Travelling to work takes on new meaning when you have to make a day long journey for just an hour of work, the length of a lecture.
Last week I left home before dawn to get down to Cornwall but hit trouble as early as Reading station. Standing in the freezing, snowy cold, trains were constantly cancelled, changed or delayed because of the floods that had hit the West Country the week before. The force of the water had dislodged several lines that ran close to rivers and so, although the tracks remained, the ballast underneath them had been washed away in many places. New landslips were being reported as I stood there. The poor beleaguered train staff did their best and in the end advised anyone to take whatever train was on offer if it was going approximately in the right direction. I did and with a coach ride, plus diverted train, plus car arrived eventually at Fowey by about 5 pm. I quickly changed, gave my lecture on behalf of the Fowey Harbour Heritage Society and went to bed. I left at dawn the next day, happy I’d done what I’d been asked but sad I didn’t have longer to enjoy this beautiful part of the world.
This week I went in the other direction, to Saltaire, the model village just outside Bradford built by mill owner and philanthropist Titus Salt in the early 19th century to improve the lives of his workers. Saltaire is now a Unesco World Heritage Site and the vast Salt’s Mills alongside the River Aire are home to a spectacular collection of paintings by David Hockney, the almost local boy who studied at Bradford School of Art before going to London and the Royal College of Art.
Salt made his fortune at a time when Britain’s textile industry was booming partly thanks to his discovery that Alpaca wool could be woven into very fine cloth. Queen Victoria not only liked the Alpaca and patronised Salt, but she and Albert came to stay with Salt in his finest apartments overlooking the river. The main street gently rising up the hill is still called Victoria Road but there is also Albert Road and Albert Terrace as well as Caroline Street, named after his wife, with the other streets named after his children, grand-children, and other members of his family. Salt provided his 3.500 thousand workers with a school, church, hospital, park and the wonderful Victoria Town Hall where I am to give my talk. But there was no public house as Titus was a nonconformist with sympathies for the temperance movement.
There were various gradations of homes from family homes to boarding houses for single men and alms houses. Not surprisingly a small terraced house which sold for £85.000 in 2002 went for £136.000 in 2011. Not much compared with London prices but an interesting increase in less than a decade.
I’d been looking forward to this day for almost two years and booked an early train in order to have time to walk around. It was a gorgeous cold, blue sky sunny day. But this time I was thwarted not by the weather but by tragedy as the train guard made what seems to be an increasingly common announcement: a body on the line. The police designated a crucial section of the line ‘a crime scene’ so my train was diverted to York and once again I finally arrived just in time to give my lecture and go home again. I am telling you all this after managing only a five minute drive around this fascinating town, steeped in history and personality, and will definitely go back. Titus Salt died in 1876 a relatively poor man having given away almost all his fortune.