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Charles Bage, the Flax Industry and Shrewsbury’s Iron-Framed Mills

1750 - 2003 (c.)

Image: View of Ditherington Mill in April 2003, the world’s first completely iron-framed building. The factory was built in 1796-1797 to spin flax. It continued to manufacture the product until 1886. After 1897, the buildings were adapted as a maltings by William Jones & Sons. With a brief interruption during World War II, they continued to serve as a maltings until 1987. The building has been empty ever since.

Image from: photograph by Nabi Heydari (April 2003)

Text: Malcolm Dick

Summary

Between 1796 and 1797, the world’s first completely iron-framed building, Ditherington Flax Mill, was built for a partnership, Marshall, Benyon and Bage. Their aim was to create a factory to spin flax which could then be woven into linen. Historically, the purpose of the building was less important than its design by its architect, Charles Bage (1751-1822). Bage created the ancestor of all iron-framed and steel-framed structures, including modern skyscrapers. The building remains largely intact and is currently (2004) unused. It lies within a complex of several former industrial buildings on the outskirts of Shrewsbury town centre.

This article by Malcolm Dick explores the history of Ditherington Mill and places the factory within the context of local industrial developments. It also examines the partnerships in which Bage was involved and looks at his involvement in two other industrial sites in Shrewsbury at Castlefields and Kingsland.

The author has been helped by published research by Barrie Trinder into the industrial archaeology of the mill and archival material at Shropshire Archives. Illustrations are drawn from Shropshire Archives, Birmingham City Archives and contemporary photographs by Nabi Heydari, which were taken in April 2003.



Continue browsing this section

4923-0Charles Bage, the Flax Industry and Shrewsbury’s Iron-Framed Mills 1311-0Shrewsbury’s Industrial Context 1308-0The Location of Ditherington Mill 5123-0Bill for the supply of liquor from Charles Bage to Lord Clive 1792 1328-0Charles Bage and Iron Construction 4664-0Charles Bage: Business and Local Affairs 521-0Thomas and Benjamin Benyon 2431-0John Marshall 2432-0Growing and Preparing Flax 2440-0Processing and Spinning Flax 1316-0Ditherington Flax Mill 2230-0Ditherington Mill: Steam Power 2231-0Ditherington Mill: Steam Power 1341-0Castlefields Mill: Origins 2238-1Castlefields Mill: Steam Power 1312-0Castlefields Mill: the Flax Warehouse 2247-0Castlefields Mill: Gas Lighting 2251-0Castlefields Mill: Gas Lighting 5124-0Castlefields Mill: Sale and Demolition 5125-0Kingsland Mill
Sources and Further Reading

Most of the information about Ditherington Mill can be obtained from Shropshire Archives. A particularly useful primary source is a collection of letters from Charles Bage to William Strutt. Additional material is held at Birmingham City Archives and Leeds University Library. A web search will reveal a limited amount of information.

Rimmer, W G, Marshall’s of Leeds, flax-spinners 1788-1866 (1960).
Tann, Jennifer, The Development of the Factory (London, Cornmarket Press, 1970).
Trinder, Barrie, “Ditherington Flax Mill, Shrewsbury – A Re-evaluation”, Textile History, 23 (2), 1992, pp 189-223.