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Ditherington Flax Mill: Flax Warehouse

A Grade I Listed Building in Shrewsbury, Shropshire

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Coordinates

Latitude: 52.7201 / 52°43'12"N

Longitude: -2.7433 / 2°44'35"W

OS Eastings: 349890

OS Northings: 313866

OS Grid: SJ498138

Mapcode National: GBR BJ.1RBK

Mapcode Global: WH8BM.TWVK

Entry Name: Ditherington Flax Mill: Flax Warehouse

Listing Date: 17 November 1995

Last Amended: 20 October 2015

Grade: I

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1428731

Location: Shrewsbury, Shropshire, SY1

County: Shropshire

Civil Parish: Shrewsbury

Built-Up Area: Shrewsbury

Traditional County: Shropshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Shropshire

Church of England Parish: Shrewsbury All Saints and St Michael

Church of England Diocese: Lichfield

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Summary


Warehouse of c1810. 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 to a maltings in 1897-8.

Description

Warehouse of c1810. 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: iron-framed construction with walls of common or standard red bricks under a roof clad with Welsh slates and corrugated sheeting.

PLAN: rectangular on plan and aligned west to east. It forms part of a group of attached buildings which developed sequentially, comprising the Spinning Mill, Crossing Building and FLAX WAREHOUSE, and all subsequently linked by the addition of the late-C19 maltings Kiln.

EXTERIOR: it has four storeys plus an attic, and is built to a wide plan of nine bays. It has a chamfered offset at second-floor level. As to be expected with a warehouse it does not have many windows and these are irregularly arranged. The east gable wall has numerous cast-iron tie plates and an opening with segmental head at attic level. The south elevation has two segmental-arched doorways to the ground floor, a small window to the second and third floors. The top storey was linked to the upper floor of the Cross Building by a chain suspension bridge (removed) and the doorway which gave access to it, though blocked, is visible. There is evidence of new brickwork in the west gable wall which has a ground-floor and first-floor window to the left-hand end and an inserted doorway to the left of centre. There is a further doorway at attic level from where a former bridge connected to the adjacent mid-C20 silo (demolished in early C21). The only windows in the north elevation are within the western third of the building, and there is a modern hoist tower which is clad in corrugated sheeting towards the east end.

INTERIOR: the floors are carried by four-piece beams which are jointed at the heads of the three rows of supporting cast-iron columns, and longitudinal wrought-iron tie rods connect the beam webs to either side of the columns. The floor beams show key improvements to those used in the Spinning Mill, being lighter and having an inverted-T cross section, a form that came to be widely used until the mid-C19. The cruciform-section columns have slender scantling and delicately moulded bases and capitals. The ceilings have shallow, brick jack arches which spring between the beams. On several of the floors there are openings in the south wall, some are former windows which have been infilled and others are late-C19 insertions relating to the operation of the maltings and connect through to the adjacent kiln. In addition some machinery in the form of drive shafts set within a wooden frame also remain. The full-span, cast-iron roof which is integral with the rest of the iron frame, comprises two pairs of castings forming queen-strut trusses, cast-iron purlins and wooden rafters.

Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that the following is not of special architectural or historic interest:

the corrugated sheeting clad hoist tower to the north side of the warehouse.

History

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 (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 FLAX WAREHOUSE was built in c1810 when machine heckling (the process of combing raw flax) was introduced to the site and the stockpiling of raw materials provided some guarantee against fluctuating supplies. It was built to a wide plan and was a relatively large warehouse for a textile mill. Variations in its iron frame reflect the progress that had been made in the production and use of structural iron since the construction of the earlier Spinning Mill. Notable differences in the overall design of its frame include the use of four-piece beams, jointed at the heads of the three rows of columns, and a fully-framed gabled roof structure. It appears to have been used for storing dyestuffs in the last years of the operation of the flax mill.

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. From this date the FLAX WAREHOUSE was used for dressing, cleaning and storing grain. 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.

Reasons for Listing

The Flax Warehouse at Ditherington Flax Mill, erected c1810, is listed at Grade I for the following principal reasons:

* Technological interest: as one of the country’s earliest, probably the third oldest, surviving iron-framed building which illustrates well the rapid development of cast iron as a structural material in the first decade of the C19;
* Architectural interest and intactness: a very well-preserved building which employs high-quality ironwork;
* Historic interest: for its association with Charles Bage, an important figure in the development of iron-framed, multi-storeyed buildings;
* Group value: as a significant component of a steam-powered textile mill that has a strong functional and spatial relationship with other listed buildings.

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