Shrewsbury Flax Mill Maltings is an internationally important industrial heritage site that is being developed for mixed use, with Historic England having secured funding of £2.3m, including £1.17m from the European Regional Development Fund. The project is being led by Historic England in partnership with the Friends of the Flaxmill Maltings and Shropshire Council.
The first part of the development has involved the conversion of two buildings for use by the Friends of the Flaxmill Maltings for cultural and heritage interpretation. We have been working with The Workhaus and Creative Good to bring the site’s history to life through this project.
Five interactive exhibits use archive and newly-created material to tell the story of the site and the lives of the workers there. Visitors learn about:
- How flax was processed from the field to the end product, including features on a a wide range of items from ships’ sails to playing cards.
- The impact of the Main Mill building’s revolutionary iron frame on the world of architecture.
- The Mill’s innovative machinery and technology.
- Working conditions at the Mill, including child labour.
- The change of use from a flax mill to maltings and further history of the site.
Introductory large-format projection
A visually dramatic mixture of archive film and photography, modern aerial video footage and CGI modelling of the site, together with a scripted audio narrative, introduces the Main Mill – the world’s first iron-framed building, and a precursor of the modern skyscraper.
It covers the building’s beginnings in 1796 as steam-powered flax mill, spinning linen thread from flax, to its conversion in 1896 to state-of-the art maltings.
Ambient audio is used to evoke the noisy, busy and dangerous environment of the flax mill. Visitors hear sounds that would have been heard in the working mill, providing context to the other displays. Audio draws heavily on archive material, interpreted through snippets of dialogue that might have been spoken by the workers, who included large numbers of women and children.
Audio is also used to relate individual oral histories which provide a clear and succinct commentary on the process of malting barley and of working at the maltings. Anecdotes and humour help visitors understand the six main stages of the process through a chronological narrative.
The War Years
During the First and Second World Wars, the building was used as a barracks. More oral histories feature personal stories, as local people reminisce about the role the site and events there played at the time.
The building presents some challenges in terms of accessibility to the first floor. An interactive database-driven touchscreen on the lower floor presents identical content to that appearing in first floor displays.
The touchscreen displays material around the theme of Shropshire’s role as a hotbed of innovation during the Industrial Revolution, touching on the local textile industry, transport, and the use of steam power.