Shropshire Witches – Witchcraft In The Early Modern Era

Researching witchcraft in Shropshire is similar to panning for gold when the river has run dry. These days, there is a wealth of information regarding the ‘European Witch Crazes’ of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but Shropshire is rarely mentioned. Even when Shropshire does come up, it’s for no more than a sentence or two. This lack of history can perhaps be accredited to the narrowness of the field of study. Between 1563 and 1736, less than 500 executions were carried out for the crime of witchcraft in England.1 Europe on the other hand saw 100,000 individuals tried and less than 50,000 put to death.2 Accusations of witchcraft also rarely saw just one person implicated, resulting in numerous ‘suspects’ popping up once once the accused was questions. This resulted in localised pockets of witches being discovered in certain towns and villages, rather than nationwide witch hunts.

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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. [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.

Exhibitions, Readings and Wrong Turns

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Last Saturday Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery opened an exhibition called ‘Impressions’, running from the Saturday 5th May to Sunday 3rd June at Rowley’s House. The exhibition is designed to celebrate the art of writing

On the eve of the opening there was a (mini) grand opening where all the writers who could attend were invited to read our their pieces to all the other contributors and explain why they chose the subjects for their works.

Sounds simple right? Well apparently it’s not.

I had originally intended to take one of my best friends and her boyfriend as my guest, thinking that it would cheer her up since she has been a little down recently. However, that day she called me to tell me she was ill and couldn’t make it, so I tried one of the other best friends and invited her and her boyfriend. (My two old best friends have both apparently become surgically attached to their partners.)

The plan was that I’d drive the best friend and boyfriend to Shrewsbury and we’d all go to this exhibition opening do, and then we would go back and hang out at mine for an hour or so before I dropped them both back at my best friend’s. (If you’re confused don’t worry, half the time I haven’t a clue what’s going on either.)

Boyfriend was of course late, and since best friend wanted to wait I had to leave without her. I was still running on time to get to the museum/art gallery before the reading started and I hoped they would just sneak in late.

Then I hit Wem. Now Wem itself is not a problem, the roundabout which signs for Shawbury and Shrewsbury is the problem. I of course, being me, misread the sign for Shawbury as Shrewsbury and ended up driving off in the completely wrong direction, leaving me fifteen minutes late sneaking into the readings. (It was O.K, my poem was last anyway.)

Best friend never made an appearance, and after an argument with my traitor of a mobile phone I eventually got hold of her using a landline and found out that boyfriend had finally turned up. Just as the readings event came to a close…

Overall it wasn’t too bad of a night. I thought my poem went down fairly well and there were some fantastic pieces included in the exhibition. For anyone who can get to Shrewsbury I would sincerely recommend going and having a look around at the ‘Impressions’ pieces, even if museum are not normally your cup of tea.

For those of you interested here is the piece that I submitted for the exhibition.

The Boats

My history lies in roots and hand

One to severe, mould and man.

Fell might and age to brothers’ floor

Where tools bite, bark and saw.

Hollow out my chest of oak

To fill with saplings, young folk,

Then fall to where my roots remain

Let only my rings now hold your name.



Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery – Facebook Page

Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery -  Website

Credits for Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery’s exhibition ‘Impressions’ goes to Adrian Perks (Museum Assistant), all the writers involved (that bit includes me) and Sue Jones who helped put together a fantastic programme of all the works displayed.