Aug 172016

This Channel 4 programme featuring Saltaire, located on the Leeds Liverpool canal is expected to be broadcast this autumn (2016). UPDATE – Bit earlier than we expected – it was broadcast 31st August 2016 on Channel 4. Link at the bottom of the page.

Barges on Leeds Liverpool canal

Barges on the Leeds Liverpool canal

In May Saltaire tour guide and historian Maria Glot was delighted to welcome husband and wife presenters Timothy West (Eastenders & countless film and stage roles) and Prunella Scales (Fawlty Towers) and the camera crew.

They were fascinated by the role the canal played in mill owner Titus Salt’s success and by the stories of people who lived and worked for Titus and on the canal barges.

Maria welcoming Timothy West, Prunella Scales with Rev Caroline Andrews in the Saltaire United Reform Church

Maria welcoming Timothy West and Prunella Scales with Reverend Caroline Andrews in the Saltaire United Reform Church

Why Did Titus Need The Canal?

The canal linking Leeds & Bradford with the Liverpool port was completed in 1816, which has its bi-centenial celebration this year.  The canal has 91 locks over  127 miles including the famous 5 Rise Locks at nearby Bingley.

Salts Mill, built right next to the canal, was operational from 1853.  Salt’s vision was to produce fine top end top quality cloth in a super efficient process.

The canal was a vital part of the mill’s success. Raw materials delivered into Liverpool’s port were transported by barge direct to the mill.  Rail would have been a lot faster but much more expensive.  Titus used cheap 5mph barges to drip feed large quantities of raw materials into the mill.  The canal enabled Sir Titus to create a smooth running, profit maximising efficient process.

The River Stink

The last remaining stretch of the Bradford Canal at the Leeds Liverpool junction - courtesy

The last remaining stretch of the Bradford Canal at the Leeds Liverpool junction – courtesy

The Bradford spur from Dockfield Road Shipley into Bradford was so polluted with sewage and the outflow from Bradford’s mills it became known as the river stink.  After several methane fuelled explosions it was closed for the first time in 1866.

Titus, wisely sold his Bradford Mills, where he owned at least five, because of the atrocious living conditions in Bradford.

With the funds he built the supermill in Saltaire, Salts Mill, which was unaffected by the water supply difficulties.




sheep depicted on statue in Roberts Park SaltaireTitus bought the best most luxurious fibres: alpaca from Peru, donskoi from Russia (sheep found only in the Russian River Don area); merino wool from Australia and mohair from China and elsewhere.  All were shipped to Liverpool and were then brought by canal to Salts Mill.

These newer, luxurious wools and fibres enabled Titus to make a super fine worsted cloth.

Experimentation with these new fibres paved a path for Titus’ success.

Homage is paid to the alpaca and mohair goat all over the village and can be found in the church vestibule, on the family crest, on the hospital and school buildings and as shown in the picture around the statue in Roberts Park.

Shady Practices

Titus had his own way of getting what he wanted at the price he wanted.  He would hire the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool where he “generously” entertained his fellow wool staplers who like him had come to buy wool from the merchant ships.

The entertainment comprised plying the wool staplers with as much drink as possible.  That way they were likely to repay Titus by allowing him the pick of the wool at a good price.  However, what they didn’t know is that while they were nursing sore heads, Titus hired a steamer and met the incoming ships mid-Atlantic in order to buy the best wool without other wool staplers ever setting eyes on it!

Barges And Boat Babies

Some barges were owned by groups although most were owned by individuals, often with families of young children.  For instance, The Clara was owned And skippered by Charles Kendall from Baildon aged 37 in 1871.   He was accompanied by his wife Emily Ann Kendall aged 34, and their three sons aged 7, 5 & 3 plus Martha their four-month old baby daughter!

The barge was their home and as 95% of the available space was packed with raw material for Salts Mill or stone collected at Shipley for the journey back to Liverpool, they lived in extremely cramped conditions.

Some barge owners employed a mate who was often a family member who helped load, unload and navigate the 91 locks.

Life on the canal was hectic and non-stop.  The canal would have been constantly crowded with boats accompanied by the typical noise of a major highway.  There would have been little of the peaceful leisure time enjoyed by those living or holidaying on the canal today.  However, this picture shows a brief musical interlude on a fully laden barge.

Fiddler on barge on Leeds Liverpool canal sometime between 1870 - 1920

The photograph is courtesy of Dave Middlehurst (, who is researching music in Lancashire between 1870-1920 via

He says it came from a boat family from Burscough named Abram and shows four men on their boat – one in a top hat playing a fiddle (left) and Mr Abram on the right.  He hopes that someone may be able to help find out more about the boat and the music.

You can find a list of barges that worked the Leeds Liverpool canal and the folk who lived in them here.  

Wurlitzers, Waltz and Italian Architecture

If you watch the Great Canal Journeys programme you may well be treated to an impromptu waltz by Timothy and Prunella accompanied by the fabulous Wurlitzer built in 1937 and installed that year in the Gaumont Cinema, Oldham. It now resides amongst the Italian architecture that inspired Victoria Hall.

Prunella Scales and Timothy West dancing to the Wurlitzer in Victoria Hall, Saltaire.

Prunella Scales and Timothy West dancing to the Wurlitzer in Victoria Hall, Saltaire.

Titus fell in love with the Baroque and neo-classical architecture that he saw when visiting Italy and was so inspired that he made sure his architects copied and incorporated it into the grade II listed Victoria Hall and the grade I listed United Reform Church.

Timothy and Prunella also visited the church where they were taken in with the stunning Italianate ceiling, the portico and the mausoleum where Titus is laid to rest.

Timothy West and Titus Salt statue in URC Saltaire

Timothy and Titus in the church – more than a passing resemblance?

The church was commissioned by Titus to meet the spiritual needs of the workers housed in his model village.  Victoria Hall meanwhile was used as a recreational, leisure facility and also for adult educational purposes.  It provided library, reference library reading room, a stage and dance hall.

If you are visiting Saltaire be sure to take time to visit Victoria Hall.  You may be lucky to hear the Wurlitzer being played.  You can book a Wurlitzer experience by contacting .

Streamline Process And Control

When the railway station opened in Saltaire, the finished goods could be carried away as quickly as possible to the lucrative markets.

The barges brought in the best wool at the cheapest prices to the supersize fully integrated mill with a unique spinning process.  The village was designed to control workers by housing them in good conditions.  They were required to follow strict rules  such as: “Any person arriving late will be locked out and lose half a day’s pay” and “Any person leaving their work & found talking with any of the other workpeople shall be fined 2d for each offence”.  These rules gave Titus the tools to ensure that his was a most productive workforce.   The fast rail system took the finished cloth to make the fine suits and exclusive frocks to Saville Row and all over the world.

Saltaire Canal, Mill and boathouse from the grounds of the United Reform Church

Plan Your Visit To Saltaire

Titus narrowboat - trips on the canal from Saltaire Trip BoatTake a relaxing 30 minute canal trip aboard The Titus.  This narrowboat leaves regularly from Saltaire – no need to book –  more details here

Visit the United Reform Church –

Visit Victoria Hall –

Find out more about the Leeds Liverpool canal here

Local canal bi-centenary celebrations:

17th Sept 2016: Talk by Mike Clarke at Bingley 5-Rise Locks cafe, at 17.00.  Entry by ticket

18th Sept 2016: Bingley Open Day

16th October 2016: Bingley Canal Festival

Book a guided walk around the village – it’s fascinating and fun – you will not be bored.

Book Your Guided Walk

Great Canal Journeys series 5 begins 17th August 2016 on Channel 4 with Timothy and Prunella in Venice.  The Leeds Liverpool episode will feature during sometime in the autumn.  We will update here as soon as we know when it will be broadcast. It was broadcast 31st August 2016 and is available on catch up tv or to watch here until 30th September 2016.

 Posted by at 3:19 pm

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>



Wordpress Social Share Plugin powered by Ultimatelysocial