Do your bit for Shrewsbury’s History!
15 Mar 2021
by Kate Rink

Take part in Census 2021 this March and help record a history of our time - say the Friends of Flaxmill Maltings

The Friends say their research on the flax mill era workers has only been possible through a combination of 19th century census data and other local records.

Volunteers have spent the last eight years piecing together the lives of people who worked at the site of the world’s first iron-framed building during the 19th century when the site was a working flax mill, spinning flax into linen thread.

Census information has been the key to unlocking information about who worked there and what their lives may have been like.

They have been able to collate thousands of names of residents from the Castlefields and Ditherington areas who were working in the flax mill between 1841 and 1881. That research offered an insight into the roughly 800-strong flax mill workforce, for instance in 1861 37% of the workers were women, 39% were children under 16 and only 24% were men.

The censuses also indicate the types of jobs that were held at the flax mill, including spinners, twisters, reelers, flax dressers, finishers and dyers. This information has been vital in helping the Friends to share the story of the Flaxmill Maltings through their tours, talks and educational activities.

The Friends share the stories of the workers through their outreach activities and they’ll inform the new visitor experience when our newly restored Flaxmill opens to the public in spring 2022.

Penny Ward, board member for the Friends of the Flaxmill Maltings and lead for their census research, said:

“The census is an essential historical document, and we would urge everybody to get involved in Census 2021. We are all part of the history of Shrewsbury and this is our way to join in. Looking back after over a 100 years, it makes you truly thankful to all those who went before, who worked to make Shrewsbury, and our flax mill, the place we know and love today. The Friends volunteers have been working for years to tease the stories out of the censuses which will bring the site to life once again.”

Roger Belham, census engagement manager for Shropshire said:

“The 2021 census that takes place on 21st March will be the 22nd census since 1801. The census is conducted by the Office for National Statistics and provides a snapshot of our country, its people and their lives. It is fascinating to see what the census records tell us about the lives of the people that worked in the Flaxmill Maltings. We find it hard to believe that young children were employed in industry. What will our descendants think about us when the records of the 2021 census are released in 100 years?”

As well as contributing to the activities of the Friends, the research done will also be utilised by design team, Mather & Co, to shape the content for the new visitor attraction, due to open in spring 2022.

Alastair Godfrey, Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings project lead for Historic England said:

“The role of the Friends in researching the social history of the site has been invaluable.  In the absence of worker records from the flax mill era, their detailed work has given an insight into the lives of some of the people who lived and worked on site at this time.  Sharing this information through their outreach activities and the new visitor experience gives the community a sense of the importance of the flax mill to the town during this era.  As a flax mill this site was once the largest employer in the town, and we look forward to people returning to the Flaxmill Maltings again as we bring it back to life as a key location in the region to visit, work, live and enjoy.”

The Grade I listed Main Mill and the Grade II Kiln at Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings are currently being restored thanks to a £20.7m grant from National Lottery players through The National Lottery Heritage Fund, combined with additional funding from the Marches Local Enterprise Partnership via its Growth Deal with Government, and from site owners Historic England and project partner Shropshire Council.

If you are interested in volunteering with the Friends and helping with their research get in touch via or visit the Friends’ website


About Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings

The Flax Mill was built in 1797 and was the largest employer in Shrewsbury. The flax business declined in the 1870s and the Mill closed in 1886. The site was converted into a Maltings in 1897-8, when the Kiln was added. After being used as a temporary barracks and training centre during the Second World War, the site resumed as a Maltings until its closure in 1987.


The Restoration

Site owners Historic England are undertaking a £20.7 million restoration of Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings, supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund. The project will see the restoration of the Grade I listed Main Mill - the first cast-iron framed building in the world and forerunner to the modern skyscraper – along with the Grade II listed Kiln, together with landscaping and a new car park. When complete there will be visitor interpretation and activity on the ground floor which will be managed by the Friends of the Flaxmill Maltings, as well as a café. The upper four floors of the Mill will provide commercial office space.

Work began on 19 June 2017, carried out by Croft Building and Conservation Ltd.  Croft has carried out structural repairs to the Main Mill and reintroduced windows that were blocked up during the Maltings phase. This has flooded the building with natural light.  Work is now underway to adapt the Kiln, Jubilee Tower and engine houses at either end of the Main Mill.  Following this work, the final phase will be the internal fit out of the buildings, creating the car parking and carrying out all associated landscaping work.  The second contractor, Alun Griffiths, will be carrying out infrastructure works, including building a new access road and adding a new coach stop.

The main works will be finished at the end of 2021.  The restored upper four floors of commercial space will then be available for letting in early 2022, creating approximately 28,000 square feet of unique commercial space.  Work on the fit out of the interpretation on the ground floor of the Main Mill will continue and this space will open to the public in spring 2022. 

* The census is a survey about all the households in England and Wales. It helps decide how services are funded in your area. The next census takes place on Sunday 21 March 2021. To take part visit: