On a walk through the woods towards Shipley Glen towards Gilstead at the weekend, I noticed some faded but very distinctive mosaic tiles on the floor.
Scattered around, through the trees, were the remains of ancient tall pillars and heaps of old pieces of stone.
It occurred to me that this site was familiar. A quick Google search established that I had written about this 10 years ago.
It was once the Milner Field House, built by the son of one of our most prominent mill owners. I seemed to be standing in what was once a large orangery, with an elegant tiled floor.
In 2012 a book called The Lost Country House Of Titus Salt Jnr, by Richard Lee-Van den Daele and R David Beale Barleybrook, landed on my desk.
It contained the intriguing story of a property that once held pride of place in this local beauty spot – and was visited by royalty not once but twice – and is now made up of a few piles of mossy stone.
In 2020, Milner Field was back in the T&A when Bradford YouTube star Darren Hosker filmed a video in an old cellar on the remains of the property.
The T&A reported that Darren visited several old and disused sites in the neighborhood, learning about their past for his YouTube channel, AdventureMe. He went to Milner Field accompanied by fellow YouTuber, MartinZero.
“Titus Salt Jnr and his wife Catherine purchased the Milner Field estate in 1869. The old mansion and farm buildings at the upper end of the estate were later demolished to make way for the construction of Milner’s new home Field, completed in 1871,” the T&A report said.
Darren Hosker was frightened by the site: “The cellar was intact inside. It was like a horror movie set,” he told the T&A.
“We went mid afternoon on a sunny day. It was like a different world. It was so quiet. We felt a bit gloomy when we were there. Someone commented on my YouTube video that they played there in the 1950s and it was a wine cellar.
Further research reveals that the house was believed to be “cursed”.
Sir Titus Jnr died in the billiard room in 1887, of heart disease aggravated by business trouble, and when Salts Mill and Milner Field were sold to Sir James Roberts he too seemed to inherit the curse.
Three of his four sons died and the other was seriously injured in World War I, then lost his pregnant young wife to the Spanish flu epidemic. Alice, daughter of Sir James, married a man who, after shooting a man, thought he was her lover.
Death and disease continued to plague the families who lived at Milner House in later years, and the property was abandoned in 1930 and demolished in the 1950s.
Here’s what I wrote about the old house in 2012: Few who take an old path from the end of Baildon’s Coach Road, past a lonely gatehouse, shadowed by a canopy of trees, would know that they were approach Milner Field, described as ‘one of the great houses in Yorkshire’.
And few would realize that the property was built by the son of one of Bradford district’s leading industrialists.
Now defunct, Milner Field became a symbol of the Salt family’s wealth and social position.
While much has been written about Sir Titus Salt’s model village, now Saltaire World Heritage Site, few mentions have been made of the houses occupied by his family.
This delightful book asks why so many notable buildings have been lost over the past century, among them Milner Field, overlooking the Aire Valley. The introduction to the book reveals that: “In 1946, at least 2,000 once-magnificent country houses dotted the English countryside; neglected, riddled with wet and dry rot, and awaiting the inevitable arrival of the mace and the pickaxe.
Author and historian John Harris calculated that in 1955 a country house somewhere in England was demolished every two and a half days. He compares the loss in architectural terms to “probably as great as that of the destruction following the dissolution of the monasteries”. Even if there had been awareness that valuable historic property was being destroyed, there were few means of rescue, such as grants, at the time.
Built by Titus Salt Jnr in the mid-19th century, Milner House had “a large conservatory, conservatories, greenhouses, well-stocked gardens, spacious stables and garages, two entrances, pavilions, woods, meadows and a lake”, with “extensive life-giving moors” just minutes away.
But by the 1920s the house had become dated with a grim reputation, and was damp and difficult to heat.
Thoroughly researched, the book is lavishly illustrated with old photographs of generations of the Salt family and other notable local families connected to the property, as well as exterior and interior images of the property.
The striking photographs include young members of the Salt family in disguise, a royal tree planting in the park, attended by the Prince and Princess of Wales in June 1882, and aerial photographs of the roofless property.
In his preface, Denys Salt, grandson of Titus Jnr, fondly evokes the house where his father, his uncles and his aunt spent their childhood. He concludes: “When one considers how many fine country houses have been lost…it is indeed refreshing and gratifying to be presented with such an authentic chronicle of such a house and its successive occupants over the years. ”
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