Thursday, 26 November 2015


By Penny Ward, Friends of the Flaxmill Maltings

In May 1805 a 12 year-old-girl called Ann Adams was indentured as a Parish Apprentice to the Flaxmill to the age of 18. She had been born in Birmingham, and her father was William Adams, of the Warwickshire Militia.  Her mother, who was dead, had presumably come from Shrewsbury.  

On the 21st of September, 1814, at the age of 21, Ann married Robert France, who had been born near Wem in 1791, but whose parents, Robert and Alice had moved to Shrewsbury by 1800, when his younger brother Jeremiah was born. Both Robert, Ann’s Husband, and Jeremiah, and several of their children, had a long association with the Flaxmill.

In March 1815 (6 months after their marriage) Robert and Ann’s first child, Jeremiah, was born. They were living in Castle Foregate and Robert is described as a Labourer. Three months later, Robert’s father Robert died. He had been living at the “Old Factory”, and probably had been working there as well.

*Sarah France, a great niece of Ann Adams 

The Church Rate books indicate that Robert and Ann went on to live in the “Houses near the Old Factory”, later called “Spring Gardens” from 1816 until the gap in the run of Church Rate Books after 1836.

During those years they had more children: Robert, in October 1816, George in July 1821, Eliza in September 1823, Henry in March 1829 and Emma in August 1831. In all their baptism records, except that for George, Robert’s occupation is given as “Dyer”.

In the 1834 to 1835 Church Rate books, which unusually record occupations, Robert is described as an Overlooker at the “OM” (Old Mill).

In 1837 Robert and Ann’s first born, Jeremiah, died aged 22. He was a Dyer and had been living in Spring Gardens, presumably with his parents, as in the 1841 Census, all his siblings are still at home. The now eldest son, Robert, aged 25, is described as a Clerk, and his father’s occupation is confirmed as an Overlooker.

Their son George married a girl called Martha in 1845, when he was only 16. In the 1851 cencus George and Martha are running the Engine and Tender public house in Castle Foregate, and have two young sons. His siblings, Robert and George, are still living with their parents in No 21, Spring Gardens. They appear to have a 14 year-old-servant girl living with them. Robert senior is a Dyer of Thread, Robert Jnr is a Writing Clerk and George is an Overlooker. Eliza is married to Henry Howard and living in Simpson’s Square.

In September of 1851 Robert and Ann’s son Robert married Elizabeth Birch. His father’s occupation is given as Overlooker and his own as Accountant. All this suggests that Robert and Ann and their family are going up in the world.  When Robert and Elizabeth baptised their first child, Alice Ann, in August 1852, Robert’s link to the Flaxmill is confirmed when he is described as Clerk in Factory.

Ann’s husband Robert died in 1860. Ann aged 68 is, therefore, a widow in the 1861 Census, still living in Spring Gardens and apparently earning a living as a Beer House keeper. She is the head of the household comprising her unmarried son George, who is a Factory operative, and a 21 year old female servant and her 9-year-old grandson Robert Howard, aged 9.

Ten years later, in 1871, Ann is still living in number 21, Spring Gardens, aged 78, and an Annuitant. 

She has a housekeeper, and also living with or visiting her at that time is her 8-year-old granddaughter Mary Ann Trentham.

In the 1881 Census, Ann is still living in Spring Gardens, and is living off “Income from Land”. 
Aerial view of Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings and surrounding area including Spring Gardens

Her granddaughters by her son Robert, Frances and Mary France, aged 24 and 21 respectively, are living with her as her companions.   An entry for Ann France of Shrewsbury in the Index to the Death Duty Registers for 1886  not only suggests that she lived to the great age of 93, but also that she died as a woman of some substance.

* We have found a direct descendant of Ann. Ann was the great aunt of Sarah France [pictured above]. Sarah's great great granddaughter, Sue Barker, is still living in Shrewsbury today. And if you haven't worked it out yet  - that makes Ann the x 5 great Aunt of Sue.  See our Facebook posting for Sue's story.

Penny Ward is a Trustee for the Friends of the Flaxmill Maltings and Historic Environment Records Officer for Shropshire Council.

Sunday, 22 November 2015


 By The Friends of the Flaxmill. Research by Penny Ward

Flatcapped boys outside the Mill. Image courtesy of Shropshire Archives
The Friends of the Flaxmill have conducted extensive research into the real life stories behind the Mill, using sources including census entries, parish registers (from baptisms to burials) and the lists of parish apprentices assigned to Marshall and Co at #Flaxmill by the Shrewsbury Parishes and the Atcham Union of Parishes in the early 1800s.

A significant part of the Shrewsbury Flaxmill workforce in the early C19th consisted of parish apprentices.  These were children, usually orphaned, who were placed with employers by parish overseers.

It was a well-established system that flourished with the development of the factory-based textile industry.  Many children were apprenticed to factory employers who had to take on responsibility for their food, clothing and lodging.  The majority of the apprentices who were used at the Flaxmill arrived via the town’s workhouse but also from further afield.  The mill’s owners, therefore, built two apprentice houses to accommodate the recruits – one in 1799 outside the mill and one in 1811 within the site.   Both buildings still exist. 
Apprenctice House which still stands on the
Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings site today

The apprentice system has been criticised for providing cheap labour (children earned no wages) with inadequate training, so the opportunities for apprentices to move out of the system and set up their own enterprises were few and far between.  Counter-arguments claim that the system could provide good knowledge of a trade and provide advancement through the ranks. John Marshall, owner of the Flaxmill, was known for having a more humane approach than most, but the work was hard, hours were long.  Testimonies from the time cite working hours of 5 am until 8 pm.  Punishments including beatings were routinely administered. 

Joseph Woodall was one of these apprentices.  He was from the parish of Fitz and was indentured to the Flaxmill at the age of 10 in 1809. He then appears in the Church Rate Books from 1821 to 1823 and beyond. From the Parish Registers, it can be found that he married Hannah Pheasey in 1821 and that between 1822 and 1843 Joseph (described as a Flax Dresser) and Hannah baptised six children at St Marys Church.

In the 1841 Census, Joseph and his two eldest children are Flax Dressers and in 1844, when his eldest son married, Joseph was still a Flax Dresser. In the 1851 Census, Joseph was an Agricultural Labourer, but three of the four children living with him had Flaxmill type occupations, and in the Tithe Map Schedule he had one of the Marshall Company Allotments.

In 1858, his daughter Harriet was working at the Factory when she baptised an illegitimate son John.
In the 1861 census Joseph is a Thread Dyer, and Harriet and her son John are living with him and
Hannah. Ten years later, in 1871 (aged 72) Joseph is just described as a Labourer but still may be working at the Flaxmill, as might his grandson John Woodall, also just described as a Labourer.

Joseph remained associated with the Flaxmill for most of a reasonably long life.

It did not turn out so well for some of the other Apprentices, as a number of records in the Shrewsbury parishes burial registers indicate.

John Richards, described as an Apprentice at the Old Factory, was buried in January 1805, aged 12.
Ann Bates, assigned to the Flaxmill aged 9 in August 1805 was buried in January 1806.
Sarah Oliver, an Apprentice living at the Old Manufactory, was buried aged 15 in July 1811.
Emma Franks, assigned to the Flaxmill in March 1812 at the age of 13, was buried in May 1817, aged 18.
William Maddox, assigned to the Flaxmill aged 11 in February 1805 until he reached 18, died at the age of 19 and was buried in June 1814.
Joseph Harris, assigned to the Flaxmill aged 10 in August 1805 until he reached 18, died and was buried in January 1817, aged 21.
Edward Drury, also assigned to the Flaxmill aged 10 in August 1805, but until he was 21, died and was buried aged 22 in June 1818.
Hannah Corfield was assigned to the Flaxmill at the age of 15 in February 1805 until she reached the age of 18. She married Thomas Nicholls in 1815, aged about 25, but she died in the House of Industry (the Workhouse) in January 1825 aged 33.

You can find out more about the people of the Flaxmill when the site opens permanently to visitors for the first time at its launch on November 24th.

Opening hours will be:

25 November to 1 December, 10 am to 3 pm daily.
Then as follows:
o   2 December 2015 - 26 March 2016, Saturdays only, 10 am to 4 pm
o   31 March 2016 – 29 October 2016, Friday, Saturday, Sunday 10 am to 4 pm
o   Closed 25 - 26 December and 1 - 3 January

Thursday, 19 November 2015


By guest writer Tim Johnston, Historic England Project Director

From left to right - Tim Johnston (Project Director, Historic England), 
Daniel Kawczynski (MP for Shrewsbury & Atcham), 
Alan Mosley (Chairman of the Friends of the Flax Mill Maltings), 
Councillor Mal Price (Shropshire Council). 
Behind is the south silo which has now been demolished, viewed from the south east.
Looking around me here at Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings it’s hard to believe the changes that have occurred over the last 12 months. There is still so much to do before the entire site is rescued and brought back to life but we have come a long way since the site was taken on by Historic England in 2005, when we were known as English Heritage.

Until recently a huge reinforced grain silo, built in the 1950s, dominated the site.
The offices and imposing silo which has now been taken down
 It has now gone, providing an open public space for events and activities. It wasn’t easy to demolish because it was next to the oldest iron framed building in the world – a grade 1 listed structure. It certainly couldn’t simply be ‘blown up’ but had to be ‘nibbled’ down piece by piece by metal pincers like some giant concrete eating pac man! To ensure the historic buildings were protected, sensor alarms were placed on the surrounding structures in case the machinery caused potentially damaging vibrations. All went well and the historic buildings now have ‘room to breathe’- it was quite an exciting process!

Elsewhere on site, all is not quiet in the 2 buildings that will soon become the visitor centre. The designers are putting the finishing touches to the exhibition that will tell the fascinating story of the site from Flaxmill to Maltings. Visitors will also be able to explore the building’s role during World War II and learn more about the people who worked here, many of them only children.

Children made up a large part of the workforce
 [Image courtesy of Shropshire Archives]
There is so much to know about this site. My favourite fact is that the Flax Mill had gas lights in 1811, some 9 years before the Town’s first gas lights! It must have been an extraordinary sight - walking out of Shrewsbury on a dull winter’s night and seeing the 5 floors of the Flax Mill all lit up. The warm glow may have encouraged people to want to work there, but it was hard, unhealthy and noisy work with some 900 spinning wheels and twisting machines being driven by the massive steam engines. By the 1840s one third of the workforce was children under 16, but this was no benign apprenticeship- children as young as 9 would have to work long hours. These and other stories are told throughout the visitor centre on the beautifully designed information panels around the site.
One of the information panels which is being installed

The Friends of Flaxmill Maltings, who will manage the visitor centre, will be delighted to welcome you. It’s free! You can find out openings times by visiting Friends of the Flaxmill Maltings

It’s now only 5 days to go until we open and like any building project there are times when you wonder if the day will ever come. Works projects can be particularly difficult on sensitive historic sites where unforeseen problems often crop up. One issue here was finding unknown gas and water pipes, not marked on any plans, right in the path of the drainage run for the new toilet! A lot of ‘humming and harring’ took place before it was agreed that they weren’t ‘live’ and we could ignore them, but it did delay the project for 3 weeks. I have to give credit to Croft the contractors who have done an excellent job.

The offices have now been tranformed
into a new visitor centre
I hope you will come to see the visitor centre for yourself. Its opening marks two ‘firsts’:  for the first time people can turn up when they want and look round the site without the need to book in advance. It is also the first step in a journey to repair and find a new use for the Main Mill which respects its unique significance and brings the Flaxmill Maltings back into the life of the Community. This project will not be without its challenges and it has been described as 'one of the most challenging and technically complex regeneration projects in the country'

Having the world's first iron frame building in the main mill
 - a forerunner  to the modern day skyscraper - has meant
this has been a complex regeneration project

Historic England, the Friends of the Flaxmill and our partners are determined to give this unique historic complex a new life in its 3rd century. I hope you will support us.

Read the latest Historic England Newsletter which includes more information about the Flaxmill.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Researching the People of the Flaxmill by Penny Ward

Penny Ward, Trustee of the Friends of the Flaxmill

Read more about the research on the Friends of the Flaxmill Maltings website; follow us on twitter @flax_maltings and use the #flaxmill hashtag; or like and look for further updates on Facebook

Find out more about the Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings regeneration project at Historic England