Saltaire is a “model village” founded in 1853 by the Victorian philanthropic industrialist Titus Salt to house the workers from his new, state of the art woollen mill which he’d had built on a greenfield site in the countryside near Bradford. He had good quality, sanitary housing constructed that he could rent to his employees, and other facilities including a school, cottage hospital, alms houses, a Mechanics Institute and parks and allotments.
Salt was a committed Congregational Christian and so, inevitably, had a church built to provide for the spiritual needs of the residents. It’s still a functioning place of worship today, under the auspices of the United Reform Church (formed by the merger of the Congregational Church of England and Wales and the Presbyterian Church of England). It’s built in an unusual style for Northern England being an Italianate design. The architects, Lockwood and Mawson, had designed a number of other Italianate buildings in Bradford City centre.
During our visit to Salts Mill, after we’d looked round the exhibition of works by David Hockney we decided to take a walk around the village. Noticing that the church was open we decided to have a look inside.
It’s located immediately in front of the original main entrance to the mill, close to the River Aire. and is approached via a tree lined drive. The main entrance has a semi-circular portico supported by six tall Corinthian columns. It has a very distinctive bell tower (campanile) crowned with a dome. There’s another six Corinthian columns on the tower, which support the dome. There are ornamental cast iron grilles between the columns in the tower.
Congregationalists were non-conformists, and as such, their places of worship were usually rather plain. Decoration and ornamentation are felt to be distractions from their worship and statues and religious images can be considered to be a form of idolatry. So the inside was much fancier than I expected.
You enter into a round vestibule where we were greeted by two very friendly elderly members of the congregation who were very welcoming and keen to tell us about the church and its history. Inside the vestibule there’s a carved marble bust of Titus Salt by Thomas Milnes of London. On the base, to represent the source of his wealth, there’s an Angora goat and an alpaca with a fleece at their feet.
The nave has a painted ceiling which, although is not covered with images, is far from plain. There are more Corinthian columns and pilasters, the surface treated to resemble marble (an effect known as scagliola), a decorated cornice and solid oak pews with scrolled endings.
Particularly grand are the two massive gilded chandeliers – strictly speaking, gasoliers as they were originally powered by gas.
The balcony, above the entrance from the vestibule, was apparently built at the insistence of Salt’s wife who wasn’t keen to sit in the pews with the hoi poloi. Allegedly, Salt made sure the view was obscured by the gasoliers so she had to sit in the pews as Salt wanted her to listen to what his employees attending the church service were saying about him.
There’s a very grand organ, built by Peter Conacher and Co. of Huddersfield, Installed in 1890, it was rebuilt at the end of the Second World War, and again in 1991.
I liked the windows. Although not stained glass with images, which would not have been appropriate in a Congregational church, they are decorated with geometric patterns. Unfortunately the pictures I took (example below) doesn’t really do them justice.
I was saddened to hear that a number of the windows have had to be replaced due to vandalism. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t easy to get glass that matched and it was, consequently, an expensive exercise. Polycarbonate panels are going to be applied to the outside to protect the windows from further vandalism, which will spoil the effect to some extent. It’s a pity that this is necessary. The church ahs also suffered from theft of lead from the roof.
At the east end, a small family mausoleum has been built on to the side of the church. This is where Titus Salt and his wife are buried. It’s been recently renovated so we were able to look inside. There’s an impressive marble statue of the "Angel of the Resurrection," by John Adams-Acton.
There’s a small bookshop where you can buy souvenirs and a cafe in the basement. It’s open to visitors from Easter to the end of September every afternoon from 2:00 p.m. until 4:00p.m. subject to the availability of volunteers.