Context 159 - May 2019

14 C O N T E X T 1 5 9 : M A Y 2 0 1 9 HUGH GRIFFITHS Servicing an 18th-century skyscraper A back-to-basics approach to building services in restoring the world’s first iron-framed building will enable Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings to thrive as a workplace in the 21st century. Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings is the world’s first iron-framed building and forerunner of today’s skyscrapers. One of the most important buildings of the industrial revolution, it reflects a time when Shropshire led the way in engi- neering. Abandoned and derelict for 30 years, restoration work is now taking place to save this remarkable industrial building and to bring the site back into use as a centre for culture and creative industries. The Flaxmill was built at Ditherington in 1797, next to the newly constructed Shrewsbury Canal. It was famed for its ‘fireproof construc- tion’. The site developed rapidly and prospered as a steam-powered spinning mill for nearly 100 years. More than 800 men, women and children were employed, manufacturing linen thread from flax, until the demand for textiles declined and the mill closed in 1886. The exceptional importance of the site in the industrial revolution and in world architecture is underlined by not only the world’s first iron-framed building in the Main Mill, but also by a number of other very early iron-framed buildings.There are eight listed buildings on the site, all on the heritage-at-risk register. The buildings stood empty for a decade until the Flaxmill reopened to produce malt for the brewing industry in 1897. It was used as a bar- racks during both world wars and finally closed as a maltings in 1987. The buildings fell into disrepair and the complexity of the site made it difficult for potential developers to secure funding. Concern about the deterioration of the buildings grew until Historic England stepped in to purchase the site in 2005. Conservation master plan Since 2005 Historic England has worked in collaboration with a number of partners, includ- ing Shropshire Council and the Friends of the Flaxmill Maltings. The appointed design The slender cast-iron frame of the Main Mill