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

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