This is really an iconic building of the industrialisation and a must-have-seen for everybody who is interested in the history of the industry: The 5-storey 55 m long red brick building at the northern suburbs of Shrewsbury was the first iron-framed building in the world. Together with Abraham Darby's first coke-fired furnace (at Coalbrookdale), the Ironbridge (at Ironbridge) and the invention of the Thomas-Process by Sir Gilchrist Thomas (at Blaenavon) it marks the start of mass production and use of iron and steel. The use of iron beams and columns were an important progress for the textile industry because their buildings were always under thread of fire.
The building was erected in 1796-97 for John Marshall, the Leeds flax spinner, and his partners including the factory’s designer, Charles Bage, who had a profound understanding of the structural properties of iron, although he had previously made his living as a land surveyor and wine merchant. Betweenload-bearing brick walls run three lines of cruciform-section, cast-iron columns carrying iron cross-beams from which spring arches carrying the floors above. Two other buildings on the site, a flax warehouse of circa 1804 and a cross wing of circa 1812 that houses the hackling processes, are also iron-framed.
John Marshall’s principal partners, Thomas and Benjamin Benyon, with Charles Bage, left the partnership in 1804 to form their own parallel business, with mills in both Shrewsbury and Leeds. The Ditherington mill continued as part of the Marshall family’s Leeds-based business, specialising in the manufacture of thread, until the company was closed down by the grandsons of the founder in 1886. The mill’s raw materials were drawn from many parts of Europe, including Flanders, northern Germany and the Baltic states. About 1898 the building was adapted as a maltings by William Jones, a Welshman who founded a substantial malting company after returning to Britain from a spell in a Welsh-speaking colony in Pennsylvania. Traditional floor-malting methods were employed until the business closed in 1987.
There has subsequently been much uncertainty over the building’s future, but in 2005 it was purchased by English Heritage, and agreements with a developer for its future use were finalised in 2007. Since then a lot of restoration work and development took place. In 2015 an interactive visitor experience and education facility opened, managed by the 'Friends of the Flaxmill Maltings'. It chartes the site’s history, along with the story of its engineering, architectural and social legacy.