View of excavated chimney stack base and privy block at the front (east) side of the Main Mill, taken from above.
View of excavated chimney stack base and privy block at the front (east) side of the Main Mill, taken from above. © Salford Archaeology

Excavation at Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings Reveals Huge Chimney Base

16 December 2019

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

Recent excavation work at Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings has revealed the base of the enormous chimney stack which was once a prominent feature of the site when it operated as a flax mill.

Erected in 1841, the chimney stack would have towered over the Main Mill, which is five storeys high. It was demolished in the late-19th century, when the site was converted into a maltings.

Existing 19th-century plans of the site showed the existence of a chimney stack on the exterior of the Grade I listed Main Mill building – the world’s first iron-framed building. However, there was no other known evidence of it until members of the Mansell Family – once business owners in the Ditherington area – shared an old family photograph with site owners, Historic England, and the Friends of the Flaxmill Maltings.

1855 plan to show location of chimney stack.
1855 plan to show location of chimney stack © Shropshire Archives 6000/19533

The archaeological excavation of the chimney base took place this summer along the Main Mill’s eastern side, prior to work commencing for service and drainage ducts.

The dig, carried out by Historic England, not only revealed the base of the chimney stack, but also evidence of a privy block which stood between the Main Mill’s external wall and the chimney, giving further insight into working conditions of the workers at the flax mill; the excavation revealed that although the flax mill had only basic privy facilities, they did exist and provided toilet facilities to workers on each floor, which was often not the case in mills at that time.

View from above of the excavated chimney stack base and privy block outside the front (east) side of the Main Mill
View from above of the excavated chimney stack base and privy block outside the front (east) side of the Main Mill © Salford Archaeology

We were due to carry out excavation works before we began digging service trenches, but the Mansell family image prompted us to carry out some archaeological excavation sooner, and we were astonished to have found the base of the chimney stack in such good condition. We can even see the curving flues which led into the base of the chimney stack from the boilers, which provided steam to power the Flaxmill. We are incredibly grateful to the Mansell family for sharing their photographs with us. After carrying out some enhancement of the image we were able to get a previously unseen view of the Main Mill in the mid-late 19th century, including of the original windows.
The dig has given us exciting new insights into the history of this site and we are now making plans to include the uncovered chimney base as a permanent feature on site, allowing visitors to see and appreciate it when the Main Mill opens to the public in summer 2021.

Nick Hill, Historic England’s Conservation Projects Manager

A member of the Mansell family shared the photograph after attending a tour of the Flaxmill Maltings in December 2018, led by the Friends of the Flaxmill Maltings. Members of the family, once lived at 83 Spring Gardens; a now demolished row of houses which once sat in the shadow of the Main Mill. Family ties to the site go even further however, with one member of the family, Frank Mansell, being a carpenter for the former maltings and having a workshop in what is now the visitor centre for over 20 years.

Henry Mansell outside number 83 Spring Gardens with the Main Mill of Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings in the background
Henry Mansell outside number 83 Spring Gardens with the Main Mill of Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings in the background. The photo was taken some time between 1871 and 1896, and the old chimney can clearly be seen, along with the original windows which were blocked up during the conversion of the site into a maltings. © Mansell Family

As a family we are very excited to share this photograph of our ancestor Henry Mansell with the Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings. The photograph stood on the sideboard of my great-grandparent’s house at 83 Spring Gardens and was held by my uncle Stephen Mansell, who allowed the original image to be shared. The knowledge that this photograph has supplied additional historical evidence to the restoration team and has led to further excavation is very special to the family. My grandfather, Frank Mansell, worked at the Maltings for many years, and this keeps alive our family connection with the site.

Susanna Henley, Great-Granddaughter of one of the men in the photograph

The structures unearthed as a result of the archaeological dig and the photograph from the Mansell family are fantastic finds. Not only do we have another fascinating story from a family which was once a part of this community, but we also have a rare early photograph of the Main Mill. The newly uncovered chimney base will make an exciting addition to the visitor offer here on site and we very much look forward to being able to share it.

Alan Mosley, Chair of the Friends of the Flaxmill Maltings
Close up of excavated chimney base, including flues.
Close up of excavated chimney base, including flues. © Salford Archaeology

Built in 1797, Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings is the first iron framed building in the world and the grandparent to modern day skyscrapers. Its revolutionary cast iron frame protected it from fires which blighted industry at the time, and is one of the reasons why is still survives today. However, after two centuries of use as a flax mill, a maltings and also as a training centre and barracks during World War II, it closed its doors for the final time in 1987 and fell into disrepair.

In 2005 Historic England (then English Heritage) stepped in to stabilise the building and carry out urgent repairs. Now, thanks to a £20.7 million grant from National Lottery players through The National Lottery Heritage Fund, combined with funding from Historic England, Shropshire Council and support from the Friends of the Flaxmill Maltings, the restoration of the Grade I listed Main Mill and the Grade II Kiln are underway.

When complete in summer 2021, the restored Main Mill and Kiln will provide a new visitor experience and learning space and a café for visitors and members of the public to enjoy on the ground floor, to be operated by the Friends of the Flaxmill Maltings, as well as 28,000 square feet of commercial space on the upper floors.

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