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18 June 2014
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Leaving Salts Mill for home.

© Courtesy of West Yorkshire Archives
Saltaire: A successful industrial township

The Industrial Revolution and its social consequences

The Industrial Revolution of the 19th Century produced great changes in Britain’s social structure. The creation of large factories brought with it the need to gather labour forces closely adjacent to these ‘palaces of industry.’ The urbanisation of Britain was underway.

Workers leaving Saltaire
Daily exodus from the mill
© Courtesy of Bradford Heritage Recording Unit
The textile trades were at the forefront of the revolution, as mechanisation replaced the traditionally home-based crafts of combing, spinning and weaving. Cotton was king in Lancashire, but across the Pennines in West Yorkshire, wool processing was the basis of textile industry. In 1800, the population of Bradford was 13,000, and the town had just one spinning mill. By 1850, the population had grown to 103,000, and the number of spinning mills had dramatically increased to 129. These mills had grown not only in number but also in size, and by the middle of the 19th Century some of these mills employed hundreds of workers.

The growth of Bradford’s industry occurred with little regard for the needs of its new population, and the result was truly vile social squalor. Over 100,000 people were crowded into a smoke polluted town which lacked street cleansing, sanitation or adequate housing provision. The 1845 Report of the Bradford Sanitary Committee documented the conditions of hundreds of individual dwellings, confining itself to ‘plain unvarnished facts’ in its report.

A typical entry for a single room dwelling 15 feet square, home to six people:

“Truly horrifying. There are two privies within six feet of the dwellings from whence the excrement overflows. Ashes, refuse and filthy water accumulates with this and sends forth an intolerable stench.… Various diseases have afflicted (the) parties….”

Words: Dave Shaw

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