Ditherington Flax Mill

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Coordinates: 52°43′10″N 2°44′36″W / 52.7195°N 2.7432°W / 52.7195; -2.7432

Ditherington Flax Mill
Shrewsbury Flaxmill-Maltings east side December 2018.jpg
East side of the Main Mill, facing St Michael's Street, in December 2018
General information
Town or cityShrewsbury
CountryUnited Kingdom
Construction started1796
Cost£17000 (including the cost of mill equipment)
ClientJohn Marshall, Thomas Benyon, Benjamin Benyon
Design and construction
ArchitectCharles Bage

Ditherington Flax Mill (promoted as the Flaxmill Maltings), a flax mill located in Ditherington, a suburb of Shrewsbury, England, is the first iron-framed building in the world. As such, it is seen as the world's first skyscraper, described as "the grandfather of skyscrapers",[1] despite being only as tall as a modern five-storey building. Its importance was officially recognised in the 1950s,[2] resulting in it becoming a Grade I listed building.[3] It is also locally known as the "Maltings" from its later use.

The site is under restoration and is in the hands of Historic England with restricted public access.


The Flax Mill's architect was Charles Bage, who designed the mill using an iron-framed structure,[4] inspired by the work of William Strutt. The columns and cross-beams were made by William Hazledine at his foundry in Shrewsbury.[5] The construction of the mill ran from 1796 to 1797, at a cost (including equipment) of £17000.[6]

The mill was built for John Marshall of Leeds, Thomas Benyon, and Benjamin Benyon. The architect, Bage, was also a partner in the venture.[7] This partnership was dissolved in 1804, the mill being retained by John Marshall, who paid off his partners on the basis that it was worth £64000. Castlefields Mill was built by the other partners nearby. These two flax mills provided the 'chief manufacture' of Shrewsbury (according to an 1851 directory). The mill closed in 1886, and was sold (with a bleach yard at Hanwood) for a mere £3000. The building was then converted to a maltings (hence its more commonly used local name), and as a consequence many windows were bricked up.[2]

Its design effectively overcame much of the problem of fire damage from flammable atmosphere, due to the air containing many fibres, by using a fireproof combination of cast iron columns and cast iron beams,[8] a system which later developed into the modern steel frame which made skyscrapers possible.

The maltings closed in 1987, suffering competition with modern production methods, with the complex left derelict until its purchase by English Heritage with support from the Shrewsbury and Atcham Borough Council and Advantage West Midlands in 2005.[9] Plans to transform the site into offices and shops were given approval in October 2010.[10] Following the split of English Heritage in 2015 the statutory and protection functions of the site were inherited by Historic England with the visitor attractions managed by local charity Friends of the Flaxmill-Maltings.

Following delays to restoration amid the Great Recession a new visitor centre, partly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the European Regional Development Fund, opened in November 2015 in the former office and stables block. Phase Two of the restoration works started in June 2017 involving the Main Mill and the Kiln with an extra grant of £7.9 million on top of the previous £12.1 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund for conversion into a mixed-use venue.[11] This phase involves the restoration of the larger windows from the flax mill era to improve natural lighting although the existing smaller windows from the maltings era have been retained but with the frames replaced.[12]

Buildings in the group[edit]

Along with the main Flax Mill, a number of other buildings in the group are listed for their architectural and historic value: the apprentice house (Grade II*);[13] the dye house (Grade II*);[14] the flax dressing building or Cross Mill (Grade I);[15] the flax warehouse (Grade I);[16] the stables (Grade II);[17] and the workshops and offices (Grade II).[18] The mill and buildings are on the Heritage at Risk Register.

Public access[edit]

The visitor centre, in the former office and stables block, opens to the public on Saturdays from November to March and also on Fridays and Sunday from April to October with limited access to the site given the current restoration works. Free guided tours of the mill are conducted by Friends of the Flaxmill-Maltings on certain Saturdays over the summer and on Heritage Open Days in early to mid September.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ 'Father of the skyscraper' rescued for the nation, English Heritage press release, undated, retrieved 27 May 2007
  2. ^ a b W. G. Rimmer, 'Castle Foregate Flax Mill, Shrewsbury' Transactions of Shropshire Archaeological Society LVI (1957–60), 49ff.
  3. ^ Historic England. "Former Ditherington Flax Mill and attached former Malting Kiln (458193)". Images of England. Retrieved 27 May 2007.
  4. ^ Jones, Nigel (2005). Architecture of England, Scotland, and Wales. England: Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 92. ISBN 0-313-31850-6. Retrieved 10 May 2008.
  5. ^ "Charles Bage and Iron Construction". Revolutionary Players. Archived from the original on 15 June 2011. Retrieved 10 May 2008.
  6. ^ "Ditherington Flax Mill". Revolutionary Players. Archived from the original on 15 June 2011. Retrieved 10 May 2008.
  7. ^ "History of Ditherington Flax Mill". BBC Shropshire. Retrieved 10 May 2008.
  8. ^ A. W. Skempton and H. R. Johnson, 'The First iron frames' Architectural Review (March 1962); repr. in R. J. M. Sutherland, Structural Iron 1750–1850 (Ashgate, Aldershot 1997), 25–36.
  9. ^ "Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings Story (see Creating a Master Plan for the future)". Freinds of the Flaxmill-Maltings. Retrieved 21 December 2018.
  10. ^ "Shrewsbury Flax Mill plans approved". Shropshire Star. Retrieved 5 November 2010.
  11. ^ "Shrewsbury Flaxmill: Regeneration will go ahead as project lands extra £7.9 million". Shropshire Star. 9 February 2017. Retrieved 22 December 2018.
  12. ^ "Construction Work at Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings Begins". Historic England news. 14 June 2017. Retrieved 22 December 2018.
  13. ^ Historic England. "Apprentice House of former Ditherington Flax Mill (458195)". Images of England. Retrieved 27 May 2007.
  14. ^ Historic England. "Stove House and Dye House at former Ditherington Flax Mill (458194)". Images of England. Retrieved 27 May 2007.
  15. ^ Historic England. "Flax dressing building at former Ditherington Flax Mill (458196)". Images of England. Retrieved 27 May 2007.
  16. ^ Historic England. "Flax warehouse at former Ditherington Flax Mill (458197)". Images of England. Retrieved 27 May 2007.
  17. ^ Historic England. "Stables of former Ditherington Flax Mill (458198)". Images of England. Retrieved 27 May 2007.
  18. ^ Historic England. "Workshops and offices of former Ditherington Flax Mill (458199)". Images of England. Retrieved 27 May 2007.


External links[edit]