This article revolves around the life and work of a great man. This great man’s name is Titus Salt.
After being exposed to information about the life of Titus Salt for the first time, it made me think differently about businesses role in society. Hopefully by reading this, I can change the way you think about corporate social responsibility.
Titus Salt was born in Morley near Leeds on the 20th September 1803. During his remarkable life he wore many hats. He was at one point a manufacturer, a politician, and a philanthropist. His greatest legacy is having built Salt’s Mill, a large and at that time highly advanced textile mill, and the accompanying village of Saltaire. Let’s look into the story of this remarkable man.
Titus Salt had good lineage. At age 30 he took over the running of his father’s business. By the time he was 40 he was a rich man. By 50 he was the largest employer in Bradford. He accumulated the vast majority of his wealth from weaving cloth.
Salt’s major contribution to this industry was his pioneering use of Alpaca wool, from which he was able to produce cloth with silk like qualities. Titus’s discovery of the cloth in a Liverpool dockyard is serialised in Charles Dickens’s Household Words. Interestingly, Dickens visited Saltaire in 1852, we shall see what other guests Titus hosted later.
The origins of Titus Salt’s desire to build his factory and the accompanying model village are unknown. There is a tradition of Yorkshire employers building infrastructure around their operations, but nothing as fine as Saltaire.
Between 1800-1850 Bradford underwent a period of rampant industrialisation. People flocked to Bradford from the countryside for jobs. The arrivals outpaced the city’s ability to provide infrastructure.
The scenes in Bradford during this period were nothing short of chaotic. Not only was this a steep period of social decline, but whist the economy boomed the environment paid a heavy price. Massive amounts of pollution, from industry and from households poured into the air, the water and into the streets. Bradford was a squalid place to live and to work.
Titus Salt had experience of living and working in Bradford between 1822-1850. He had seen first-hand what a ruinous state the city had fallen into. Perhaps Titus was driven to create Saltaire, partly out of his own benevolence towards his workers and perhaps partly out of a desire to lay down a new moral order for his workforce whilst Bradford decayed.
Woolcombing workers during this time would commonly have slept with a family of 15 living cheek by jowl in a dwelling of 2 rooms. The average life expectancy for those living in the town was a remarkable 18. The conditions do not bear thinking about, this is Dickins’s Britain. In 1849 a cholera epidemic killed 420 residents. Titus Salt had seen enough, he set out to improve the moral and religious character of the town. Between 1853-1870 Salt invested significant quantities of his own capital into the creation of Salt’s Mill and Saltaire. No expense was spared as he aimed to create his utopia. When the mill first opened, Salt commissioned a special railway service to take the workers to and from the city.
The facilities that Salt provided for his workers were a quantum leap from anything available for workers in the city. Titus Salt charged modest rents and for those lucky enough to be housed in Saltaire, their prospects were good. Inside the model village, there was the Saltaire Club and Institute, (pictured below) which had: a library, a reading room, a games room, a smoking room, a lecture theatre, a concert hall, a rifle range and a gym. There were also factory schools and Saltaire Hospital. Titus Salt catered for his workers in a way that few entrepreneurs before or since have.
Saltire caught the eye of many in the Victorian age and he was lucky to have a number of high profile visits. These included Lord Palmerston, John Bright, the Prime Minister of New Zealand and ambassadors from Burma and Japan who all visited whilst Salt was alive. There have been a great many more important visits since.
Titus Salt, a man who led a remarkable life, was equally remarkable in death. Salt’s death was noted in every newspaper at the time and in many foreign news outlets as well. Special trains were run from the centre of Bradford so that those who worked for, or whose lives were impacted by Titus Salt could pay their last respects.
The mood in the local area after his passing was sombre. A great man, who had touched the lives of many, had passed. The list for his funeral was extensive. Throughout his wild and varied life Titus had been associated with and funded a number of clubs, charities and societies. These were all invited to attend. As Titus Salt passed through the town he loved for one last time, his cortege was greeted by over 100,000 spectators. This is a truly remarkable number, more reminiscent of royal funeral.
What you need to know
In his life as well as in death, everything Titus achieved was about people. It is about the people who worked for him, the people he traded with and the people who lived in his utopian model village of Saltaire. It’s about the countless people who had their life chances extended thanks to his farsightedness. He sets a very high standard, the gold standard in corporate social responsibility. He did it because it made business sense, it made social sense and it made environmental sense. We can all learn a lot from the life and times of Titus Salt.
Thank you for reading,
By Barnaby Nash
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