Today’s Treasures – The Flax Mill Maltings in Shrewsbury
Or perhaps this article should be entitled ‘Yesterday’s Treasures’. This is the story of the Ditherington Flaxmill – an icon of revolution, innovation and evolution.
When the Flaxmill was built in 1797, it was the world’s first iron-framed building, and also the world’s first skyscraper as its design later developed into the modern steel frame that made skyscrapers possible. ‘The grandfather of skyscrapers’, it became a Grade 1 listed building in the 1950’s and is one of the most important buildings of the industrial revolution.
Following a devastating fire at one of their mills in Leeds on 13 February 1796, John Marshall, and brothers Thomas and Benjamin Benyon, looked for a more fire-proof construction. Charles Bage presented a design based on the work of William Strutt, a cotton spinner who later became a civil engineer and architect, using iron frames in buildings to make them fire-resistant.
William Hazledine was commissioned to make the columns and cross-beams at his foundry in Shrewsbury. He was a pioneer in casting structural ironwork and worked with Thomas Telford on several projects including the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct – Telford nicknamed him ‘Merlin Hazledine – the arch conjuror’
When first completed, it was a state-of-the-art steam-powered flax mill spinning linen thread from flax and its fireproof cast iron columns and beams overcame much of the fire risk from the flammable fibres.
The Flaxmill closed in 1886 suffering competition from the more modern northern cotton mills – and in 1897 the site was bought by William Jones of Shrewsbury and adapted for use as a maltings (picture courtesy of Historic England), and many windows were blocked up.
In 1987, with competition from more modern productions methods, the maltings closed and the site was left derelict until its purchase in 2005 by English Heritage with support from the local council and Advantage West Midlands. Now the site is owned by Historic England with a local charity managing visitor attractions.
Visit www.flaxmill-maltings.co.uk for details of Heritage open days when you can visit this ancient building and see for yourself its historic importance, wonder at the great cast iron beams and columns and imagine the deafening noise of the steam-powered machines, the dust and dirt and terrible conditions for textile workers in the 1800’s and praise the brave people who set up the CWA (Cardroom Workers’ Amalgamation) in 1886 and changed many poor men, women and children’s lives for the better.
Published in the September edition of the Whitchurch Gossip