HES Case Study Professor David A. Kirby
Saltaire, a 19th century manifestation of Harmonious Entrepreneurship?
The concept of harmonious entrepreneurship is perhaps not entirely new. Possibly one of the earliest proponents of it is the industrial entrepreneur Sir Titus Salt (1803-1876) who, in 1851, built Saltaire, now a UNESCO World Heritage site in the North of England. It is an industrial village built on a rural greenfield site, approximately 3 miles from the City of Bradford on the banks of the River Aire, close to the then Midland Railway line, with the Leeds and Liverpool Canal running through the centre. It is not clear why he built it but at the time Bradford, with a population of over 100,000, was the centre of the UK woollen industry. With some 200 factories, each belching out black, sulphurous smoke, it had become known as the most polluted town In England. Life expectancy in the town was low, just over 18 years. There were regular outbreaks of cholera and typhoid resulting from sewage being dumped in the River Beck, the source of drinking water. The living conditions of the employees were appalling. According to a feature in The Bradford Observer dated 16th October 1845, the city comprised…
“ some of the most filthy and wretched abodes that the mind of man can conceive, in which misery of the lowest description was personified… No sewers, no drainage, no ventilation. Nothing to be seen but squalid wretchedness on every side…”
Sir Titus was aware of such conditions. He also knew a new invention, the Rodda Smoke Burner, produced minimal pollution, so in 1842, he arranged for the burners to be fitted in each of his five factories. Then, as Mayor of Bradford, he tried to persuade the Council to require all of the town’s factory owners to install them. When, in 1850, he realised that this was not going to happen, he announced his plans to move from Bradford and build a new industrial community, Saltaire, on a nearby beauty spot described by one Sam Kidd in The Reynolds newspaper as “romantic rural and beautiful”.
In 1851 he commissioned the architects Lockwood and Mawson to design a super mill that had a production capacity for 30,000 yards of cloth a day, and could employ 3000 people. Work commenced the same year, and when completed in 1853 it was the largest and most modern mill in Europe. The noise was reduced in part by the mill being constructed underground. Large flues were installed to remove the dust and dirt from the factory floor. As soon as the mill, built in warm yellow sandstone in 15th century Italianate style, was completed, Sir Titus began work on building the industrial community. By 1854, 1000 people were living there with a further 14 shops and 163 architect-designed houses and boarding houses having been built. By the time the project was completed in 1873, there were 850 houses, each with its own supply of freshwater, gas supply and outside toile. There was also a church, a school, a library a place for adult learning, a dining room for the workers, a wash house, a hospital and a park.
Speaking at the opening of the mill, Sir Titus, a man of action rather than words, said of the location…
“From the beauty of its situation, and the salubrity of the air, a most desirable place for the erection of dwellings. Far be it for me to do anything to pollute the air or the water of the district…I hope to draw around me a population that will enjoy the beauties of this neighbourhood – a population of well-paid, contented, happy operatives”. (The Bradford Observer, 1853).
When Sir Titus died in 1876, it is estimated that over 100,000 people lined the route of his funeral procession. The Bradford Observer noted that he did not succeed in realising all his plans nor in harmonising all relations between capital and labour. Be that as it may, he did harmonise economic, eco, humane and social entrepreneurship, and warranted the Observer’s accolade as the greatest captain of industry in England.
Balgarnie, R. (1875), Sir Titus Salt, Baronet: His Life and its Lessons. London: Hodder and Stoughton.
Simkin, J. (2020), Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders: Titus Salt. Spartacus Educational.
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