03 December 2021

Studio: Salts Mill & Hockney

A brief history of Salts Mill; a Victorian village inspired by Italian Renaissance architecture, an audacious and creative vision, a 10 year restoration project and the world's largest Hockney collection. 


Salts Mill and the village of Saltaire was built by Titus Salt; Yorkshireman, a visionary and a pioneer of the industrial revolution. He owned multiple textile mills and was the first industrial manufacturer in Britain to improve working conditions for his employees, creating cleaner methods of production and better working conditions.

Saltaire consists of a huge mill on the banks of the river aire, hundreds of beautiful little terraces for his 5000 strong workforce, schools, lecture halls, churches, a hospital and a town hall. Local architects Lockwood and Mawson designed the entire village in a classical style, inspired by the Italian Renaissance era. 

Inspired by Classical Italian architecture

Salts Mill, Jonathan Silver & David Hockney

In the early 1980’s, Salts Mill fell victim to the steep decline of British manufacturing, laying empty and in serious disrepair. In 1986, Jonathan Silver, a local entrepreneur bought the mill and began an incredible 10-year restoration project. Silver worked tirelessly to transform the mill into a space for art and culture, which, in a working class village in the 80’s, when British industry was grinding to a halt, was a pretty audacious plan.

Luckily, Silver had incredible drive, determination and a creative vision felt with every step you take through this incredible building. Silver was supported and encouraged by his dear friend and fellow ‘local lad’ David Hockney. 

Salts Mill is now home to the world’s largest collection of Hockney’s work, from his earliest pencil sketches, displayed in Gallery 1853, to ‘The Arrival of Spring’, filling the entirety of the top floor.

On entering the building, you’ll notice the natural light pouring through huge factory windows, exposing walls 4ft thick, along with the scent of fresh lilies. The rooms are at least 200m long, impressively hanging Hockney’s work with barely any wallspace. The acres of space within these walls gives you a sense of the scale of the industry it once housed and the colossal task Silver undertook with its restoration.

'Sleeping Mum' Hockney, 1996

Gallery 1853

Hockney Poster Shop

Sadly, Jonathan Silver passed away in 1997, at which point his wife Maggie took over the running of Salts Mill, honouring his vision and legacy.

Hockney reminisces in a tribute to his dear friend in the late ‘90’s;

‘I first met Jonathan Silver in a Wimpy bar in Bradford in the early 1960s. He was a schoolboy at Bradford Grammar School and had written to me (in a lively and cheeky way) asking me for a picture for his "alternative" school magazine.

I responded to his cheekiness and after that we never lost touch with one another - even though I lived in Los Angeles and Jonathan seldom left the north of England.

Jonathan's generous spirit began to pervade the enormous rooms. I loved and admired what he was doing. I lent him some older Bradford School of Art work, and began a relationship that became a deep friendship. He began to make Bradford very lively - on my visits anyway. He persuaded people to put on theatre and poetry readings. Before long there were shops, restaurants and a clothing company.’

Gallery 1853

'82 Portraits and One Still-life' 2014


Following Silver’s death, Hockney began painting Salts Mill and the surrounding areas in tribute to his dear friend. Take a closer look at these works over at The Hockney Foundation. 

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