A photograph showing an open roof space and a circular piece of hoist tower machinery
New South Engine House, maltings era 1897 hoist tower machinery © Historic England

South Engine Houses and Hoist Tower Restored

30 July 2020

In July 2020, the scaffolding on the 1797 ‘Old South Engine House’ and the 1810 ‘New South Engine House’ at Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings was removed following vital repairs to the buildings.

The repair of the South Engine Houses marks another step forward in the restoration of the world’s first iron-framed building.

A photograph of a five storey engine house with a timber hoist tower protruding from the side.
The restored New and Old South Engine Houses and the newly repainted 1897 timber hoist tower © Historic England

Works 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. There is just a small amount of brick re-pointing and repair work left to be completed near ground level, so some low level scaffold remains here.

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.

A photograph of a five storey mill building from the side showing a timber hoist tower structure on the left hand side of the building.
A pre-restoration shot of the timber hoist tower © Historic England BB92/03172

The Old South Engine House was part of the original 1797 mill, which was powered by steam.

Evidence in the form of the original order form from May 1796 shows that the original Old South Engine house was home to a 20-horsepower Boulton and Watt steam engine which powered the flax spinning machinery. The steam that powered the engine came from the boiler houses which were located at the front of the Main Mill.

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.

The top two storeys of the New South Engine House were added in 1874 when a third more compact Corliss steam engine was fitted.

Although both engine houses have many features remaining from the steam era, the engines have long gone.

A photograph of the interior of an engine house, showing grease staining from a flywheel of a steam engine.
New South Engine House interior. Grease staining from flywheel of the 1874 Corliss steam engine was revealed during the repair works. © Historic England DP263062

Future use of the South Engine Houses

Both of the South Engine Houses will have crucial roles to play when the Main Mill and Kiln open to the public.

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.

On the roof of the Old South Engine House are the original water tank and bell cote which have also been lovingly restored, revealing previously hidden details. However, the bell went missing several years ago and efforts to trace it so far have not been successful.

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 maltings-era hoist machinery has been retained on the top floor, as part of the commercial office area. A selection of images of the exterior of the original maltings hoist tower, the machinery inside which was used to hoist the sacks of barley and a CGI of the future meeting room are in the gallery below.

The internal fit out of these buildings will happen as part of the final stage of the Main Mill and Kiln restoration project.

Gallery of photos of the original maltings hoist tower and machinery

We are delighted that the South Engine Houses have been saved and are well on their way to being ready for a third century of use.

We’d like to say a special thank you to The National Lottery Heritage Fund, The Wolfson Foundation and everyone who has donated to the project to date.

Also, thank you to the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers who donated towards the restoration of the bell cote and water tower which sit on top of the Old South Engine House.

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