working and home life measures (including his ban on alcohol) improved the lives of textile workers immeasurably. The village is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Sadly the industry has greatly declined. Many surviving mill buildings have been converted into blocks of flats, while a few others are preserved nearer their original state. Armley Mills is a fascinating industrial museum, and Salts Mill now houses art galleries, cafes and shops.
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