Kingsland Mill

Image: Sales Particulars for the contents of Kingsland Linen Mill from a Shrewsbury newspaper advert 5 October 1827.

Image from: Shropshire Archives

After Bage left his partnership with the Benyons in 1815, he built a new smaller steam-powered factory to weave linen cloth at Kingsland in Shrewsbury. The mill was a single-storey structure and employed up to 70 workers. It was built of brick and may not have used the iron-framed construction which Bage applied at Ditherington and Castlefields. As it was a single storey building, an iron fire proof construction was not necessary to support upper floors. Bage tried to develop a power loom for weaving linen. He wrote to Strutt: “Being no longer a spinner, and having little else to do, I have been constructing a loom on a plan quite new, and am about to try it with four horse power. Linen has not been advantageously wove with by power looms, and having the weakness of other projectors, I flatter myself I shall succeed better.”  He did not succeed in producing a viable power loom.

Following Bage’s death in 1822, the factory was run by his widow, Ann, but the business went bankrupt in 1827. A local advertisement listed the contents for sale in the mill which included a four horse-power steam engine, a variety of power and hand-operated looms.   In 1829, Thomas Burr, a local entrepreneur, bought the building from Ann Bage. A London plumber by trade, he moved to Shrewsbury in 1813 and patented Burr’s Lead Squirting Press in 1820 which revolutionised the production of lead pipes. The Kingsland factory site was developed as a lead manufactory.


Castlefields Mill: Sale and Demolition

Image: Diagram of the Castlefield’s Mill from the sales particulars of 1835.

Image from: Shropshire Archives

In 1815-16, Charles Bage left the partnership with the Benyon brothers. The Castlefields Mill continued to operate until the early 1830s until the deaths of Thomas and Benjamin Benyon in 1833 and 1834 respectively. They left the property to their descendants but stipulated that it should be sold. It was offered for sale in 1833, 1835 and 1836 and eventually bought by a local builder and demolished. The loss of the mill had a significant effect on Shrewsbury’s economy (see section 1).

Castlefields Mill: Gas Lighting

Image: Notes with sketches regarding particulars of a lighting apparatus for Messrs Benyon, Benton and Bage, 24 May 1811 (Boulton & Watt Papers pf 5 805).

Image from: Birmingham City Archives

Bage discussed his experiments with furnaces and retorts in several letters to William Strutt between 1807 and 1810.  The Benyons and Bage ordered relevant equipment from Boulton and Watt. The production and application of gas like the use of iron as a construction material was one of Bage’s great interests.

Castlefields Mill: Gas Lighting

Image: General View of Mill for Messrs Benyon, Benyon and Bage, 1811 (Boulton & Watt pf 5 805). The view of the mill provides information on the number of burners.

Image from: Birmingham City Archives

Boulton & Watt were one of the important pioneers of gas lighting in Britain. Though the role of their employee, William Murdoch as a pioneer of gas lighting has been exaggerated, the firm began to manufacture and supply gas lighting to factories in the early 19th century. Though the first customers were cotton factories in Lancashire and Scotland after 1806, other businesses also purchased furnaces and retorts. Marshall secured equipment for his Leeds and Shrewsbury businesses in 1810 and 1811. Benyon, Benyon and Bage installed Boulton & Watt equipment at Castlefields in 1811 which cost over £758.

Castlefields Mill: the Flax Warehouse

Image: The only surviving part of Bage’s Castlefields Flax Mill, Shrewsbury. The building now contains private dwellings in Severn Street.

Image from: Shropshire Archives

The factory was extended by 1811 to include additional buildings. Most of the structure has since been demolished, but part of it survives as numbers 5-8a Severn Street in Shrewsbury. This was described in 1811 as the ‘new building” and may have been a flax warehouse.  The surviving building is iron-framed. Flax was an inflammable material, and substantial quantities were stored prior to manufacturing, so it was important to create a fire-proof structure for the warehouse.

Castlefields Mill: Steam Power

Image: Side View of Engine for Messrs Benyon, Benyon and Bage, 1804 (Boulton & Watt pf 5. 338).

Image from: Birmingham City Archives

The two Benyon brothers and Bage ordered a 20 horse power steam engine from Boulton & Watt’s Soho Foundry. A second 75 horse power engine was supplied by Fenton and Murray in Leeds.

Castlefields Mill: Origins

Image: Print of the Castlefields works designed built by Thomas and Benjamin Benyon and designed by Charles Bage. No date.

Image from: Shropshire Archives

In 1804 following the end of the partnership with John Marshall of Leeds, Thomas and Benjamin Benyon, together with Charles Bage built a new mill at Castlefields, Shrewsbury about 800 yards from the Ditherington Mill and between the River Severn and the Shrewsbury Canal. Once again Bage designed the building. It was a five-storey, iron-framed construction with a floor area of 3,446 square metres and included two steam engines to power machines to produce linen thread.

Ditherington Mill: Steam Power

Image: General Plan of the Engine and Boiler for Messrs Benyons, Marshall and Bage, 29th  April 1797 ((Boulton & Watt pf 5. 136).

Image from: Birmingham City Archives

Ditherington’s first engine was operated by Watt’s rotary machine and was used to power flax spinning machinery. The plan shows an aerial view of the two boilers on the right (blue), the cylinder and condenser in the centre (grey) and the flywheel of the sun and planet gear on the left (grey).

Ditherington Mill: Steam Power

Image: General View of the Engine and Boilers for Messrs Benyons, Marshall and Bage, 29th April 1797 ((Boulton & Watt pf 5. 136).

Image from: Birmingham City Archives

In May 1796, John Marshall and the Benyon brothers told Boulton & Watt near Birmingham that they would need a steam engine by February 1797. They built the Soho Foundry in Smethwick in 1795 especially to build steam engines. Delays affected the delivery time, but in June 1797 an engine was sent to Shrewsbury by canal and the River Severn via Stourport. The engine was erected on site by John Varley and by November it was operating.  Engineering drawings survive in the Boulton and Watt papers in Birmingham City Archives which give its dimensions.

Ditherington Flax Mill

Image: Ditherington Mill. Three lines of cast-iron columns run along each floor, supporting cast-iron beams. Each beam is cast in two halves which are bolted together through heavy flanges.

Image from: Shropshire Archives

Charles Bage’s Ditherington Mill was expensive to build. Marshall, Benyon and Bage invested £17,000 in buildings and equipment before 1804.  It was also huge. The main mill had five floors including an attic and had a working area of 2,880 square metres. Its cast-iron construction was its most important feature. A number of extensions and new buildings were added in the early nineteenth-century, including a flax warehouse, two apprentice houses and a blacksmith’s shop. It was an important part of Shrewsbury’s physical, economic and social landscape. One writer announced:

“In the Year 1796, a considerable manufactory of linen was established at the end of the suburb called Castle-Foregate, by Messrs Benyon and Bage, of this place and Mr Marshall of Leeds. This has already attained to great perfection under the spirited and skilful management of these gentlemen, who are entitled to just praise for their humane and judicial attention to the health and morals of the numerous young persons they employ. The buildings are very extensive, and are secured from the ravages of fire by the exclusion of timber from almost every part of their construction, the roofs and floors are supported on brick vaults, the window frames, and all other parts where wood is used in building are here of cast-iron. The machinery, which is of wonderful contrivance, is worked by two steam engines.”

Processing and Spinning Flax

Image: Heckling Machine at Marshall’s Mill, Leeds. The Useful Arts and Manufactures of Great Britain, vol. 1 (London, SPCK, 1846?).

Image from: Science, Technology and Management, Birmingham Central Library

After drying, the flax stems were bruised and broken using a machine called the brake. Alternatively they were crushed with rollers revolving in contrary directions. The bruised flax was then inserted into a scratching frame and repeatedly struck with a flat wooden sword or scrutcher. This process separated the pieces of wood from the fibre. In flax mills breaking was performed mechanically.

Once the flax was removed from the woody particles it was converted into yarn. In flax mills the flax was lifted to the top floor of a mill and separated into different lengths and the ends of the fibres were roughened prior to spinning.

Heckling or hackling involved cleaning, splitting and separating the filaments of flax. Dirt and small fibres were removed using combs. In flax mills a mechanically operated heckling machine was used.  Frequently, heckling was carried out in a separate building from spinning. This was the case at Ditherington.

After heckling the heckled flax, known as line, was sorted according to their degree of fineness. It was then converted into ribands or slivers where it was converted into a flat narrow tape and subsequently given a slight twist.

The flax was then spun. Prior to industrialisation, this was conducted by women in the cottage of the flax weaver. In flax mills this was conducted mechanically, using machines similar to Arkwright’s water frame which had been developed for the production of cotton yarn.  Weaving flax into linen by machine proved to be much more difficult as Charles Bage found at his Kingsland Factory.

Growing and Preparing Flax

Image: The flax plant. The Useful Arts and Manufactures of Great Britain, vol. 1 (London, SPCK, 1846?).

Image from: Science, Technology and Management, Birmingham Central Library

Linen cloth is produced from the fibres of a plant, flax. Flax spinning and the weaving of woollen cloth developed as an industry in the Middle East in ancient times. Flax was grown across the world and by the late eighteenth century its cultivation was widespread in the Netherlands, France, Russia and Prussia. After harvesting, the crop was rippled where flax was drawn through the teeth of a comb to remove the bolls or seed-heads from the stalks. The bolls could then be used for cattle feed.

The next stage was steeping or retting to enable the fibrous bark to be separated from the woody portion of the stem. The stalks were soaked in water and after eight to twelve days, the flax was removed and dried.

After these preparatory activities which were performed where the flax was grown, the raw flax was processed prior to spinning. By the late eighteenth century, flax mills were conducting a lot of the work, often at some distance from the place of origin of the crop itself. Examples included John Marshall’s factories in Leeds and the Ditherington Mill of  Marshall, Benyon and Bage.

John Marshall

Image: Interior of Marshall’s one-storied flax mill at Leeds. The roof of the building was supported by iron pillars and light was provided through a conical skylight. A number of processes were carried out in the factory including spinning. Heckling and other tasks which generated dirt and dust were carried out in another mill. The Useful Arts and Manufactures of Great Britain, vol. 1 (London, SPCK, 1846?).

Image from: Science, Technology and Management, Birmingham Central Library

John Marshall (1765 -1845) was central to the development of the linen industry in Britain. His father was a Unitarian linen merchant in Leeds who attended the same chapel as Joseph Priestley. After his father’s death in 1787, he began manufacturing, having purchased the rights to a flax-spinning machine. Together with two other partners, Samuel Fenton and Ralph Dearlove, he leased a water mill near Leeds to spin flax into linen thread. They built another mill in 1791 and in 1793, following a trade recession, the other two partners left leaving Marshall as the sole proprietor. In the same year, he joined with Thomas and Benjamin Benyon to form a new partnership.  John Marshall was unhappy with the partnership, and in 1804, after several years of profitable operation, bought out the partners.

During the first half of the nineteenth century flax spinning was profitable. In 1808 the property was valued at £17,000 but by 1816 the figure had reached £90,000. Until 1886, when factory production at Ditherington ceased, the mill was part of the Marshall industrial empire, “the largest firm of flax spinners in Europe”. Between 1811 and 1814 it briefly manufactured canvas and other fabrics and employed up to 48 weavers, but it concentrated on producing flax thread until the business closed. Flax spinning was profitable during John Marshall’s management of the business, but the firm declined after 1846 under his sons and grandsons and production ended in 1886.

Thomas and Benjamin Benyon

Image: New Bridge and Abbey, Shrewsbury. Designed by John Gwynn in 1768, the New Bridge or English Bridge, which was opened in 1774, was evidence of Shrewsbury’s participation in the economic growth of the late eighteenth century. Shrewsbury’s improving communications assisted the Benyon brothers in their pursuit of commercial success. Thomas Harral, Picturesque Views of the Severn (1824).

Image from: Shropshire Archives

Thomas and Benjamin Benyon were Shrewsbury wool merchants. In 1790 they owned warehouses in the town and probably purchased woollen cloth from Wales and sold it in Shrewsbury. They were successful businessmen. After ten years of activity, they had earned £13,000. Their commercial activity and a shared Unitarian religion brought them into close contact with another successful entrepreneur, John Marshall.  From at least 1792, they had engaged in business deals with John Marshall of Leeds and the three men entered a partnership to finance a flax mill there in 1795. Marshall contributed £9,000 and the Benyons jointly provided the same amount. When this mill was damaged by fire in February 1796, they decided to construct a new mill in Shrewsbury. Mill fires were particularly common and industrialists were looking at ways of reducing the risk of fire. In May, Charles Bage joined the partnership. Bage was not a successful businessman but he had knowledge of construction techniques using iron. His design skills were responsible for the creation of a distinctive and pioneering building.

Charles Bage: Business and Local Affairs

Image: St Chad’s Church, Shrewsbury, built in 1792. The building was designed by the architect George Steuart, who built Attingham hall, near Shrewsbury. Charles Bage was buried in the churchyard.

Photograph: Nabi Heydari (April 2003)

Charles Bage was interested in science, culture and local politics. Like his father Robert, he commanded a great deal of respect, but lacked a commitment to the business ethic. When Marshall wrote about the end of the partnership in 1804 with Bage and the Benyon Brothers in the Ditherington Mill, he described him as follows: “Mr Bage was possessed of talent, and had a cultivated understanding, but he was not a man of business and perseverance, sufficient knowledge of commercial transactions to form a correct judgement of the mode of conducting them; and he was completely under the control of Mr B. Benyon.” Marshall offered Bage a share in the new concern “more from a wish to act honourably towards him, than on account of his value as a partner…” Bage, though, got a better offer from the Benyons to enter a new partnership to build the Castlefields Mill. The Benyons probably recognised Bage’s capacity as a builder and insight as an inventor. The new business enabled him to increase his capital, but on the dissolution of this partnership in 1815-16, Bage established his own mill at Kingsland which, in Marshall’s words “has not been profitable.”

A letter written by Bage to William Strutt from the Buxton Centre Hotel provides an insight into his mind: “So here I am, enjoying idleness and perfect vacuity of mind. I hardly understand the satisfaction you take in continual labour of mind, and since you are ambitious of continuing in this world as long as you can, you should not work on the machine too hard, but give it occasionally a little relaxation oil.”

Bage’s correspondence with Strutt shows that he held radical views. Writing in 1818 during the period of Lord Liverpool’s “repressive” Tory administration, he was concerned “that Government is becoming everyday more and more absolute, and in the end Parliament will be either discontinued or merely complying and adulatory like the old Roman Senate.”   One letter shows that he did not lean as far as the Unitarians, Strutt, Marshall and the Benyons in supporting the amelioration of working-class conditions. Bage believed that stimulating working-class improvement would encourage unrest and lead to more repressive legislation.  Like his father, Robert, the “Jacobin novelist”, Charles Bage was a political radical. He was not a social paternalist like several nonconformist industrialists of the early nineteenth century. Nevertheless, Bage was involved in establishing a Lancasterian school for local poor children in Shrewsbury.

Bage was active in other local enterprises. He established the first gas company in Shrewsbury and served as mayor of the town. He died in 1822 and was buried in the graveyard of St Chad’s Church, Shrewsbury.

Charles Bage and Iron Construction

Image: The ground floor of Charles Bage’s Ditherington Mill showing the iron columns used in construction. The picture provides an impression of the interior scale of the building.

Image from: Shropshire Archives

Marshall and the Benyon Brothers experienced a devastating fire at one of their mills in Water Lane, Leeds on 13 February 1796. The cost was estimated at £10,000, only half of which was met by insurance. 11 Undoubtedly, they wanted a different mode of construction for a new fire-proof building. The mill in Shrewsbury provided this opportunity.

Charles Bage had a great understanding of the structural properties of iron. This is revealed in various records, including his correspondence with the factory master, William Strutt in Derbyshire who shared his interest in iron construction, 12 his discussion in 1801 of Thomas Telford’s design for London Bridge 13 and the building of the pioneering iron-beamed mill at Ditherington.

Bage’s friendship with William Strutt (1756-1830) of Belper in Derbyshire extended his knowledge of the use of iron in mill construction. In 1792-1793, Strutt had built a cotton factory in Derby which used cast and wrought iron as integral parts of its brick and wood structure. He expanded the use of iron to build the six-storey West Mill in Belper in 1795. Bage’s correspondence with Strutt, dating from the early 19th century provides an insight into his understanding of the structural properties of the metal and other subjects such as furnaces, gas lighting and bleaching flax. 14 Bage recognised his debt to Strutt “for teaching us to make buildings fireproof.” 15

Before Ditherington, Shropshire had pioneered new uses for iron. “Iron Mad” John Wilkinson had forges in Shropshire and he was one of the supporters of the famous iron bridge near Coalbrookdale. This structure was designed by the Shrewsbury architect, Thomas Farnolls Pritchard using iron supplied by Abraham Darby III. 16

Bage was also part of the network of technological pioneers in Shropshire. 17 They included Thomas Telford the builder of churches, roads, bridges, aqueducts and canals, and William and Joseph Reynolds, two members of an ironmaking dynasty. 18 Joseph Reynolds provided Bage with details of experiments into the structural properties of iron carried out for the construction of the Longdon-on-Tern Aqueduct on the Shrewsbury Canal. Another local industrialist, William Hazledine (1763-1840) made the upright columns of iron and the iron cross-beams for Ditherington at his foundry at Coleham in Shrewsbury. Hazledine also produced iron for Thomas Telford’s Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and the Menai Suspension Bridge. 19

11 Rimmer, op.cit., p 45.
12 Shropshire Archives.
13 Trinder, op.cit., p 193 and footnote 20.
14 Bage to Strutt, 1802 to 1818, Shropshire Archives.
15 Bage to Strutt, 28 October, 1811, Shropshire Archives.
16 Richard Hayman and Wendy Horton, Ironbridge, History and Guide (Stroud, Tempus, 1999), ch. 4.
17 Trinder, The Industrial Revolution in Shropshire, third edition (Chichester, Phillimore, 2000), p. 106-108.
18 Joseph Reynolds provided Bage with details of his experiments on the structural properties of cast-iron. Bage to Strutt, n.d, Shropshire Archives.
19 Trinder, op.cit., p. 190.

Bill for the supply of liquor from Charles Bage to Lord Clive 1792

Image: Bill for the supply of liquor from Charles Bage to Lord Clive 1792.

Image from: Shropshire Archives

Charles Bage was born in Derby in 1751, the son of Robert Bage (1730-1801), the manager of a local paper mill and his wife, Elizabeth. Shortly after Charles birth, the family moved to Elford near Lichfield in Staffordshire. Robert Bage established a paper mill in Elford, became a close friend of Erasmus Darwin and a partner with Darwin, Samuel Garbett and John Barker in an iron works at Wychnor, near Lichfield from 1764 until 1781. The ironworks was not successful and all partners lost a lot of money. Robert Bage became a successful novelist.7 Nevertheless, the close involvement of the Bage family in a works that tried to produce high quality iron probably involved and influenced Charles Bage. Throughout his life, he was interested in the application of technology including the use of iron in construction and gas in lighting. Charles was also a close friend of Robert Waring Darwin, the son of Erasmus Darwin and father of Charles Darwin. He retained a deep respect for Erasmus Darwin. .8 Charles Bage and Robert Darwin lived in Shrewsbury as adults where the latter had a medical practice.

In 1776, Charles Bage was living in Shrewsbury and by the 1780s he was a wine merchant in the town. 9 In 1793 he was a liquor merchant in Pride Hill and had an account with Lord Clive.10 He also worked as a surveyor and it was presumably in this capacity that he came to the notice of John Marshall and the Benyon brothers as a potential colleague in their scheme to build a new factory.

7 Trinder, op. cit., pp. 192-193; Desmond King-Hele, Erasmus Darwin (London, 1999). See references to Robert Bage and the Wychnor Ironworks.
8 “ in all things we are guided by Dr Darwin in whose skill and care we have the greatest reason to confide.” Charles Bage to William Strutt, 11 August 1818, Shropshire Archives.
9 Trinder, op. cit., p. 193.
10 Shropshire Archives 552/11/793/1-2

The Location of Ditherington Mill

Image: View of Ditherington Mill showing the Shropshire Canal and canal bridge in the foreground from an early 20th century photograph. The Canal was opened in 1797 and it fell into disuse in about 1930. It was officially closed in 1944. 5

Image from: Shropshire Archives

In 1796 John Marshall (1765-1845) and the brothers Thomas and Benjamin Benyon purchased a seven acre site in the hamlet of Ditherington within the suburb of Castle Foregate on the outskirts of Shrewsbury. Benjamin Benyon wanted to return from Leeds to his native town and the partners saw an opportunity to build a factory to twist thread in Shrewsbury. The nearby carpet weavers in Bridgnorth and Kidderminster provided a market for tow yarns, a by-product of thread-making from the mill.

The site was well-chosen. It stood close to the Bagley Brook which provided a water supply and it was only a few hundred yards from port facilities on the River Severn. Ditherington was also on a turnpike route from Shrewsbury to Whitchurch and Market Drayton. These means of transporting goods would allow raw materials and finished products to be moved to and from the factory. Moreover, the factory was built next to the route of the Shrewsbury Canal which had been authorised in 1793 by an Act of Parliament to enable coal to be moved from Oakengates to Shrewsbury more easily than by horse-drawn wagon along the Holyhead Road. The canal was opened in January 1797 and coal could be unloaded directly into the engine house at Ditherington Mill. The subscribers to the canal included local landowners, industrialists and professional men. They included Earl Gower, the industrialists John Wilkinson and William, Richard and Joseph Reynolds and Dr Robert Waring Darwin, a son of Erasmus Darwin, the father of Charles Darwin and a childhood friend of a partner in the Ditherington enterprise, Charles Woolley Bage.6

6 Trinder, op. cit., pp. 204-205, W G Rimmer, The Marshalls of Leeds Flax-Spinners 1788-1886 (Cambridge, 1960), p 54.

Shrewsbury’s Industrial Context

Image: The main mill at Ditherington from the west, c.1945.

Image from: Shropshire Archives

Ditherington Mill developed as part of Shrewsbury’s commercial and industrial history. By the seventeenth century, Shrewsbury was an important centre for the woollen trade. Woven cloth from North Wales was finished in the town and sold to markets further away. The trade declined but the dressing and shearing of cloth continued into the 1790s. Two bothers, Thomas (1762-1833) and Benjamin Benyon (1763-1834) made their income from dealing in wool and ploughed their profits into flax-spinning. 2Factories manufacturing woollen and cotton cloth developed in Shrewsbury and its surrounding area in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries using both water and steam power.

Shrewsbury was close to centres of industrial and technical innovation in the West Midlands and the Ironbridge Gorge. In Coalbrookdale, the Darby family developed new ways of producing iron. Other regional ironmasters such as John Wilkinson pioneered new uses for the metal. Thomas Telford arrived in Shropshire in the 1780s and created an infrastructure of canals and roads in the county. Not surprisingly, other industries developed in the county which benefited from these earlier achievements.

Linen was also a long-established local trade. Originally a domestic activity, it was revolutionised in the 1790s by John Marshall, who introduced factory production in Leeds, Yorkshire. Mechanisation spread to Shrewsbury, given the contacts between Marshall and the Benyon brothers. In Shrewsbury, flax was grown, hackled and spun, but on a small-scale basis. In May 1796, before the building of the Ditherington Mill, 12 flax dressers and 21 flax weavers claimed the right to vote. There is no evidence, however, to show that the Ditherington Mill depended on local flax. The Marshall papers in the University of Leeds show that raw flax was imported to Ditherington after 1811 from the Low Countries, the Baltic, Ireland and Normandy. Little came from England. It is not clear whether there was any transference of skills from Shrewsbury flax workers to employees of the firm. 3

A new flax mill was built by the Benyons and Bage at Castlefields in 1804 to spin flax and a smaller works by Charles Bage himself at Kingsland in 1816 to weave linen. Shrewsbury had three flax mills by the early 1820s. Barrie Trinder estimates that they employed at least 1,500 people or 10% of the town’s population. When Bage’s factory went bankrupt in 1827 and the Castlefields mill closed in the mid 1830s, the town’s economy was badly affected. Shrewsbury’s population actually fell between the censuses of 1831 and 1841. 4

2 Trinder, op. cit., pp 209-210.
3 Trinder, op. cit., pp. 210-210, footnote 71.
3 Trinder, op. cit., pp. 210-212.

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

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


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.