Columns pre-work condition
Columns of the Main Mill's iron frame before the many layers of paint were grit-blasted away © Historic England

Progress at Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings in 2019

1 December 2019

Please note, this release was written before Covid-19. The opening date for Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings is now 2022.

2019 has been another amazing year at one of the most important and influential historic buildings of the modern age.

We want to share what’s been achieved this year on the journey to restore the world’s oldest iron-framed building, Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings.

Here are some of our highlights.

The Kiln takes shape

Added in 1898, the impressive Grade 2 listed Kiln sits adjacent to the North Engine House and the world’s first iron-framed building, the Main Mill.

In early 2019 the complex internal scaffold and shoring support to the Kiln was put in place. Work then began on deconstructing the distinctive pyramid roof.

In July the new steel roof structure was successfully installed, using a huge crane to lift the vast steel beams. The timber roof rafters are now in place, ready for the Welsh slate roof tiles to go on in the New Year. The internal scaffold was taken down this autumn, revealing the breath-taking view that people will experience when they first set foot in the building when it opens in summer 2021.

Safeguarding and protecting wildlife on site

The vast empty buildings on site have become home to several bat species over the years, including the pipistrelle, brown long-eared and a few of the rare lesser horseshoe bats. As protected species, we’ve been working hard to ensure they still have a safe and secure habitat here on site.

As part of these efforts, in spring 2019 a project to build a new bat roost in the Ecology Zone in the north-west corner of the site was completed. Funding for this was from the Marches Local Enterprise Partnership via its Growth Deal with Government.

We’ve been consulting with our ecology specialist on the next stage, which will be to open the new roost up for our resident bats, which will happen in 2020.

Excavation reveals huge chimney

Earlier this year, an image from the mid–late 19th century came to our attention, kindly shared by the Mansell family whose ancestors owned a business and lived in the shadow of Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings. The background of the photograph shows the Main Mill with its original flax-era windows and the long-lost chimney – all of this detail was previously unseen.

This find came at the perfect time, as an excavation this summer revealed the base of the enormous chimney which was once a prominent feature of the site when it operated as a flax mill. The chimney stack was added to the Main Mill in 1841 and was probably around twice as tall as the four storey building.

We’re very grateful to the Mansell family for sharing this wonderful photograph, and encourage anyone who may have images, drawings, documents or other artefacts relating to Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings to get in touch.

Original iron work from 1797 exposed

Painstaking work this year has revealed the original finish of the Main Mill’s iron frame – the extraordinary piece of engineering which makes this building a world first.

The frame was grit-blasted to remove previous layers of paint in preparation for fresh layers of fire-protective intumescent paint to be applied. The bare frame revealed mould marks from when the frame was first cast and flaws in the surface of the iron, all visible for the first time in two centuries.

Coronet restored

The coronet which sits proudly above the Flaxmill Maltings has been restored and was put back in place on top of the Jubilee Tower in early 2020.

Installed in 1897 as part of the celebrations for Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee, it was in need of some care and attention. It has now been lovingly restored thanks to the generosity of those who gave to our crowd-funding campaign, and the skill and expertise of the team at Shrewsbury-based company Heritage Project Contracts. We hope you’ll agree that it looks incredible.

Other achievements for Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings

Mayor of Shrewsbury Award

In March 2019, Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings was named overall winner in the Built Heritage category at the Mayor of Shrewsbury Awards.

The awards recognise individuals, groups, initiatives, organisations and businesses which contribute positively to Shrewsbury town and we were delighted that the project was recognised at this prestigious local event.

Visitor attraction

It’s also been a great year for visitors, with over 4,500 people coming to learn more about the world’s first iron-framed building and to see progress on the restoration. The visitor centre, the Heritage Open Days and family fun days, all run by the Friends of the Flaxmill Maltings, have proved more popular than ever this year. Many people have experienced a tour of or a talk about the project, and press and potential commercial tenants have been welcomed to site too.

Educating at every opportunity

The project also continues to make the most of the opportunity to educate and increase knowledge and skills of people of all ages; 181 people have taken part in training, CPD or heritage skills activities as part of our Heritage Skills project. Also, over 300 local school children have been hosted on education workshops.

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