Ditherington Flax Mill: Apprentice House
- Heritage Category:
- Listed Building
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Date of most recent amendment:
- Statutory Address:
- Marshalls Court, Ditherington, Shrewsbury, SY1 2HX
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- Statutory Address:
- Marshalls Court, Ditherington, Shrewsbury, SY1 2HX
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Shropshire (Unitary Authority)
- National Grid Reference:
Former apprentice house of c1811 with late-C19 and C20 alterations. Part of a former flax mill designed by Charles Bage, and owned and operated by Marshall, Benyon and Bage; converted to a maltings in 1897-8 and closed in 1987.
Reasons for Designation
The Apprentice House at Ditherington Flax Mill, constructed in the early C19, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: for its well-proportioned and classical exterior; * Historic interest: its construction reflects significant legislative changes made in 1802 concerning the provision of education and separate accommodation for male and female child apprentices (commonly known as the first Factories Act); * Rarity: an unusual example of a purpose-built apprentice house which, despite the loss of some fittings and its later re-use as offices and a laboratory, survives substantially intact; * Group value: as a significant component of a steam-powered textile mill that has a strong spatial and visual relationship with other listed buildings.
Ditherington Flax Mill on the north-eastern outskirts of Shrewsbury town centre was built by a partnership of local merchants, Thomas and Benjamin Benyon, and Yorkshire entrepreneur, John Marshall, for the processing of flax into linen yarn and thread. However, the partnership later suffered from internal stresses and in 1804 the Benyons left to set up rival factories, and Marshall ran Ditherington Mill, in time with his sons and grandsons, until the failure of the business in 1886. Shrewsbury was not an area synonymous with the textile industry, but proposals to build two canals, authorised by Acts of Parliaments in 1793, to serve the town were expected to greatly improve its transportation links. Only one, the Shrewsbury Canal, was actually built and its route appears to have been altered to run parallel to the site of Ditherington Mill. In terms of infrastructure the canal, which opened a few days before the contract for the flax mill was completed, promised a reliable supply of coal and a source of water for the mill. Its construction was, therefore, probably a key factor in enabling the mill to be built in this location.
Construction of the flax mill commenced in 1796 and production began in 1797. The mill was erected in two main building campaigns: the first following the agreement in 1796 to purchase the site, and the second after 1809, following the addition of new buildings and rebuilding after a destructive fire. From the start it was equipped with the full range of processes for spinning yarn and thread from raw flax, with machinery arranged into separate departments for flax dressing, preparation, yarn spinning and thread twisting. Ditherington Flax Mill provided employment for thousands of workers over the course of its operation, contributing markedly to the local economy.
The site was entered, as today (2015), from the south end, where gates opened into a yard bounded to the south and west by a packing warehouse (demolished 1979), stables, and a smithy and offices. Immediately to the north was the operational core of the factory, an L-shaped complex made up of a five-storey main mill building (the Spinning Mill) situated adjacent to the Shrewsbury Canal and aligned north to south, and a four-storey with attic wing (Cross Building) extending west at right angles from the north end of the main mill. At the either end of the main mill were engine houses which accommodated the steam engines that provided power to the complex. To the east, extending along the narrow space between the main mill and the canal (since infilled), were two boiler houses which are no longer extant. To the west of the main mill was a dyehouse and stove house, the latter used for drying materials after dyeing. To the south of the stove house was a drying shed (demolished). To the north, beyond the main mill, was a warehouse, with an apprentice house beyond that. At the north end of the site was a gasworks which has been demolished.
The APPRENTICE HOUSE at Ditherington Flax Mill was constructed in 1811 at the north end of the flax mill complex, replacing an apprentice house of 1799 located on the main road to the south of the mill. It was built as part of an overall workforce reorganisation that was taking place at the flax mill since the replacement of hand-powered heckling (the process of combing raw flax in preparation for spinning), previously undertaken by skilled male operatives, mechanical heckling from 1809 increased the proportion of women and children in the workforce. The building's construction may also have been in response to legislative changes in the early C19 which stipulated separate accommodation for male and female children and the provision of education for them. It was divided internally into a Master’s or Superintendent's dwelling at the east end and the apprentices were accommodated in the remainder of the building. Walled gardens and outbuildings adjoined its north and east sides, but these are no longer extant. Following conversion to a maltings, the building appears to have been used firstly as offices and a laboratory, and was then converted to residential apartments. It is currently (2015) unoccupied.
By 1812 Ditherington Flax Mill contained all the buildings, apart from a dedicated bleachworks, required in a flax mill specialising in the production of yarn and thread, and between 1813 and the early 1820s a limited amount of weaving was also carried out at the site. Few new buildings were added after 1812, though changes to the steam-power plant necessitated the construction of new boiler houses. A more extensive programme of reorganisation and re-equipping was carried out in the 1820s and 1830s so that the business could remain competitive and up-to-date, but apart no new major buildings were constructed. Changing markets for linen goods and increasing competition, particularly other manufacturers in Scotland and Ireland, from the mid-C19, threatened the company’s pre-eminence. Management changes, better integration and marketing, and some investment failed to improve the company’s fortunes and the flax mill closed in October 1886.
In 1897 the site was purchased by William Jones of Shrewsbury and adapted for use as a maltings and became known as the Shropshire Maltings. The company went bankrupt in 1933-34 and the business was then administered by Alliance Insurance Company which was itself taken over by Ansells in 1948. During the Second World War the site served as a barracks for the basic training of infantry recruits, but malting resumed in the post-war years. Due to the challenges facing traditional floor malting operations from purpose-built maltings facilities, as well as its aging plant and constrained site, Shropshire Maltings could not compete against modern factories and closed in 1987.
Former apprentice house of c1811 with late-C19 and C20 alterations. Part of a former flax mill designed by Charles Bage, and owned and operated by Marshall, Benyon and Bage. Constructed in two major phases of 1796-7 and after a fire in 1809, with later additions and alterations. Converted and extended to a maltings in 1897-8, closed in 1987.
MATERIALS: constructed of red brick, with brick and stone dressings under a Welsh slate roof with brick stacks. The fenestration consists of mullioned and transomed windows to the two lower floors and sashes to the upper, all with stone cills and brick heads. The windows are boarded and the timber door pediments have been removed for conservation (2015).
PLAN: rectangular on plan and aligned west-east. It was originally laid out with a house for the Superintendent at the east end and accommodation for apprentices to the remainder.
EXTERIOR: a three-storey building with attics and cellar. It is gabled to its west and east elevations; the gables taking the form of a pediment framed by a stone band and coping. The east gable has a central entrance with a window to either side, and three windows to both the first and second floors; the west end has a doorway at ground- and first-floor levels, the latter formerly accessed from a staircase (removed), and there is a narrow window to each floor, except to the second floor which has two. The north and south elevations have a dentilled eaves cornice. The south elevation has window openings of varying widths under brick segmental heads and the pattern of fenestration reflects the division of the building into two units. There is a ground-floor doorway to the right of centre and an inserted door to its right within a former window. The opposing, north, elevation is of a similar form, though there are fewer windows to each floor of the Superintendent’s house.
INTERIOR: partially inspected, 2015. The doorway to the Superintendent’s house opens onto a hall which gives access to the principal reception rooms to the north and south, and via the stairs to the upper storeys. The northern room was the principal dining room, serviced by a kitchen to the west. The ground floor to the rest of the building probably contained a refectory, served by a kitchen in the basement, and perhaps a schoolroom. The upper floors provided dormitory accommodation. Each floor was divided longitudinally into two halves by a central spine wall and there is a corridor running on the long axis.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
- Legacy System number:
- Legacy System:
Friends of the Flaxmill Maltings, accessed 23 June 2015 from http://www.flaxmill-maltings.co.uk/
Historic England, Ditherington Mill and the Industrial Revolution, forthcoming autumn 2015
M. Macleod, B. Trinder & M. Worthington, 1988, The Ditherington Flax Mill. A Survey and Historical Evaluation
This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.
End of official listing