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Image: Michael de Greasley Further reading: Saltaire People - Bert and Sheila Thornton
I was born in Saltaire in June 1917...

Mr. Bert Thornton delivered this talk to the Saltaire History Club on 17 May 2007

Mr. Bert Thornton gave this talk to the Saltaire History Club on 17 May 2007 at the Resource Centre, Shipley College, Exhibition Road, Saltaire.

[See also: Saltaire people - Bert and Sheila Thornton. Written by Roger Clarke, June 2006]

"I was born in the village at number 15 Shirley Street in June 1917.  My father’s family were from Shipley.  My great grandfather lived in Saltaire Road, Regent Street. A census showed that he was a Mill Manager, with connections to Dixon’s Mill, standing on the bank of the River Aire. Victoria Road was then known as Dixon’s Lane which ran down from the old Turnpike Road, running from Kendal, now Saltaire Road. At that time there were stepping stones across the river leading to Baildon. About a dozen families living in cottages around the house were farm workers, quarrymen and domestic textile workers. One family, The Riley’s, were mentioned.

Dixon’s Mill was pulled down and the larger site was to be the creation of Saltaire. My Great Grandfather, Grandfather, Father and numerous relatives all worked in The Salts Mill.  My Mother’s family originated from Market Deeping in South Lincolnshire. My Grandmother’s elder sister, Emma, had applied for a post as an upper maid with Mrs Edward Salt, daughter-in-law of Sir Titus. She obtained the job, wages to be £20 per year.  This was 1889. Realizing the potential of housing and work in Saltaire, she encouraged others of her family to follow, and my Grandmother, Mary Jane Ridgway arrived with her children to live on Shirley Street.  They came from Market Deeping, South Lincolnshire where my Great Grandfather was the village Blacksmith. The mill workers at the time would be 85% from the West Riding villages and 15% from outside Yorkshire.  It was hard working in the Mill, but the people of the village were close, helping one another though illness etc. Another big factor, they were honest; doors were never locked and if they were, keys were left in the front scrapers on the right hand side of the door.  Friday nights, most people shopped at Shipley Market, it being Rent Night, the rent was left on the table for the Rent Man to call, pick up the money and sign the book.  Never ever any problems.

When I started school at Albert Road Infants the half time system had not long finished.  This was 1920. Working in the Mills in the morning and afternoons at school, alternate weeks.  Many were so tired they slept at their desks, the teachers being sympathetic.

Workers at the Mill started at 6 a.m. in the morning. Clocks being a luxury item, we had knockers-up who started at 5 o’clock in the morning.  They walked round the streets, rapping on the bedroom windows.  I cannot remember any windows being broken.  The lady I knew had a long clothes prop and for a very small weekly fee, would tap until they awakened. Their long props were used to keep high the lines of washing in the streets.  Hooks for the lines can still be seen, on each side of the streets.  No cars passing through, the only person needing help was the milkman, Mr. Rhodes, with his horse drawn milk cart. A giant of a man, he poured milk from his big churns into jugs and basins left out on the doorstep. He farmed at Wisden.  I still have one of those props at home, used and still in good condition and well over 100 years old.

I remember the first class at school was called “The Baby Class” and the teacher was called Miss Cryer, an appropriate name! The Head Teacher was Miss Rhodes.  Then came the “Big School” and it was an excellent school. We were taught the 3 Rs well.  My main teacher was a Miss Sutcliffe, a dedicated teacher who stood no nonsense. We used slates and slate pencils and it was only for tests we were able to use paper. We were fortunate at times to be donated with wallpaper samples and these were cut into squares. The big trouble was when you were given embossed – most difficult to write on.  It was a good school to be in – we were well taught and mostly happy. Recreation comprised of football, cricket, rounders, tug of war, running, swimming – all aspects of P.E. even country dancing. We used the field below the school in Albert Road. It must be remembered, we were surrounded by farmland, no other houses but Saltaire having been built.

Miss Sutcliffe was a great character. She also taught singing and she would blow a little tube like instrument to get her note. We were then told to make our mouth like a potato. I spent most of my time looking like one, but managed to get into the School Choir and finished up in the Church. Not any more. I have been thrown out a number of years ago.

I have two books which we used at school. One called Poetry for Repetition, the other, Guessing Games, written by a teacher at the school called Lois Bates in 1893. These books were used at schools throughout England. They were imitation games, i.e. Fishing, Paying Music Instruments, Baking etc.  For boys, games called Trades, pretending to be a Blacksmith, Tailor, Joiner, and Cobbler. Then games of play, skipping, shuttlecock, bowling hoops, whip and top, and others. I want to mention here that much information was gleaned from cigarette cards. These cards, given in every cigarette packet, were numbered in sets of 1 – 25 and 1 – 50. They were British Wild Flowers, People of All Nations, British Birds and numerous others. To obtain full sets, playtime was used for swapping.

Each year in June a Sports Day would be held in Roberts Park for primary and junior schools in the Shipley area. All distances were run in the hope that winning the most, we would get our school’s name inscribed on “The Shields”. Prizes were given to all the winners and I remember three years running I was in the Tug of War team, winning each time, and was rewarded with an Ingersoll watch. I would like to add that I still have one today, it keeps good time but requires constant winding up.

It was a long time before dinner was provided at the school, so we went home for a meal.  I have since wondered, did Saltaire children fare better than those in Shipley/Windhill? Could this be why we always won the Tug of War? Were we fortunate to be better fed because our parents were in employment? Most of the workers had time to eat at home but many used The Canteen. The unlucky ones were The Timekeepers. They had to remain in their gatehouses.

One of them was Mr. Spalding whose wife, from Berlin in Germany, was a very good cook, and when his children were all in employment, his wife asked me if I would take his meal to him.  So for 12 months I carried two basins wrapped in red cloth.  Yes, they were red. One basin for pudding and the other containing different meats, veg and potatoes. I mention this because it gave me the opportunity to visit the dying/finishing and burling/mending to see all the work in progress.

My recollections are of well cared for houses, neat curtains regularly washed, well swept yards and frontages, all gleaming with white and yellow stone. Much swilling of pavements. No litter allowed to adorn the streets. Esprit de Corps, well in evidence.

Toys were very primitive, compared to the sophisticated and expensive for sale today. The boys, apart from football and cricket, had iron hoops, whips and tops, marbles, Tin Can Relivo and quieter games were played with the cigarette cards. For the girls they played with rag dolls, wooden hoops, whips and tops, shuttlecocks and we all played Buttony Ball.  Buttons were placed in a chalked circle on the pavement near a wall. Then turns were taken bouncing the ball into the circle, against the wall, catching it on return. You won all buttons knocked out of the circle. Simple pleasure.

Salts hospital was opened in 1868 as a casualty ward for accidents in the Mill and then developed into a small hospital. It originally had only six beds then a third floor was added and four almshouses increased the beds to 17. Further extensions were made in 1925, giving a total of 24 beds.  I mention this because I apparently fainted on my way home from school and found myself in one of their beds, and then was operated on by Major Phillips a First World War Surgeon. It was acute appendicitis and he actually saved my life.  He was called “A Butcher” but I was happy even though the scar is about 10 inches long, these days about ½ inch is enough.

It was closed in 1979. Sir James Roberts offered to build a bigger hospital but Shipley Council refused his offer and his gift of Saltaire Park was also refused, Bradford Council accepting his gift.

I remember two accidents to two ladies working at the mill, both of small stature, leaning over the machines had their arms pulled out to the shoulder. They both received compensation.  One a Miss Taylor opened Taylor’s fisheries on Titus Street with her brother, Tom. Miss XXXX along with the help from her sister kept a haberdashery shop on Shirley Street.  The Taylors’, especially did well. They owned the first car in Saltaire, competition was keen, there being 6 fish shops in the village.

The Wash and Bath House, built in 1883 at a cost of £7000, was never a success and after a few years was converted into housing. I have a letter written by one of the occupants written about 1900, the address being given as Edward Street.  If I may return to the Bath Houses, Shipley Council in December 1935 made an inspection of them. The decision made, the site could be made into a public open space on the condition that the owners accept responsibility for the making up of the abutting streets, demolish the buildings, fill in the basements and leave the site clear. The Council would then treat the surface with concrete or other suitable material and then maintain the area. The offer accepted, and in 1936, the Bath Houses, were no more. To be honest, in my mind it was sad, because the space left, now with garages, in no way compares with the old buildings.

The tubular bridge across the river to Baildon and Milner Fields was built by Butlers of Stanningley on cast iron columns in 1868. Heavy traffic partly caused by the Army during the 2nd War made it unsafe. In 1960 the bridge could have been replaced at a cost of £60,000, Salts Mill, Shipley Council and Bradford Council to pay £20,000 each, but it did not happen because Bradford Council refused to pay their share. I actually saw the quote. The bridge was then demolished and replaced by the tubular pedestrian bridge. Could that be a blessing to the village, already overcrowded with cars, it would have meant traffic turning down Victoria Road with approaches along Titus Street and Caroline Street, creating a continuous stream.

Perhaps I should mention that in 1925, a road was proposed running from Baildon Bridge along the coach Road and through Milner Fields, then directly across to the top side of the 5 Rise Lock in Bingley and through to Crossflats. At that time the proposed route was not built on and it was quite possible for this to be done, I have actually had a copy of the proposed route.

The through route was debated for years, meetings with Inspectors in Victoria Hall, opposition by objectors who have now departed, resulting in The Saltaire Roundabout chaos. It could have been resolved at a fraction of the cost. Another route mooted was over the Moor.

I would mention that the village houses were sold to Bradford Property Trust negotiator, Mr. Cresswell in 1932 except for the Alms Houses.  They brought in an Electrician / Plumber, Mr. Dovenor, gave him a house in Albert Road and put him in charge of conversion from gas to electricity etc. A seemingly endless job. After a period, when houses were completed, they were put up for sale to the occupants. In 1946, after a few years away, I negotiated the sale of 15 Shirley Street – the cost £250.  I believe the price is a little higher now."

Copyright Bert Thornton, 2007







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