Ditherington Flax Mill – Grandfather To Skyscrapers?

Have you ever had one of those moments where you feel so proud of your own local knowledge that you haven’t got a clue what to do with yourself when it turns out you were wrong? It’s soul crushing. In that moment being a hedgehog sounds like a fantastic idea because curling into yourself seemed like the only way you could possibly escape the shame.

“Hey, you know the Maltings? Did you know it was the first iron framed building in the world!”

No. No it was not. It isn’t even completely iron framed but that doesn’t bother me quite as much as being told I was wrong about the ‘first ever’ claim, or that I’d been proudly toting it as my tip-bit of cool history from my native soil of Shropshire whenever I got the chance.

For those of you who don’t know, the Maltings are a building in Shrewsbury, Shropshire. Half an hour drive from where I live when I’m at home with my parents, this crumbling building is something of a National Treasure. Originally Ditherington Flax Mill built in 1796, it is accredited with being the Grandfather of skyscrapers, standing itself at a rather modest five-stories tall.

Interestingly the first time the term skyscraper was officially used was in 1882 for the Brook Brothers of Boston’s ten-story Montauk Block. (Designed by Daniel Burnham and John Wellborn.)¹

But back to Ditherington. Ditherington Flax Mill is the oldest standing iron framed building in the world, that much is true, but before that there were some predecessors who have just happened to slip beneath the notice of history books.

Between 1792-1793 William Strutt, (a friend of Ditherington Flax Mill Architect Charles Bage) built a cotton factory in Derby. Here cast and wrought iron was used as integral parts of its brick and wood structure. There is evidence of Bage acknowledging Strutt’s influence in correspondence now housed at the Shrewsbury Archive and Strutt went onto the repeat the process with a six-story West Mill in Belper.²

So Shrewsbury does not host the first iron framed building it seems. Never-mind. I’m quite happy to host the oldest one.  I mean we’re the birthplace of Charles Darwin, as far as historic sites go we’re not doing too badly.

1. Encyclopedia of Architectural and Engineering Feats pg.311

2. http://www.search.revolutionaryplayers.org.uk/engine/resource/exhibition/standard/child.asp?txtKeywords&lstContext&lstResourceType&lstExhibitionType&chkPurchaseVisible&txtDateFrom&txtDateTo&x1&y1&x2&y2&scale&theme&album&viewpage=%2Fengine%2Fresource%2Fexhibition%2Fstandard%2Fchild.asp&originator&page&records&direction&pointer&text&resource=4923&exhibition=1613&offset=0 [Accessed 27/11/14]

I want to say thank you to Trish Farrell for inspiring this post. I love my random history posts now and again but it was her article on Ditherington Flax Mill that reminded me of my own mistake about the place. Now seemed a good a time as any to do a blog it.


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