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Saltaire is an outstanding and well-preserved example of a mid-19th-century industrial town, the layout of which was to exert a major influence on the development of the 'garden city' movement. The creation of Saltaire was one of the first successful solutions to the problems of the unprecedented urban growth of industrialization. The planned model settlement, which was a complex and self-contained socio-economic unit, represents an important stage in the development of modern town planning. The layout and architecture of Saltaire also admirably reflect mid-19th century philanthropic paternalism, as well as the important role played by the textile industry in economic and social development.

Saltaire is a complete and well-preserved industrial village of the second half of the 19th century. Its textile mills, public buildings and workers' housing are built in a harmonious style of high architectural quality and the plan survives intact, giving a vivid impression of the philanthropic paternalism of the Victorian age.

The worsted trade began in Bradford in the mid-18th century but did not develop rapidly until the advent of steam power. The result was an urban population explosion: between 1780 and 1850 it rose from 8,500 to about 104,000. The living conditions of the workforce were abysmal, and life expectancy for both men and women was little over 20 years, in a town recognized as one of the most polluted in England. Titus Salt, a wealthy and influential businessman, became Mayor of Bradford in 1848 and committed himself to reducing Bradford's pollution problems. Land was acquired with access to a plentiful supply of soft water for washing the wool. The transportation links were excellent: the site lay equidistant from Liverpool in the west and Hull in the east. Salt commissioned Bradford architects Henry Lockwood and Richard Mawson and the engineer William Fairbairn to design and supervise the realization of his visionary plan.

Work on the mill work began in 1851 and it was opened in 1853. Salt's new village eventually had over 800 dwellings in wide streets with a large dining hall and kitchens, baths and washhouses, almshouse for retired workers, hospital and dispensary, educational institute and church, ample recreational land and allotments, in order to improve the diet of the workers. He had a genuine philanthropic concern for his workers and succeeded in providing them with a healthy and secure environment (not unconscious, of course, of the economic benefits that this bestowed). Many tributes were paid to Titus Salt on his death in 1876. After his death, the firm was taken over by three of his sons. Then the village was sold in 1933 to the Bradford Property Trust, enabling their occupants for the first time to purchase them. The mill closed down in 1986. Many buildings became semi-redundant and fell into disrepair, with an adverse effect on the entire village. The first move towards regeneration was the creation of the Saltaire Village Society in 1984. In 1989 the Saltaire Town Scheme was established by Bradford Metropolitan District Council and English Heritage.

The integrity of Saltaire as a model industrial village is total: there have been no changes to its layout and appearance since work began in the 1850s. The village is laid out on a gridiron pattern, so as to make the maximum possible use of the land: the streets were organized on a north-south orientation, those in the second phase running east-west. Almost all the public and community buildings were constructed along Victoria Road, leading to the mill.

The houses, built between 1854 and 1868, are fine examples of 19th-century hierarchical workers' homes. All are constructed of hammer-dressed stone with slate roofs. Each was equipped with its own water and gas supply and an outside lavatory. They vary in size from 'two-up two-down' terraces to much larger houses with gardens, for the use of the managers. They are all 'through' terraces, allowing light and air to penetrate and rubbish to be evacuated without passing through the houses. The mill is an imposing building in a grand Italianate style. The Dining Room was built in 1854: it also served as a schoolroom for 750 children, hospital, public meeting hall, and place for religious services (including the church) until custom-built properties had been erected within the village. At the end of the village there is Roberts Park, a landscaped open space of 6 ha with a cricket ground, promenade, bandstand, refreshment rooms, and facilities for swimming and boating.