THE Flax Mill – or Old Maltings – has stood empty in Ditherington for 24 years.
But things finally seem to be happening for the 200-year-old building.
Thousands of supporters have shown their love and fascination for the building and plans are under way to both preserve its heritage and redevelop the site.
Over 700 people have come together as ‘Friends of the Flax Mill’ to promote it’s cause and make it a focus for the community.
Cllr Alan Mosley has been involved with them from the start. “I’m confident that this is a site of international importance and will soon receive financial recognition,” he said.
In the past developers have come and gone and some residents wished the derelict building could be knocked down; but as the first iron-framed building in the world, and grandfather of all skyscrapers, it is Grade I listed.
The main building was built in 1797 and was a textile mill until 1886. It then became a maltings from 1897 to 1934, was a light infantry barracks during the Second World War, and then re-opened for malting production under Ansells from 1948 until 1987.
“Our aims are to stimulate interest and involvement in the heritage of the site and also to involve the community in a variety of activities around the site,” said Cllr Mosley, “We are developing a bid for grants to enable us to make the site more accessible and develop resources for schools.
“Last November we made a bid to the Heritage Lottery fund for £12.5 million. We learnt in April that we failed to get that, but it was close run. Work is going on to refine the bid because we were told it was an excellent bid and we should look to resubmit it next November .“
In the mean time, he said the friends were keeping active.
“There were two open days in May when 2,000 people came to the site and enjoyed an art exhibition and displays of flax spinning and malting alongside brick making and family entertainment, as well as guided tours by Friends of the Flax Mill volunteers.
“We’re also developing relationships with local schools and many other organisations. We’ve had talks with the tourism association and business chamber and are developing co-ordination with the Ironbridge Gorge trust. We have an art group that goes from strength to strength, community archaeology and youth projects. We’re also looking to record the memories of local people including those who worked or had relatives who worked at the site.”
In 2005 English Heritage acquired the freehold and work started to redevelop the site. Last year a planning application was made to develop the old buildings into office-type accommodation with “a significant amount of public access space with displays on heritage”.
After that there are plans to develop the whole site, up to the frontage of Ditherington road which Shropshire Council has bought up, but funding and developers are needed.
Cllr Mosley was keen to stress the site’s importance for Shrewsbury.
“The other issue and part of the reason I’m so involved is that the development of the Flax Mill is vital for the development of Castlefields and Ditherington,” he said.
“it’s absolutely key in the development of the north of Shrewsbury.”
There are plans for more open days in September, to coincide with National Heritage weekend.