Revolution, Innovation, Evolution
Situated on the northern edge of Shrewsbury, the internationally-important Flaxmill Maltings site reflects a time when Shropshire led the way in engineering. Its remarkable story is one of revolution, innovation and evolution.
The site comprises eight listed buildings, including the Main Mill, which when built in 1797, was the world's first iron-framed building, paving the way for the modern skyscrapers that now burst through the skylines of our major commercial centres. It is one of the most important buildings of the industrial revolution.
Working at the Flaxmill
For nearly a century the site operated as a state-of-the-art steam-powered flaxmill spinning linen thread from flax. The pace, hours and nature of the work was dictated by the steam-driven machines and the profit making system the workers were part of. Many workers suffered injuries or physical deformities brought about by the repetitive nature of the tasks they undertook and health problems like foot rot, as a result of the working environment, was common.
More than a third of the workers in the mill were children. Some were 'supplied' to the mill from the local poor house and from further afield under the apprenticeship system.
As textile markets changed at the end of the 19th century and linen fell in popularity, the business declined and a new use needed to be found for the site. The complex stood empty for over a decade before being converted into a maltings by William Jones (Maltsters) Ltd, reopening in 1897-8. The Maltings was designed by Henry Stopes, one of the foremost designers of the time, and as with the Flaxmill a hundred years earlier, the new facility was state-of-the-art.
The war years
During both the First and Second World Wars the site was used by the military as a barracks. In 1914 a number of available buildings were used to house soldiers who were drafted into Shrewsbury. Over 1,000 men were accommodated at the maltings site.
During the Second World War, the Maltings was used as a Light Infantry Barracks and was known as the "Rat Hotel".
Fall and rise
Following the closure of the maltings in 1987, the future of the site and its important buildings became increasingly uncertain. Derelict for many years, the big challenge has been to identify a future for the site that protects and conserves the historic buildings while providing it with a viable and sustainable economic future.
Historic England bought the freehold in 2005 and partnered with Shropshire Council and the Friends of the Flaxmill Maltings to save these extraordinary buildings and bring them back to use. The first milestone saw the opening of a new visitor centre in November 2015 which tells the story of the mill's role in the industrial revolution and in world architecture.