Where ‘the quiet labours of the field surround those of the factory’: Understanding the significance of historic rural landscapes at Saltaire UNESCO World Heritage Site

Saltaire is a model village built by the philanthropic textile manufacturer Titus Salt in the mid_nineteenth century. The site comprises of a vast textile mill, workers housing and public buildings, nestled in the green hills of the Aire Valley. The building of Saltaire was part of a widereighteenth and nineteenth-centurymovement whereby industrialists removed their workforces from over-crowded city locations to green, planned settlements. In constructing picturesque factories and housing in the countryside, industrialists like Salt challenged the notion that old world of the ‘rural idyll’ and the new world of the industrial revolution were incompatible.

Saltaire Village. Photo © Ruth Quinn, 2017

Although they were very much part of the Bradford metropolitan elite, the Salt Family has a distinct farming heritage, which has only recently begun to be uncovered by local historians.  Titus Salt married Caroline Whitlam of Grimsby who came from a wealthy sheep farming family.  Three of Caroline Whitlam’s sisters also married Bradford wool merchants, forging powerful dynasties linking agricultural and industrial worlds. The rural was evidently a powerful signifier within the Salt family, as four of Titus and Caroline’s sons became ‘gentleman farmers’. Titus Salt Jr built himself a gothic estate and model farm nearby Saltaire at Milner Field in Gilstead, from which he conducted the civic affairs of the mill and village following his father’s death in 1876.  The farm at Milner Field is still in use today.

There has been relatively little scholarship examining the interactions that the nineteenth-century residents of Saltaire had with the rural landscape that surrounded them. The first residents of Saltaire were largely, but not exclusively, textile workers from the heavily polluted mills of Bradford. However, Saltaire was not solely home to mill workers, the village was also home to agricultural workers, artisans and members of the professional classes. Saltaire was a place of exchange between those who worked the land and those who worked on the factory floor. By examining archival material- including newspapers, maps, enclosure records, the Salt family papers – my thesis will build a picture of the significance that rural landscapes had in shaping the ideology of Salt family’s paternalistic vision for Saltaire, and the role of rural landscapes in village life.

Saltaire was designated as a World Heritage Site in 2001 as an example of an ‘outstanding and well preserved 19th century industrial town’[1].Much of the rural landscape that existed when the town was first founded in the 1850s has been absorbed by the urban conurbation that connects Shipley to Bradford. However, significant views of the surrounding countryside are still prominent in Saltaire, and form part of the ‘buffer zone’ which protects the World Heritage Site. The rural topography to the west of the town contains sites with tangible and in-tangible links to Saltire’s agrarian past such as Milner Field Farm and Shipley Glen.

The remnants of rural land that surrounds Saltaire are accessed by residents and visitors for leisure, recreation and in some instances to earn a livelihood. Rural landscapes and views have special significance to residents who live within the world heritage site, many of whom are actively involved in community heritage and environmental projects. To understand what the historic rural landscapes surrounding the site mean to the community living in Saltaire today, I will work with Saltaire World Heritage Site to conduct participatory action research with Saltaire History Club, Milner Farm Action Group and members of the community to develop heritage outcomes (such as an exhibition or new signage) that will support the interpretation of landscapes within the World Heritage Site.

Ruth Quinn in Saltaire. ©Ruth Quinn, 2017.


I completed a BA (Hons) in Cultural Studies at the University of Leeds in 2013, since then I have worked at The Royal Armouries, Leeds Museums & Galleries, The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, The Happy Museum Project and the Mental Health Museum.  I received an MA in Victorian Studies from Leeds Trinity University in 2017 after winning a fee waiver scholarship which enabled me to study part-time whilst working in the museum sector. For my MA dissertation I examined the therapeutic role of rural landscapes at nineteenth-century asylums and, inspired by what I found, developed several heritage projects that sought to connect people, landscape and heritage.My professional practice and academic study has led to a deep interest in how 19thcentury land use has contributed to societal wellbeing, and the significance that historic landscapes have to communities today.