Spinning Mill, 1796-1800 by Charles Bage. Part of a former flax mill owned and operated by Marshall, Benyon and Bage which was constructed in two major phases of 1796-7 and after a fire in 1809, with later additions and alterations. Converted to a maltings in 1897-8. Undergoing repairs (2015).
Reasons for Designation
The Spinning Mill at Ditherington Flax Mill which dates from 1796-1800 and was designed by Charles Bage, with later additions and alterations, including conversion to a maltings in 1897-8, is listed at Grade I for the following principal reasons:
* Innovation: for its pioneering and experimental use of structural iron to construct a mill of incombustible materials which is of outstanding importance in the development of fully-framed, multi-storeyed buildings;
* Technological interest: as an exceptionally early survival from the first generation of steam-powered textile mills which illustrates the wider trends in the history of steam power;
* Function: the building is distinctive in character and appearance, and retains significant external and internal detail associated with its function;
* Historic interest: for its association with Charles Bage who went on to design further fireproof buildings and experiment with the structural properties of cast iron;
* 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. There were 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 (largely 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 the five-storey main mill building Spinning Mill) situated adjacent to the canal and aligned north to south, and a four-storey with attic wing (Cross Building) at right angles to 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), and 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 SPINNING MILL, the largest building in the complex, was designed by Charles Bage (1751-1822) a partner in the firm, and constructed in 1796-7. It is recognised as the first building in the world to successfully replace the timber beams and joists used in industrial buildings up to that date with incombustible materials, namely cast and wrought iron and brick. Although some timber was present in the building, none was exposed in the working areas. The Spinning Mill was developed in two closely connected phases of construction, probably planned from the start. It was designed to house all the main mechanically-powered processes in the factory and was powered entirely by steam. Part of the ground floor was occupied by workshops, and the upper floors used for the preparation of line (longest and most valuable grade of flax fibre) and tow (shorter-length flax fibres separated from line flax) and for twisting line and tow spinning. The other principal mill buildings initially accommodated either hand-powered processes or storage, or were used for dyeing and drying of products made in the Spinning Mill. The Spinning Milll was powered in its first years by a Boulton and Watt 20hp rotary condensing beam engine in an engine house at the south end of the mill. A second engine, 40 or 45hp beam engine manufactured by Fenton, Murray and Wood of Leeds, was installed in a new engine house at the north end of the mill in 1800, though contemporary records indicate that it was planned as early as 1798. Later phases in the Spinning Mill’s development, including the mechanisation of a number of processes, resulted in changes to the power installations of 1797 and c1800, firstly with the installation of a more powerful beam engine within a new engine house at the south end of the mill in c1810, and in c1820 the north engine house was substantially rebuilt to house a 56hp beam engine. Further new Corliss engines by Hicks and Sons of Bolton were installed in both the north and south engine houses in 1874.
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. Malting floors were created on all five floors of the Spinning Mill, and to improve conditions for grain germination the original windows were filled in and smaller windows were installed. Internally, the original floors were replaced with mass concrete, pairs of steeps (where the barley was soaked) were installed (now removed) on four floors, and additional cast-iron columns and steel beams were inserted to strengthen the building. A malting kiln was also erected beyond the north end of the Spinning Mill on the site of a boiler house, and a three-storey wooden hoist tower was added to the northernmost bay of the mill to house grain elevators. William Jones & Son 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. During this period, electric lighting was installed and, due to changes in the methods of storing grain, two concrete storage silos were erected (demolished in the early C21). 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 closed in 1987.
Spinning Mill, 1796-1800 by Charles Bage. Part of a former flax mill owned and operated by Marshall, Benyon and Bage which was constructed in two major phases of 1796-7 and after a fire in 1809, with later additions and alterations. Converted to a maltings in 1897-8, closed in 1987. Undergoing repairs (2015).
MATERIALS: iron-framed construction with red ‘great’ (measuring approximately 100mm x 110mm x 240mm) bricks under a Welsh slate roof with a timber-clad tower to north end. The southernmost engine house is built of standard bricks.
PLAN: rectangular on plan and aligned north to south. It forms part of a group of attached buildings which developed sequentially, comprising the SPINNING MILL, Cross Building and Flax Warehouse, and all subsequently linked by the addition of the late-C19 maltings Kiln. The Spinning Mill is the earliest of these.
EXTERIOR: of five storeys and eighteen bays, including the south engine house of 1797. The walls are built with external (and internal) setbacks, a functional rather than aesthetic feature, and they progressively reduce in thickness in the upper storeys. The series of transverse roof gables, one to each bay, gives a distinctive sawtooth profile to the west and east elevations. At the north end of the building, the roof is surmounted by a square, three-storey wooden-clad hoist tower of 1897 which is topped by a crown of ornamental cast iron supplied by MacFarlanes of Glasgow. The original pattern of unusually large windows to each of the sixteen bays of the east and west elevations of the mill remain evident, though most were bricked-in during the maltings conversion in the 1890s. They have been replaced by timber windows to every third bay which have internal shutters. The roadside (west) frontage carries painted lettering: ‘Albrew Maltsters Limited Shropshire Maltings’. It has a different pattern of blockings and openings to the opposite elevation; the primary openings correspond to those on the west side, with a large door in the central, bay ten, and a smaller door in bay three (from the north). A late-C19 single-storey, lean-to addition which replaced the former boiler houses and chimney has been demolished leaving scars in the brickwork.
The south engine house of 1797 has inserted windows, probably early C19, in its west side which are level with each half landing of the staircase; the original stair windows being in the south wall. To the south is the attached, engine house of c1810 which was raised by a storey after the site became a maltings. It has a projecting wooden hoist with taking-in doors to the upper part of the west elevation, and below is a door and a malting window which are inserted into a tall, blocked opening with a shallow-arched head. The right return has rectangular windows to the upper floors and two, tall blocked windows to the lower part; one has since had a door inserted into it. At mid-height there are sandstone mountings for the engine’s entablature beam. The three upper floors of the east elevation each contains a single one window, to the ground floor is a doorway that cuts into an earlier, tall, blocked semi-circular-headed opening. The west and north elevations of the three-storey north engine house are obscured by the staircase block at the east end of the Cross Building and the Kiln respectively. Its west elevation has a tall, arched window that has been partially infilled and contains a smaller, inserted window. To the ground floor is a lean-to addition with segmental-headed window.
INTERIOR: the building is entered at the south end through a doorway into the fireproof main stairway which has sandstone steps carried on wooden beams. It is located within a bay that is shared with the first engine house of 1797 (to the east). In its completed form the mill was divided on its lower floors by a cross wall (removed in late C19). Evidence suggests that in 1796-7 it comprised six full bays and two short bays to the south of the cross wall and that a ten-bay extension was added to the north soon after 1797, but prior to 1800. The fireproof iron frame comprises two-piece, cast-iron transverse beams which are joined at the centre and span the width of the building between each bay. They are supported by three rows of cast-iron columns that are cruciform in cross section and delicately moulded to the bases and capitals, though their precise form varies on each floor. The beams and columns together form a rigid frame. Wrought-iron tie-rods running axially between the beams tie the iron frame together. The building is not fully framed since the brick walls support part of the weight of the floors. The ceilings have shallow, brick arches. Throughout the building the castings of both the floor beams and the columns have features to support the power transmission system. The central columns on the ground floor are in-line with the opening to the 1797 engine house at the south end of the mill and have rectangular housings for a drive shaft. The corresponding columns on the third floor incorporate similar housing for the support of a second main horizontal drive shaft. The lack of similar evidence on the other floors suggests that power was transmitted to them from the two main drive shafts, possibly through the intervening brick-arched ceilings which contain numerous slots (infilled) through which belts might have passed. Over the top floor of the mill is a fireproof ceiling of inclined brick vaults, springing from cast-iron transverse beams which are similar to the floor beams on the lower floors, and are supported by a single row of tall, slightly off-centre columns. Above the brick vaults are lightly-built wooden A-frame trusses.
Attached to the south end of the mill are the engine houses of 1797 and c1810; each of one bay. The former retains its original room layout, with a small cylinder chamber to its east end and a larger flywheel chamber to the west. An opening in its ground-floor north wall indicates the position of the former flywheel bearing. The original beam engine appears to have been installed above ground level. The c1810 engine house has a single chamber and was originally open through the equivalent of four storeys in the mill. There are ashlar blocks in the south wall which supported the crankshaft and a brick-vaulted ceiling was added in the 1870s when a Corliss engine was installed. The northern engine house originally rose through the equivalent of three floors of the adjacent Spinning Mill. It retains evidence of bearing boxes that supported line shafting, and in its south wall (north wall of the mill) are large ashlar supports for the flywheel shaft. The brick-vaulted ceilings are later insertions, added when a new Corliss engine was installed in 1874. None of the engines survive.