When I was wandering round Salts Mill recently, I got thinking that - much as I love the mill and Saltaire in its present incarnation, and enjoy uncovering its history - I really know very little about the processes that went on in the mill during its time as a worsted manufacturer. There are the paintings by Henry Carr (see 16 February) which give some idea, but hardly the full picture. In the interests of research therefore, I took myself off one day to visit Bradford's Industrial Museum, to find out more about the woollen and worsted industry, upon which the fortunes of this area rose and fell. Their displays are fascinating and I learned a lot.
Bradford was originally a small town, granted a charter in 1251 by King Henry III that enabled it to have a weekly market. This was an important development as it became a meeting place where people could buy and sell cloth. Poor conditions in the area for growing crops meant that local farmers subsidised their income by weaving cloth. People could now buy local wool to card, spin and weave it into cloth to be sold for a profit at the market. Initially this was a 'cottage industry' carried out in people's homes. Many of the old 'weavers' cottages' hereabouts have large windows in the upper storey, as good light was important for handloom weaving. And the area is criss-crossed with 'packhorse routes' along which people from the moorland villages would carry their cloth down to the markets. Eventually some of the local corn mills, powered by streams coming down from the moors, were adapted into small mills for making cloth.