Thursday, 19 November 2015


By guest writer Tim Johnston, Historic England Project Director

From left to right - Tim Johnston (Project Director, Historic England), 
Daniel Kawczynski (MP for Shrewsbury & Atcham), 
Alan Mosley (Chairman of the Friends of the Flax Mill Maltings), 
Councillor Mal Price (Shropshire Council). 
Behind is the south silo which has now been demolished, viewed from the south east.
Looking around me here at Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings it’s hard to believe the changes that have occurred over the last 12 months. There is still so much to do before the entire site is rescued and brought back to life but we have come a long way since the site was taken on by Historic England in 2005, when we were known as English Heritage.

Until recently a huge reinforced grain silo, built in the 1950s, dominated the site.
The offices and imposing silo which has now been taken down
 It has now gone, providing an open public space for events and activities. It wasn’t easy to demolish because it was next to the oldest iron framed building in the world – a grade 1 listed structure. It certainly couldn’t simply be ‘blown up’ but had to be ‘nibbled’ down piece by piece by metal pincers like some giant concrete eating pac man! To ensure the historic buildings were protected, sensor alarms were placed on the surrounding structures in case the machinery caused potentially damaging vibrations. All went well and the historic buildings now have ‘room to breathe’- it was quite an exciting process!

Elsewhere on site, all is not quiet in the 2 buildings that will soon become the visitor centre. The designers are putting the finishing touches to the exhibition that will tell the fascinating story of the site from Flaxmill to Maltings. Visitors will also be able to explore the building’s role during World War II and learn more about the people who worked here, many of them only children.

Children made up a large part of the workforce
 [Image courtesy of Shropshire Archives]
There is so much to know about this site. My favourite fact is that the Flax Mill had gas lights in 1811, some 9 years before the Town’s first gas lights! It must have been an extraordinary sight - walking out of Shrewsbury on a dull winter’s night and seeing the 5 floors of the Flax Mill all lit up. The warm glow may have encouraged people to want to work there, but it was hard, unhealthy and noisy work with some 900 spinning wheels and twisting machines being driven by the massive steam engines. By the 1840s one third of the workforce was children under 16, but this was no benign apprenticeship- children as young as 9 would have to work long hours. These and other stories are told throughout the visitor centre on the beautifully designed information panels around the site.
One of the information panels which is being installed

The Friends of Flaxmill Maltings, who will manage the visitor centre, will be delighted to welcome you. It’s free! You can find out openings times by visiting Friends of the Flaxmill Maltings

It’s now only 5 days to go until we open and like any building project there are times when you wonder if the day will ever come. Works projects can be particularly difficult on sensitive historic sites where unforeseen problems often crop up. One issue here was finding unknown gas and water pipes, not marked on any plans, right in the path of the drainage run for the new toilet! A lot of ‘humming and harring’ took place before it was agreed that they weren’t ‘live’ and we could ignore them, but it did delay the project for 3 weeks. I have to give credit to Croft the contractors who have done an excellent job.

The offices have now been tranformed
into a new visitor centre
I hope you will come to see the visitor centre for yourself. Its opening marks two ‘firsts’:  for the first time people can turn up when they want and look round the site without the need to book in advance. It is also the first step in a journey to repair and find a new use for the Main Mill which respects its unique significance and brings the Flaxmill Maltings back into the life of the Community. This project will not be without its challenges and it has been described as 'one of the most challenging and technically complex regeneration projects in the country'

Having the world's first iron frame building in the main mill
 - a forerunner  to the modern day skyscraper - has meant
this has been a complex regeneration project

Historic England, the Friends of the Flaxmill and our partners are determined to give this unique historic complex a new life in its 3rd century. I hope you will support us.

Read the latest Historic England Newsletter which includes more information about the Flaxmill.

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