Saltaire: A Slice of Artistic England

18/11/2013 22:01


West Yorkshire, a few miles outside Leeds in one direction, Bradford centre in another. The scene is a huge old textile mill on the edge of a train track. Fifteen minutes from the city it feels almost clandestine. The sky is dark grey and a biting wind keeps people inside; but this is no ordinary place in the familiar Northern England landscape. The mill, built in 1853 by local philanthropist-hero Titus Salt, was filled with workers busily weaving until it closed in 1986. It was then in 1987 that a chap with a vision, Jonathan Silver, purchased the building and set about realising his dream of creating an imposing gallery in this valley of rolling Yorkshire hills where he grew up. Silver was a friend of Bradford born artist David Hockney, who later painted Salt's Mill in his characteristic bold-coloured style to commemorate Silver following his death at age forty-seven.

Inside the mill (no entrance fee), to the ground floor, is a vast gallery space displaying many works by Hockney, including a sketch depicting a malignant stare that most caught my eye, entitled “The Hypnotist.” Salt's cavernous workplace is now a splendid display of colour arranged between the arches of the red-bricked ceiling and stone slab floor. Then on the upper floors it gets even better, giving way to shelves filled with an almost illicit selection of books, with the smell of Yorkshire dishes, coffee and leather wafting through from cafes and the rearward antique shop. At this point I'm in no mood to digest anything but the covers of two volumes by Antal Szerb, Cavafy's selected poems, flanked in quick succession by L.F. Celine's 'London Bridge,' F. Scott Fitzgerald and his aching 'The Beautiful and Damned', topped off by a crisp edition of Lorca's often evasive 'Poet in New York.' In this unique browser's heaven it's as if they've stocked the shelves just for me, disregarding the preferences of other book shops, like an unknown grinning waiter who predicts your abiding taste for fiery carrot wine.

What's undeniable is that an unexpected cultural statement has evolved here – one that's relaxed and insulated geographically from the more pretentious art scenes. And stepping beyond the muscular mill walls there's a calm and magical quality of understatement about the surrounding village that Titus Salt also built for his workers, so that they might live in relative comfort. Wandering through the straight village streets the ex-mill-workers houses are beautiful yet notably small: they stop short of the barrier of extravagance but sing out elementally with their confident architectural style, now rubbing shoulders with the opened-up art world created here by the reinventive energy of Mr. Silver, in a warm industrial space sealed away from the start of a Northern winter. Dominating the rising village rows, Salt's Mill is a tough exterior with a lot of heart inside – an excitable find for paper and paint aficionados.



To perfect this day in Saltaire I sit peacefully in the cosy basement of a post-war-style auntie's tea room, dreaming past a steaming mug though the pages of those books, and fortifying myself with, for the outsider, Yorkshire's most unusual lunchtime dish – (pork) pie and (mushy) peas with mint sauce – a glowing green concoction like Hockney's lush hills that remember his friend so vividly.


Salt's Mill by David Hockney 


Saltaire: A Slice of Artistic England


Date: 03/12/2013 | By: Janet Spence

Saltaire is one of my stamping grounds. I am usually drawn by an art exhibition at Salts Mill, memorably David Hockney's 30 watercolours of East Yorkshire, and more recently the exhibition of cloth and memories shown in a vast space which was good to see in it's own right. A browse round the books is always a must - well displayed. I also usually manage a tea shop visit but not usually for pie and peas!

Gimme some 'o that fiery carrot wine!

Date: 19/11/2013 | By: Kenneth Rosenberg

Looks like a cool place. I might have to come visit you guys some time and check it out. :-)

Re: Gimme some 'o that fiery carrot wine!

Date: 20/11/2013 | By: Martin G

It is, and you must!

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