Former smithy and office, early C19 with late-C19 alterations. Part of a former flax mill owned and operated by Marshall, Benyon and Bage; converted to a maltings in 1897-8 and closed in 1987.
Reasons for Designation
The Smithy and Office at Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings (formerly Ditherington Flax Mill), constructed in the early C19, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Historic interest: it provides an insight into ancillary functions commonly associated with a large industrial complex during the C19;
* Degree of survival: despite later alterations, its original function remains legible due to the retention of its two hearths;
* Group value: as an integral 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 between 1809 and 1812. 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 dressings, 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. To the north was the operational core of the factory, an L-shaped complex made up of a five-storey main mill building (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 yard is an early feature of the complex and the SMITHY AND OFFICE is depicted on an 1811 plan of the site. By 1886 it was described as ‘Drawing Office Building, containing Dining rooms, Office and Smithy of two hearths’ or sometimes the ‘Dinner House’. The upper floor was converted to offices in the late C19.
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 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, however, as well as its aging plant and constrained site, Shropshire Maltings could not compete against modern factories and the site closed in 1987.
Former smithy and office, early C19 with late-C19 alterations. Undergoing repairs and restoration (2015). 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 between 1809 and 1812, with later additions and alterations. Converted and extended to a maltings in 1897-8.
MATERIALS: constructed of red ‘great’ (measuring approximately 100mm x 110mm x 240mm) bricks under a gabled roof of Welsh slates with a large central ridge stack of brick which has been slightly raised.
PLAN: it is rectangular on plan.
EXTERIOR: it is a two-storey building fronting onto a yard with a dentilled eaves cornice to the west and east elevations. The entrance (east) front has a ground-floor entrance to the left and two sash windows, one possibly original, all under segmental heads. To the first floor are four smaller, late-C19 windows which are positioned to the left of a doorway, and there is a further sash window to the right. This upper door was approached from an external wooden staircase which has been removed. To the far right is the housing for a wall-mounted clock.
INTERIOR: not inspected, 2015. It is understood that the building retains its two, back-to-back hearths which are built of ‘great’ bricks and have large cast-iron lintels.
This list entry was subject to a Minor Amendment on 2 March 2023 to amend the description