Michael Portillo takes a Turkish bath in the famous spa town of Harrogate and explores the exemplary Victorian village of Saltaire.
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In 1840, one man transformed travel in Britain.
His name was George Bradshaw and his railway guides inspired the Victorians to take to the tracks.
Stop by stop, he told them where to travel, what to see, and where to stay.
Now, 170 years later, I'm making a series of journeys
across the length and breadth of the country to see what of Bradshaw's Britain remains.
I'm almost halfway through my journey from the North East of England to the Midlands.
My Victorian railway guidebook is now well thumbed and I'm enjoying its quirks.
The more I use my Bradshaw guide, the more I enjoy it.
He wasn't afraid of saying what he liked and what he didn't.
He loved progress, but also the established order of rural families.
He praises natural scenery, but also the massive new structures of engineering.
He vividly describes a country being transformed by the railways
from Bradshaw's Britain to the Britain that we know today.
Reading this very individual guide, I will use Bradshaw's perspective
to understand both history and who the British are now.
On this leg of the journey, I'll be hearing how Victorian women reacted to the railways...
Women reputedly used to hide pins in their lips, so if a man actually a stole kiss from them
as they went through a railway tunnel in the dark, obviously, their lips were lacerated.
..sampling the benefits of Harrogate's famous spa waters...
The whole point about the waters were, they're a strong purge, this explosive power internally.
..and meeting some alpacas, whose fleeces made a Victorian fortune.
This is Holly. She likes smelling hair.
Since starting this journey in Newcastle, I've moved south along some of the first railway lines.
Next, I'll be exploring the industrial belt around Leeds
and Sheffield, before crossing into rural Leicestershire,
ending up at picturesque
On this stretch,
I'll be passing through York on my way to the spa town of Harrogate,
then travelling to Leeds,
before reaching Saltaire, a Victorian paternalist's model town.
The first part of my route takes me through North Yorkshire,
and I need to change trains in the cathedral city of York.
In the 19th century, the ancient Minster was joined by a magnificent
Victorian station, the biggest in the Britain when it opened in 1877.
Ever since, it's been an important railway hub, with thousands of people passing through every day.
When I was about five or six years old, I remember coming on an overnight train to Scotland
with my mother to visit her parents, and the train stopped in the middle of the night in York.
And in those days, "York" was written around these pillars,
and sitting in the compartment, my mother caught me trying to peer round the side of the pillar.
The reason was, I'd never heard of York,
I'd only heard of New York, and I was looking for the word "New".
My mother thought I was impossibly stupid
to think that New York lay between King's Cross and Edinburgh.
Today, we think nothing of taking the train.
But in Bradshaw's era, the advent of railway travel raised tricky social and even moral issues.
Trains were both exciting and risky.
The new technology aroused fears about safety.
But the railways also brought new opportunities, especially for women.
While I wait for my connection, historian Di Drummond is going to tell me more.
At the time of the early railways, how did women react to the possibility to travel by train,
-and how did the railways react to the women?
-There's a lot of evidence to say women
really took to it, particularly the middle-class woman. Railway companies sometimes
were not so confident about women travelling.
Particularly travelling alone.
Husbands and fathers were not so keen either.
Duke of Wellington told his son off very soundly for allowing his wife
to travel alone on a train, which was awful.
In the early 19th century, women travellers were usually chaperoned.
But soon, some women began using the trains unaccompanied, raising fears about their safety.
One of the early railway guides actually says that there is no worse place that a woman could be...
insulted, as they put it, than in a railway carriage.
And it's a problem, because obviously in those days, it was a closed carriage,
you opened the door, you got in, you couldn't move along the corridor to get out of the way,
so if you got on board with somebody who was threatening, you couldn't get out of the way.
And there were no communication cords until 1864.
So in those days, the carriages were divided into thin compartments. There was no corridor either
along the side or down the middle. So once you're in the compartment, that was it?
Yes, until you get to the next station. For women, obviously,
it was the fear of being attacked on the train, to be molested, even possibly raped or murdered,
and I've not heard about it in this country, but in 19th century Austria and France,
women reputedly used to hide pins in their lips
so if a man actually stole a kiss from them as they went through a railway tunnel in the dark,
obviously their lips were lacerated. Pretty nasty.
Femme fatale, or nearly fatale anyway!
But for most women, train travel was a revelation.
I can see that for women, I mean, new opportunity of travel.
This is by definition liberating, isn't it?
Yes, I think it's mostly the middle-class women to start off with.
Working class women, obviously it takes more time, but by the time you get to the 1860s,
you've got features like special trains being chartered from Edinburgh to take the herring girls
down the coast right through to Yarmouth by the end of the season, as they follow the shoals of herring.
Of course, the most famous Victorian lady, Queen Victoria,
-travelled by train.
And that made train travel very popular, because if it was good enough for the Royals,
it was good enough for those who could afford it.
Trains were equalisers that shook social conventions.
With that in mind, I take the opportunity of my journey west to Harrogate
to talk to some 21st-century women travellers.
As a woman, do you sometimes travel alone on the railways?
-I have done, yes.
-No incidences of strange men coming and talking to you?
-Not before today, no.
-Really, is that the first time that's happened?
-You're away for a few days?
-Yes, I'm away for two nights. I've left my husband with my two boys,
-and he's in charge for the next two days.
-So there we are. The railways are very liberating.
Very liberating for me, yes. It gives me a chance to get away, and also a chance for my husband
to experience what it's like to have two boys all the time.
My next stop is the genteel spa town of Harrogate.
But as I enter its familiar station, it reminds me of more uncouth events.
So this is Harrogate, and I've been here any number of times for Conservative party conventions.
So Harrogate, which was historically a town of natural baths and a spa,
for me has been the place of political battles and sparring.
When trains first puffed into Harrogate in 1848, they transformed the town.
Within 50 years, this exclusive spa
had become hugely popular with the middle classes.
Bradshaw remarks of Harrogate, "Amusements are not wanting.
"There is a race course and libraries, and collections in natural history.
"In 1835, the original little pump room was superseded by the present splendid building,
"which affords a pleasant promenade and a library for the literary lounger.
"Balls and concerts are frequently given here throughout the season."
Harrogate has always stood for refinement and, in my view, it still does.
The biggest draw though was the spa waters.
In Bradshaw's age, most people came for medical reasons.
My guidebook says, "To delicate constitutions,
"it has often afforded relief when stronger remedies have failed."
It avoids mentioning that Harrogate was also known as the "stinking spa".
Even before I switch on the tap, I can smell...
very strong sulphur.
It's just like drinking pure sulphur. It's incredibly strong.
It better do you good. I hope it does.
Morning, sir, I won't shake hands,
-they're wet. Have you tasted the waters?
-Not before, but I've heard about it.
-Are you going to taste them?
-Have a go. Tell me what you think of this.
-What does that taste like?
-Rotten eggs, I would say.
-Have you ever tasted this water?
Nice big gulp.
-What do you think of that?
-Well, it's, er...
-Do you want the truth?
-It doesn't taste very nice.
Then it probably does you good.
Luckily, drinking the waters wasn't the only way to enjoy their benefits.
My Bradshaw's guide says, "Numerous bathing establishments for those who are advised
"to try their remedial effects can be found here."
Bradshaw's devotes paragraphs recommending us to bathe in the waters of Harrogate,
so I feel I should take a dip before I leave town in a former bath that became popular in the Victorian era.
As the railway brought ever more people to Harrogate,
the business of treating invalids boomed.
The Royal Baths that opened in 1897
were thought to be the most advanced spa complex in the world.
All sorts of treatments were available,
including a new facility called a Turkish bath.
Hello. Kit for one, please.
There you go.
All this? All for me. Thank you.
In Bradshaw's Britain, Turkish baths had become all the rage.
Historian Dr William Gould is an expert on this Victorian fad.
For the uninitiated, explain the difference between a Turkish bath and a regular public bath.
The Turkish bath is based on the principle of different rooms
which you move through, from the cool room into progressively hotter rooms.
-And the idea is, you go through a process of sweating.
-How was it that we got Turkish baths in Britain?
The great promoter of the Turkish bath in the mid-19th century was the Scottish diplomat David Urquhart,
who had spent quite a bit of time in the Ottoman empire on diplomatic missions.
The Turkish bath had a kind of political and social agenda attached to it,
particularly from the point of view of David Urquhart, who was a strong Turkophile,
and wanted to promote aspects of Ottoman culture.
Urquhart hoped that the baths would encourage support for all things Turkish
and introduce a new style of public bathing
based on ambient heat, rather than immersion in water.
We have to remember, in these days, most people didn't have baths in their homes,
so in any case, public baths were a common institution.
Yes, and also, there was this notion that actually, air is much cheaper than water,
therefore sending someone to a Turkish bath to sweat out their filth
was cheaper than just immersing themselves in water.
There was quite a lot of medical literature discussing the benefits of sweating as a form of...
cleansing oneself and using the methods of the Turkish bath,
as opposed to what was seen as the slightly grubby ways in which the English used to wash themselves.
Do you think the railways helped people to enjoy baths?
If they didn't have a Turkish bath where they lived, they could
presumably travel to these exotic places.
Yes. What we see is a massive increase in the number of tourists as a result of the railways.
Not so many people were diverted away from Harrogate to the seaside resorts
as they were from the other spa towns, such as Bath and Leamington.
So Harrogate really flourished as a result of the coming of the railway in 1848.
-It's a very nice place to relax, so I'll let you take your ease.
-Thank you so much.
At their peak, there were around 600 Turkish baths in Britain.
Few remain today.
This one has been restored recently and is now doing a roaring trade.
Hello, ladies, What brings you to the baths at Harrogate?
-We're here for a hen weekend.
-A hen party?
-Have any of you ever been to one of these baths abroad?
Yes, I went to one in Turkey, but it wasn't actually like this.
It was a little bit different. There was stone slabs and you had to lay there for a long time
-and got loofah'd by a big man!
-Are you missing the big man with the loofah?
No, not particularly! I'm happy here!
Today, most visitors to the spa are weekend trippers.
But in Bradshaw's time, Victorian invalids often stayed in Harrogate
for many weeks, and grand hotels offered them luxury.
My Bradshaw's Guide recommends one for the night.
But before entering its portals,
Malcolm Neesam, who's been researching the "Harrogate Cure".
What was it alleged that these waters were going to treat?
Say you'd got worms, I mean, in the 17th century, about 90% of the population had worms.
These waters would cause you to evacuate the offspring of the worms.
They'd kill the eggs inside you.
So it's a very effective way of regaining health.
By Bradshaw's time, Harrogate's hotels offered a glamorous package
to make taking a cure feel like a holiday.
So supposing I'd arrived here in the middle of the 19th century
on the train, and I had come down to stay at the Crown Hotel,
what scene would have greeted me?
Well, on the train, that would have been 1848 and after,
and had you arrived then, you'd have had a pretty raw frontage facing you.
This stone was completely new, 1847.
There were also a band stand, the musicians used to play
quite early in the morning, about six or seven o'clock.
-They were there all day, as a matter of fact.
-Why did they play so early?
It was to do with drinking the Harrogate waters.
The whole point about the waters were, they were a strong purge, so you would not have breakfast,
then come out and drink the waters and parade about the town, for obvious reasons.
I once tried it with a group of American visitors, we had to stop the walk in half an hour -
it's explosive power, the waters, internally. Explosive.
-So you drank the waters...
..and then it was safe to go and have your egg and bacon.
Hello... Michael Portillo, checking in, please.
Had Bradshaw's mentioned the potential for internal explosion, I wouldn't have gulped so much!
Thank you for this.
Still, the health-giving waters enable me to awake reinvigorated, in good condition for my journey south.
So, farewell, Harrogate.
It was refreshing to see it through the eyes of a Victorian, rather than coming here
as a 20th-century politician, and I found the town a wonderfully well-conserved Victorian place.
Very charming to visit.
I'm now travelling 18 miles from this elegant town to Yorkshire's industrial heartland, Leeds.
-Tickets, please. Thank you.
-Thank you very much.
-Are you from Leeds?
-No, from Harrogate.
-I really enjoyed my visit to Harrogate. It's really nice.
-It is beautiful.
-Do you enjoy living there?
-I live in Knaresborough, which I think is even nicer.
-Well, I loved it. Thank you. Bye.
The route through the Yorkshire countryside is dotted with impressive feats of engineering,
like the stunning Crimple Valley viaduct, built around 1848.
Now I'm looking forward to Leeds, which Bradshaw's describes as, "The great seat of the cloth trade.
"Several large factories and partnership mills are established in the borough. However,
"most of the cloth is made at home, by the hand-loom weavers.
"About 16,000 looms may be thus employed."
Leeds received its first modern railway in 1846. Soon, the trains helped the local wool trade
to graduate from cottage industry to manufacture on a vast scale.
They brought coal and raw materials to feed the hungry mills
that sprung up all around, spinning flax and wool.
One of these new factories, Marshall's Mill, was highly distinctive
and scores a mention in my Bradshaw's guide. Local historian Ken Goor knows it well.
Well, I think I know what this building is from the description in Bradshaw.
It's Marshall's Mill, isn't it? He talks about the peculiar construction
in the Egyptian style, which it certainly is. Why would they build a factory like that?
Because the industrialists were all trying to outdo each other.
Someone built a mill chimney, someone would build a bigger mill chimney, someone built
an ornate mill chimney, a more ornate mill chimney, as with the factories.
Whenever you built a mill, if you'd got the wealth to do it, you'd to build one
-and show your neighbours up, sort of thing. One-upmanship.
-The new industries
brought huge wealth to the town, but not everyone shared in the benefits.
The mill owners put a huge amount of investment into building their mills.
What were the conditions like for workers inside?
Absolutely horrible, for the children especially,
because the raw flax had to be sorted.
It was a very dusty occupation, and that was done by the children.
Then the heckling was the next process,
where it had to be shredded, and shredded and shredded until it was suitable to be spun.
-A lot of the children lost fingers in the shredding machine.
One of the main diseases in the factory was rickets,
because the lack of sunlight and the lack of protein,
the average diet of the person working in a factory would have been coffee and biscuits.
A lot of the children were deformed, bow-legged, etc.
-Here at Marshall's Mill, the story was no different.
-The gentleman who built the mill was John Marshall.
One of the workers wrote about the conditions in the factory.
It's a parody of The House That Jack Built.
"This is the lord, so very high born, who treated his long-woolled friends with scorn...
"Yet is joined with the man all shaven and shorn...
"To lead John Bull by the nose by talking of corn...
"But if they don't mind, they'll be tossed and torn...
"Or be sent with the children all forlorn...
"To twist from the flax, all heckled and torn...
"A rope for to hang themselves in the morn...
"In front of the house that Jack built."
-Very bitter stuff.
-It is, yes. That's what the workers actually thought about him.
I'm now moving on from Leeds, heading west.
My route follows the River Aire, through the heartland of Britain's textile industry.
Conditions in factories were horrible for most of
the 19th century and children were often used in dangerous occupations.
But I'm on way now to a place where a paternalistic mill owner with a social conscience
tried to make things better for his employees.
I'm bound for Saltaire, three miles west of Bradford.
In the 19th century, a vast factory was built here to take advantage of the railway line.
It was followed by neat rows of houses just across the tracks.
Today, this town is a World Heritage site,
but in the 1860s, Saltaire was a startling innovation.
According to Bradshaw, "This place owes its origin to the erection of an immense mill
"on the banks of the River Aire by Titus Salt Esq."
And Titus wanted the entire neighbouring area to be a model town for his workers.
Titus Salt was a rich entrepreneur who'd made his fortune in Bradford,
where he saw the terrible conditions of workers at first hand.
In the 1850s, the railways made it possible for him to set up his business on a new site.
The move gave him the opportunity to give his workers a better life.
He built them a brand new town, with 824 solid stone homes,
as well as public buildings like a school and a hospital.
In return for living in very decent housing like this, Titus Salt
expected his workers to live by very strict rules, and you can buy a copy of them in the village shop.
He expected people to be good, obedient, honest, hard working, cheerful,
they weren't to hang out their washing in front of their houses,
and anyone who was inebriated would be evicted.
So he was trying not only to provide good housing for his workers,
he was also trying to make them better people.
-What a lovely bakery.
I just wondering, do you stick to the rules of Saltaire village?
The first rule is to be cheerful.
-Are you always cheerful?
-Oh, we stick to that one. Definitely.
Do you ever hang out your washing in front of your properties?
-No, you're not allowed.
-No. And you never do, do you?
-Are you always clean and hard working?
-And never inebriated?
-And do you ever tell fibs?
-No. I've never told a lie in my life!
-It's been a great pleasure to meet you. Thank you so much.
Titus Salt spent nearly half a million pounds building Saltaire mill and village, then a huge sum.
He could afford it only because in 1836, he'd had a stroke of genius.
In this wonderfully preserved museum of a village,
the school building gives us a clue as to how Titus Salt made his money.
He went down to the Liverpool docks one day, and they used to use alpaca fleeces as ballast
in ships coming from South America, and then they were just tossed away.
And Titus Salt thought this was ridiculous to waste the alpaca fleeces in this way,
and he devised a way of using it, a way of spinning alpaca into a beautiful fine soft cloth.
He began transporting alpaca fleeces by rail from the docks, and was soon
producing 30,000 yards of cloth a week. The new fabric quickly became popular as a cheaper alternative
to silk and, as its inventor, Titus Salt became one of the richest men in Yorkshire.
The Peruvians stopped exporting alpaca fleeces in the 1980s,
when they set up their own manufacturing business.
But the story carries on on a farm just outside Saltaire.
-Hello. I'm Michael.
-Hello, I'm Shiona.
-Lovely to see you. I've come to see some alpaca.
Ah, well, it's feeding time. The alpacas are out in the rain.
We'll see if we can persuade them to come down.
Shiona Whitecross has been raising alpacas since 1998.
Come on. Come on then.
She runs a small-scale business selling animals
and sending fleeces off to be spun just like Titus Salt's.
They're very sweet and pretty shy. What else can you tell me about them?
Well, the fleece is equivalent to cashmere, really.
They have something called lustre which means they shine as well. You can see this black one.
-Partly because she's wet, but she does have a beautiful shiny fleece, and that was something
Queen Victoria was really impressed by, as it was
really fine, really lightweight and it had a natural sheen to it.
-I suppose alpaca are quite rare in Britain?
-They would have been at one stage, but they aren't now.
I think the numbers are increasing, there's about 20,000 in the UK that are registered.
These days, alpacas are also popular with farmers because they're said to keep foxes at bay.
So with every increasing number of alpaca in Britain, could we look forward to large-scale production
-of alpaca cloth?
-I would hope that's the way it's going to go...
-and, yes, I would look forward to that.
-They're getting a bit used to me now.
They are, they're naturally curious.
This is Holly, she likes smelling hair.
Once again, I feel lucky to be travelling with a Bradshaw's Guide.
It consistently leads me to hidden corners of our national history,
and even to extraordinary examples of how we live our lives today.
I really enjoyed going to Harrogate without anyone asking me to make a political speech,
and I thought Saltaire was a fantastic example of Victorian idealism.
And as for the alpaca, well, I really fell for them, and I never
expected to meet them for the first time in Yorkshire of all places.
On the next leg of my journey, I'll be hearing how textile recycling started in 19th-century Yorkshire...
When the rags came here, thousands of tonnes from all over the world,
they were auctioned on a regular basis here at the station.
..seeing how Victorians made rhubarb grow in the dark...
Are there any secrets left in your process?
I can't tell you, unless...
we'll have to bury you under the rhubarb roots.
..and uncovering railway treasures with a descendant of George Bradshaw himself.
Oh, my goodness!
That is SO beautiful!
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd.
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Michael Portillo takes to the tracks with a copy of George Bradshaw's Victorian Railway Guidebook. He travels the length and breadth of the country to see how the railways changed us, and what of Bradshaw's Britain remains, as his journey follows some of the earliest railways in the country from Newcastle to Melton Mowbray.
Michael takes a Turkish bath in the famous spa town of Harrogate, explores the exemplary Victorian village of Saltaire, and rubs noses with some friendly alpacas, whose fleeces made fortunes in Bradshaw's day.