Anyone who follows me on Goodreads or who has scoured my book review posts will know that I’m very predictable in what it takes to pique my bookworm interest. A big spooky house, unexplained goings-ons, eerie family curses and perhaps an apparition or two to boot. Little did I know that I had just this in real-life form, and under a mile from my family home in Yorkshire. My dad is a local historian and had been researching various local heroes from Bradford’s industrial glory days such as Lister, and perhaps the more widely known Titus Salt, and it was through this that the story of Milner Field was told…
Milner Filed was commissioned to be the family home of Titus Salt Jnr (youngest son of Sir Titus Salt) and built in 1869 to the plans of decadent architect Thomas Harris. No expense was spared in the building of Milner Field; and it would certainly have been one of the most opulent mansions in the north of England at it’s time; which is clear from the fact it received royal visitors twice. Amongst many unusual luxuries the house had an orangery, vast glasshouses filled with tropical plants imported from around the world and a boating lake. Keen to show off their wealth and home, the family would host huge parties with absolutely no expense spared. Unfortunately, the house may have looked set to provide its owners an idyllic life, but this wasn’t the case. Titus Salt Jnr died unexpectedly young, leaving the house to be passed on to a new family; that of James Roberts. Upon moving into the house bad luck dogged him and his family. His eldest son died of pneumonia, his youngest son drowned, his second son died of an unexplained illness and his remaining son was badly injured in the great war. On top of this – whilst his daughter Alice successfully married, she was then unfaithful and her high profile husband murdered her lover, causing a national scandal. Poor Roberts ey? The final occupant of Milner Field was quickly dispatched of by the curse, in perhaps the worst way yet! As a result of a nasty infection of the diaphragm he hiccoughed to death!
As a result of the endless misfortune heaped upon owners who resided in Milner Field, paired with the fact that these rambling grand houses were falling out of fashion given the vast amount of staff needed to maintain them, by the war it was near impossible to sell the property. Despite various attempts and glossy sales pamphlets being created, the house sat empty and eventually fell to rack and ruin. Local children in 1940’s and 50’s recall playing in the roofless mansion as children; which must have been an incredible playground given that all the rooms were still intact. It was at this time that local newspapers reported various tales from visitors to Milner Fields of apparitions being sited amongst the ruins; the most commonly known story being that of an Edwardian man dressed in green carrying a flute! In the 50’s, with health & safety being sited as the reason (although perhaps it was more likely that the council was getting spooked by all the stories!) Milner Field was demolished and flattened. Isn’t it an incredible story? That within the space of less than a century, one of the grandest houses ever to be built in England could be set upon with dynamite and diggers and left to rot in the moss.
The above photos are taken from Milner Field; The Lost House of Titus Salt Jnr which I’ve had my nose permanently shoved in on my staycation up north this week. The photo just above gives you a glimpse of the change from Milner Hall as it was, to how it is now. On the blue skied, beautiful Bank Holiday Monday; my dad, Nick and I headed off to Saltaire to explore. As we entered the woods in which Milner Field sits, we weaved our way up a winding mile of driveway. I could almost taste the previous anticipation of those privileged to be invited to stay with Titus Salt Jnr when the house was in its hey day.
If you just stumbled across the site of Milner Field, you could be forgiven for writing it off as a pile of old rubble and moving along. However having my dad as a guide, he could point out that two large pieces of stone that we walked between would actually have been the two pillars attached to a grand archway at the entrance to the house. It’s with this eye that you can suddenly look around yourself and with a bit of imagination, envisage the house as it once must have been. The ruins sit very isolated in a patch of woodland, as over the last 60 years nature has taken Milner Field in its clutches. It’s definitely not a place I’d feel comfortable being on my own, I’m not sure if it’s the fact it’s steeped in bad fortune but there is a definite atmosphere that has the hairs on the back of your neck prickling at every crack of a tree branch or wind that picks up around you!
This spooky sensation didn’t put me off having a little solo pirouette in what would have been the grand ballroom. In the close up, you can see that parts of the floor are still present and covered in a beautiful mosaic. In the book I read about one incredible party in-particular for Isabel Roberts “coming out” 19th birthday party which was fancy dress and attended by the creme de la creme of society at the time; royalty, film stars and local business directors. Apparently Japanese lanterns were shipped in and strung around the ceiling, and an obscene amount of port was ordered! I shut my eyes and imagined all of those bodies packed into the space around me, and wondered what an earth happened to them all after this snapshot in time.
Nick & had a good clamber over the rubble (cursing my footwear, £4 brogues are not adventures shoes) and had a kiss where the kitchen would have been. Upon closer investigation to the hunks of remaining stone, you can see that the odd one has ornate carving or moulding and it’s worth trying to work out where it might have fitted in the house.
The most recognisable area of Milner Field left standing is the entrance to the cellars that would have stretched the whole length of the house. I wonder how many brave bodies have wormed their way inside and scampered around? If it hadn’t been filled with stagnant rain water and litter, I think Nick might have been tempted.
If you find yourself in Yorkshire I can’t recommend a visit here enough. It’s one of those rare treasures that passes by word of mouth and won’t be in any rough guide or tourist information brochure…