Wednesday, 6 February 2013
Alpacas in the snow. Don't worry about them, they have nice warm woolly jumpers. The statue, outside the Half-Moon Café in Saltaire's Roberts Park, commemorates the animals from whose fleece Sir Titus Salt made his fortune.
In Salt's biography, written by his friend Rev'd. R. Balgarnie (downloadable free as a PDF file from the Saltaire Village website - see chapter VI page 44 onwards), there is a wonderful account of how he discovered, in Liverpool Docks, the alpaca wool, which had never before been used in manufacture in this country. He worked out how to spin and weave it, with silk or cotton warp threads, to produce fine and lustrous cloth; an innovation that ultimately, if indirectly, led to the creation of Saltaire. The discovery was so significant that Charles Dickens wrote a fictionalised, comedic account of it entitled The Great Yorkshire Llama, in his 'Household Words' magazine - also well worth a read.
The utilising of the fibre called alpaca in the worsted trade was, in reality, the magnum opus of his life, and the basis of his fame and fortune. It was, in fact, the discovery of a new staple in worsted manufacture, by which the trade and commerce of the world were enriched, and mankind at large, benefited. Perhaps some persons would regard this discovery as an accident, with which mental ability had little to do. Strange that such accidents generally happen to men of genius and energy, not to the simpleton or the sluggard! Did it not look like an accident when an apple was seen falling from a tree at Woolsthorpe; or water boiling in a tea-kettle at Glasgow? Yet the former suggested to Newton the law of gravitation, and the latter to Watt the condensing steam engine. But what then? It required mental power in either case to deal with the facts, and follow them up to their issues. It also involved long and persevering toil, such as no other men had previously exercised in the same direction. Thus it was with Mr. Titus Salt in the utilising of alpaca in a way hitherto unknown. He had the eye to see what other men saw not, the mind to think what other minds thought not, the patience and perseverance in making experiments which others had not made, and he thereby reached a point of eminence in the manufacturing world which few have reached. (Balgarnie's 'Salt')