The Queensbury Lines

A few weeks ago I jumped on a train bound for Saltaire to see what this World Heritage Site has to offer. I discovered that this area is a rich minefield of history and possibilities for the modeller, writes Sarah Palmer.

A steeply graded triangle of track between Halifax, Bradford and Keighley includes one of West Yorkshire’s lost lines, that of Queensbury. West Yorkshire was once at the centre of the textile industry and woven into this area of country was a network of railways that facilitated the non-stop mills spinning the cloth that made the local textile barons rich beyond their wildest dreams.

The village of Saltaire comprised 824 stone houses.

One of these was Titus Salt, famous now for creating his model town of Saltaire near Bradford, who during his lifetime was one of the richest men in the world. As well as his textile empire he owned newspapers, and was a very powerful man as well as an MP, but before he died he bought and burned all the documentation relating to himself that he could find, in order that history would find it difficult to judge him.

During the mid-1800s life expectancy among Bradford’s booming population had dropped to just 20 years. The city was at the centre of the textile industry, but mill workers had started to form unions and demand better working conditions. Conditions in these ‘dark, Satanic mills’ were dreadful. A 12-hour working day was common, even for young children.

Thornton viaduct, one of three viaducts on the Queensbury Lines.

But it took the arrival of typhoid and cholera in Bradford to prompt Titus to move his mill and his workers four miles north alongside the Midland Railway line, to where Saltaire is now. Titus got his own station and a clean water source in the form of the River Aire, as well as the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, which had been built in response for calls to build an east-west navigation to carry coal and merchandise.

Work on building Saltaire began in 1851 in the Italianate style and took 25 years. Along with the egocentricity of naming the place after himself – ‘Salt’ and the local river ‘Aire’ – each building has a ‘T’ in it just to remind mill workers, in case they had forgotten, who their boss was.

For the full article, see the March edition of Modelling – available now!

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