Milner Field – Walking in the Footsteps of Titus Junior?
In this article our local historian Alan Cattell seeks to add to knowledge of what Milner Field and its grounds may originally have looked like when built 141 years ago. To do so his research has included articles written in the 1870’s, discussion with Roger Clarke the Saltaire historian and identification of maps, architects drawings and etchings from the time. Thanks also go to Bradford Libraries and Shipley College, Saltaire Archives for their time and help.
At a time when photography was in its infancy Titus Salt Junior would have had to rely on the vision of his architects and other contractors and their ability to convey design and building considerations to him.
This would have been by means of maps, sketches, drawings and stained glass cartoons which gave more than a flavour of what was being suggested or recommended to him. In this article I will include images of some of these so that you the reader can try to place yourself in his mindset. In doing so it is also my intention to “walk” you through the building and landscape.
Purchasing the Land
Whilst there had been a smaller house on the site since 1400, primarily owned by the Milner then Oldfield, then Fell families, Sir Titus Salt bought the land for £21,000 in 1869 from an Admiral Dunscombe and immediately demolished the house. Ownership then passed to Titus Salt Junior who proceeded to commission the building of a new house.
Building the new Milner Field
On Monday 21st June 1869 the above advertisement appeared in the Bradford Observer.
As a result of the advertisement the main contractors commissioned were:
- Shaftoe and Barry – General York Contractors
- Thomas Nichols – Stone and Wood London Carving
- Marsh, Jones and Cribb – Furniture Leeds
- Richardson, Slade and Co – Wrought London Metalwork
- Burke and Co – Chimney-pieces London and metalwork
- Robert Marnock – Gardens and London Landscaping of the Park
- Frederick Weekes – Paintings, Murals, London Stained Glass Design
- Saunders and Co – Making of Painted London and Stained Glass
- Thomas Harris – Architect advised by Norman Shaw
The style of the house was described in Building News 15th March 1873 as “12th Century medieval, an assemblage of circular conical-capped towers, great chimney stacks and machicolations, all raised up on a terrace”. The shell of the house was built over two years between 1871 and 1873 in the (then fashionable) neo-Gothic style. Opinion seemed to be divided between advocates of this style and critics such as John Ruskin who described the house as a Gothic monstrosity.
The material used in the construction was “the grey local stone, the outer walls being lined with brick so as to form hollow walls and thereby prevent the possibility of dampness” The roofs were covered with Whitland Abbey green slates bought and transported from Wales. The Builder magazine of March 15th 1873 reported that by that date “internal decorations are now in progress”.
What was clear from the very outset of the building programme was that considerable thought had been given to equipping the house with the most up to date equipment and facilities. These included:
- An elaborate lighting system
- Own water piped from nearby natural springs
- An underground reservoir and canal to supply water to the Glasshouses in the Kitchen Garden
- Own filter beds for sewage disposal
- Telephonic systems connecting the house with the Saltaire Mill. An experiment between the Mill and Milner Field was carried out in September 1877 to enable this to happen. Later links were established with family in Halifax during 1879.
- Water cooled dairy’s and storage rooms (the forerunner of refrigeration)
- Fire pumps and appliances for obtaining water at high pressure
Travelling to the House from Saltaire
After leaving Saltaire via what is now Victoria Road and originally crossing a stone bridge, Milner Field could be reached by a carriage drive along a private road westward below Shipley Glen, past Trench Farm and Fell Wood, before reaching South Lodge.
This lodge (also known as Bottom Lodge) was the start of an uphill climb to Milner Field using a long tree lined approach road through thick woodland. To the left of this road lay a small lake and fishpond with an island and rustic wooden bridge, a boathouse and several rowing boats. Eventually the road turned left to approach the entrance-way to the house
Milner Field was built facing almost due north and south, the entrance being on the north (rear) side of the building through an arched gateway into a spacious enclosed courtyard. To catch the sun, the principal rooms of the house faced south and opened onto a wide terrace with steps leading down to the park.
Entering Milner Field
To enter the house from the rear courtyard visitors would pass through an outer porch and vestibule before arriving in the entrance hall.
This space was dominated by a three manual organ built by Brindley and Fletcher of Sheffield and served as a music room as well as an entrance lobby.
Building News (1873) commenting about the inside of the building observed:
“The whole interior treatment has been kept in harmony with the style of architecture, all the fittings and much of the furniture have been made from special designs.
Some of the rooms have handsome moulded open ceilings of oak, and woodwork in the principal apartments is either of walnut or chestnut, oak or cedarwood, whilst many of the windows are fitted with stained glass, the subjects being legendary, emblematical or symbolical”
Layout of the House East Wing
To the left of the entrance hall lay what was primarily the service wing of the house reached by a corridor which contained a house-keepers room, butler’s pantry and a servery leading through to the dining room. An entrance from the courtyard onto this corridor was provided to enable visitors’ luggage to be brought unobtrusively into the house.
At its far end the corridor led down some stairs to the kitchen, food preparation and storage areas and heating supply for the house. The octagonal shaped kitchen was designed to be a replica of that at Glastonbury Abbey in medieval times.
To the right of the entrance hall was an arch which led through to the principal house staircase to the first floor, then past a smoking room to reach the billiard room. The billiard room also had a separate “Gentlemans Entrance” from the courtyard.
First Floor Bedrooms
In total there were nine bedrooms, four facing north and looking out over the courtyard and croquet lawn, and five at the front of the building facing south and looking out over the parkland. Three toilets and bathrooms provided services to these rooms, some en-suite for occasions when there were visitors.
At the far west end, with a front facing window and a side facing window next to the Conservatory was a bedroom with facilities, a boudoir and dressing room. This is the room where Royalty stayed on the two occasions that they visited Milner Field in 1882 and 1887.
Front of the House
The principal rooms on the ground floor of the house were south facing in aspect and overlooked the terrace, which then had steps leading down to the parkland.
These rooms were reached from the entrance hall through arches on either side of the hall fireplace. The left hand arch led through to the dining room which had a corridor connecting it to the library.
The right hand arch led through to the same corridor on which the drawing room was also sited. The library and drawing room were connected by an ante room which also led out of the front of the house on to the terrace. The corridor at its west end then became an orangery with mosaic tiled floor which led through to the conservatory.
The Conservatory was a major feature attached at the west end front of the house and was eighty one feet long, forty feet wide and twenty six feet high and built with a dome shaped roof of iron and glass.
It had a chequered pattern mosaic tile floor and housed several life sized statues and an abundance of purpose built wicker garden furniture.
Titus Salt Jr was an avid collector of exotics and in the conservatory he grew and displayed ornamental foliaged plants such as tree ferns, palms, yucca’s, large auraucaria, dracaenas, aurelias and phormia. Lapagerias climbed to the roof on the south side and fuchias and clematis on the north side. On state occasions such as Royal visits the conservatory was lit up with Chinese lanterns.
Between 1869 and 1872 the Salt’s employed Robert Marnock who was noted as, one of the greatest landscape designers of the 19th century. He was given the task of designing and planting the approach woodland to the house as well as the parkland and kitchen gardens.
As an advocate of the “gardenesque” style of natural planting and growth he planted yew, laurel and holly as principal woodland trees. Within this woodland lay the lake and fish pond.
As described already, the front of the house led onto a terrace and promenade which in turn gave access onto parkland. This was landscaped with lawns, plants and shrubs and had long distance views to Saltaire.
Kitchen Gardens and Green houses
The Bradford Observer of 16th January 1873 carried an article on the Hothouses of Milner Field, the introduction of which stated:
Milner Field is a new garden – indeed it is yet in the process of being laid out by Mr Marnock. The principal houses are ranged side by side, lying due north to south; they are 34 feet long and 18 feet wide inside measure and are twelve in number..
All these houses open into a covered corridor, so that every house can be entered without exposing it to cold winds.
The article then goes on to describe in great detail the arrangements for ventilation, heating and watering of the greenhouses, which like the equipment within the house were state of the art for the time. Amongst the greenhouses were those growing ferns, lapageria and roses and there were several forcing houses for plants for the Conservatory and gardens. There were also separate houses including hot and cool orchid houses, a vinery, a melon house, a fig house, a pineapple house and a mushroom cellar.
The stables lay on the Primrose Lane side of the grounds near the Gilstead Lodge entrance to the estate. They are described as being extensive, and near to the house but sufficiently removed not to be intrusive. They contained automatic fodder hoists, sophisticated drainage systems and electric lights as well as storage for tack, hunting equipment and traps and landaus.
Royal Visits to Saltaire
There were two well documented Royal visits where the royal guests stayed at Milner Field namely those of:
- The Prince and Princess of Wales when they opened the Bradford Technical College in June 1882
- Princess Beatrice and Prince Henry of Battenberg when they opened the Royal Jubilee Exhibition in May 1887
The Jubilee Exhibition ran from May 1887 until the end of October 1887.
Death of Titus Salt Jr
Titus Salt Jnr died of heart disease on the afternoon of Saturday 19th November 1887 only nineteen days after the closing of the Jubilee Exhibition.
The heyday of Milner Field was in the period 1873 to 1887 when the Salts were renowned for their lavish entertaining.
After the death of Titus Salt Jr, Catherine his wife and George, one of his sons continued to live at the house until 1903. However in the intervening period and partly because of a trade slump Catherine was forced to sell the business to a syndicate of four Bradford business men, including James Roberts who within nine months became the Managing Director of Salts Mill.
Roberts moved into Milner Field in 1903. He and the next two residents of the house, Ernest Gates and A.R (Teddy) Hollins (a later Managing Director of Salts Co who died unexpectedly in 1929) all suffered a series of personal tragedies. This led many people to believe that the house was jinxed.
What Became of Milner Field?
The house was put up for sale in 1930, but given the series of tragic events affecting all the owners and tenants, it is not surprising that the mansion subsequently failed to sell. Over the years nature reclaimed the grounds and the building fell into disrepair, was stripped of its contents and then of its roof, and before long the site began to be robbed of stone. During the Second World War it was used for grenade practice by the local Home Guard.
Whilst the exact date of demolition of the house is not known local legend suggests a date between 1950 and 1959.
Structures from the house such as part of the entrance arch and a small section of the mosaic floor to the Conservatory are still visible, as are the foundations to the greenhouses and cellars in the old kitchen gardens. Nowadays ownership of the land has passed to a holding company and discussion and decisions re the kitchen garden area becoming an area of specific scientific interest have taken place.
There is still much interest in the local area as to what Milner Field originally looked like and what became of the house and gardens. I hope that this article has gone some way towards satisfying curiosity about Milner Field, which may be gone, but is certainly not forgotten!
Alan Cattell – March 2011
- Principal staircase.
- Gentlemen’s entrance.
- Luggage entrance.
- Housekeeper’s room.
- Butler’s pantry.
- Wet larder.
- Coals and wood.
- Covered Way.
The right of Alan Cattell to be identified as the Author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyrights, Designs and Patents Act 1988.All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by an electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. It has not been possible to trace all the original photographers but acknowledgement has been made where known. If any copyright has been infringed it was done unintentionally and sincere apologies are offered. If advised future prints can be amended.