1 December 2020
2020 has been a strange year for everyone, but work to restore one of the most important and influential historic buildings of the modern age has progressed well, despite the challenges of working through a pandemic.
Construction work briefly paused in the spring, but soon started again with new measures in place to keep our hard-working construction teams from Croft Building and Conservation and Alun Griffiths safe.
The impact of COVID-19 on the construction industry and its suppliers has affected the original work schedule, putting the original opening date back by a few months, but works have pressed ahead.
The Main Mill and Kiln at Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings will open in 2022, with the new visitor experience and café opening on the ground floor and the top four floors available for commercial tenants.
Here are some of our 2020 highlights.
The iconic coronet, which is the highest point of Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings, was added in 1897 to mark Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. After 122 years in place it was in urgent need of repair and was removed in May 2019.
Shortly afterwards, a crowdfunding campaign to raise the funds needed to restore it was launched by Historic England. The campaign was successful in raising almost £11,000, and Historic England secured the remaining costs of the conservation work to the coronet from patrons and individuals.
After its removal, the coronet was taken to Shrewsbury-based specialist metal conservation workshop, Heritage Project Contracts. There it underwent months of painstaking work to repair it. Fractured ironwork was re-stitched and missing and decayed decorative elements were recreated. Finally, it was re-painted and the beautiful sunflower and crown details gilded.
In January 2020 it was put back in place on top of the Jubilee Tower, restoring this historic part of Shrewsbury’s skyline.
Two original 18th-century features of Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings, the water tank and bell cote, also underwent 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 the Shrewsbury-based metal conservation specialists Heritage Project Contracts.
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.
Fully repaired and repainted, they were refitted in early March 2020. The original water tank, with its modern cladding removed, is visible for the first time in over half a century.
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 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 the Second World War with an electric chiming mechanism. It would have been a familiar local feature for two centuries.
Although the bell cote has been restored and reinstalled, the bell itself was lost many years ago and the search for the original bell, or a replacement that closely resembles it, continues.
In July 2020, the scaffolding on the 1797 ‘Old South Engine House’ and the 1810 ‘New South Engine House’ at Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings was finally removed.
Works to this part of the Main Mill have repaired the exteriors of both the Old and New Engine Houses. The slate roofs have been retiled, brick walls repaired and repointed, windows restored and the hoist tower repainted.
The eye-catching projecting timber hoist tower was added to the west side of the New South Engine House in 1897, as part of the conversion to a maltings. It has been repainted in the striking original deep red, instead of the post-war green.
The second and ‘New’ South Engine House was built in 1810. Unusually, the Old Engine House was retained, not demolished and replaced – which is why Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings has such an early surviving example. This new building had a 60-horsepower steam engine installed, replacing the earlier engine.
In the Old South Engine House, the room which housed the original Boulton and Watt steam engine has been excavated to its full depth. It will be a dramatic three-level space, housing the public toilets for visitors. The upper floors will contain toilets for the commercial tenants and plant rooms for the mechanical and electrical equipment needed to run the building.
The New South Engine House will not have access for public visitors, but will play an important role for commercial tenants and behind the scenes. It will contain the new kitchen for the café, with meeting rooms for the commercial tenants on the upper floors. The original hoist machinery has been retained on the top floor and will be a feature of the commercial space.
In October 2020 scaffolding which had surrounded the highest point of Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings since April 2019 was removed.
The three-storey Jubilee Tower and its iconic coronet have been a familiar part of the Shrewsbury skyline for over 100 years and can now be seen once again in all their glory.
During the maltings period, vast quantities of grain needed to be moved around the site. The Jubilee Tower originally contained a hoist elevator for moving germinated barley from the wide open floor spaces in the Main Mill and Cross Mill, to the Kiln for roasting – an essential part of the process to produce malt for beer brewing. Elements of the elevator can still be seen in the tower.
The Jubilee Tower has now been painstakingly restored to its former glory. The leaking roof and dilapidated cladding had caused serious problems of rot to the timber framework, requiring extensive repairs.
The timber cladding boards have been replaced, along with a new roof of traditional leadwork. The whole tower has been repainted in its beautiful original deep red. Skilled craftsmen have reinstated the windows, and black metal railings have been added around the top of the tower.
The familiar rooftop profile of the Main Mill at Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings is once again complete with the restored Jubilee Tower, coronet, water tank and bell cote all now visible from across the town.
The 1898 Grade II listed Kiln building has undergone a huge transformation during 2020 as part of the restoration.
It was added during the conversion from a flax mill to a maltings and is being prepared for future use as the entrance for commercial tenants.
In early 2019, complex internal scaffold and shoring support to the Kiln was put in place. Work then began on deconstructing the distinctive pyramid roof. The roof slates had been stripped in 1987 leaving only a temporary felt roof, so the steel and timber structures were all in poor condition and needed to be replaced.
In July 2019 the new steel roof structure was successfully installed, using a huge crane to lift the heavy steel beams, then the new timber roof rafters were put in place. A new skylight at the very top of the roof has been installed and by the end of this year 7,200 new Welsh slates from Penrhyn Quarry will have been used to complete the new roof.
Inside the Kiln, new steelwork for a lift shaft and walkways to the upper floors of the Main Mill has been put in. There have also been lots of careful repairs to the walls with matching brickwork both inside and out.
The Kiln will provide a breath-taking view when people first set foot in the building and will be the main entrance for the commercial tenants. Visitors to the new interpretation will be able to look in from the Kiln South Vault.
The Friends of the Flaxmill Maltings are celebrating 10 years since their formation in August 2010.
Working in partnership with the site’s owners, Historic England, the Friends have been vital in developing the vision to bring this site back to life. They have led the way in engaging the community and helping people to learn more about the historic buildings and their former uses, as well as the people who lived and worked here.
The Friends of the Flaxmill Maltings came about because local councillor, Alan Mosley, believed that a local group able to inform, involve and engage with the local and wider community would greatly strengthen bidding projects and he was proven right. A public meeting resulted in a committee made up of local people and later a trust with company and charity status with Alan as Chair.
In the 10 years since, hard-working volunteers have generously given over 17,000 hours of their time to the project. This has included hosting popular tours and talks, managing the Visitor Centre, overseeing education programmes, hand stitching garments, art projects, organising Heritage Open Days and Family Fun Days, and researching the history. Their work has gained great public acclaim.
In 2022 the Friends are set to open an exciting new visitor attraction on site with experiences for all. So, their original aim ‘to bring the Flaxmill Maltings back to life at the heart of the community’, will be well and truly realised.