30 March 2020
Two original 18th century features of Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings, the water tank and bell cote, have been put back in place following vital repairs.
Both the water tank and bell cote were removed from the roof of the south end of the Main Mill in 2019 for careful restoration by Shrewsbury-based metal conservation specialists Heritage Project Contracts.
Fully repaired and repainted, they were refitted in early March 2020. The original water tank, with its modern cladding removed, is now visible for the first time in over half a century.
The large cast iron water tank sits over the stairs at the south end of the Main Mill, next to the South Engine House. The bell cote, also made of cast iron, sits on top of the water tank.
The water tank had been covered over with corrugated iron cladding in the mid-20th century. Investigation in 2019, after the cladding was removed, showed that the water tank, together with the cast iron beams that support it, were an original part of the Main Mill, built in 1797.
The bell cote, which we had thought to be a later addition, was also found to be part of the original structure. So we now know that both the water tank and bell cote are original features from the earliest phase of the Main Mill in 1797.
The innovative early technology of the water tank, with large bolted cast iron plates and watertight joints, is very similar to that used for the aqueduct at Longdon-on-Tern in Shropshire, built in 1796 by the great engineer Thomas Telford. We can now recognise the Flaxmill water tank as a remarkable survivor, one of the earliest identified in the UK.
The water tank is made of heavy cast iron plates, bolted together. Despite its location at a high level, the outer faces of the iron plates all have a delicate decorative beading pattern.
It’s quite large – over four metres in length, with a capacity of around 3,000 gallons. Water would have been pumped up for storage at high level, and used for the steam engine and other factory processes.
The bell cote is a tall, open structure with a little pyramid roof, to shelter the bell. The bell had the date 1797 cast into it. Sadly, it went missing after the Maltings closed in 1987, and all efforts to trace it have so far been unsuccessful, but we’re continuing to search.
Located at the highest point of the Flaxmill, the bell would have been rung to signal the start and finish of every working day at the factory. Originally operated by a pull rope, it continued in use after World War II with an electric chiming mechanism. It would have been a familiar local feature for two centuries.
The familiar rooftop profile of the Main Mill at Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings is once again complete with the restored coronet, water tank and bell cote all now visible from across the town.
We are so pleased that these two original parts of the 1797 Main Mill have been saved for future generations to enjoy.
We’d like to say a special thank you to The National Lottery Heritage Fund, Worshipful Company of Ironmongers and all those who have donated to the project to date.