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I’VE NEVER BEEN TO “the grandfather of skyscrapers,” but I have visited its elder cousin. Here are tidbits about both.
The Ditherington Flax Mill, 1797. Also known as the Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings, this is the first iron-framed building in the world. Hitherto, structures were combinations of wood, stone, and brick. Ditherington Flax Mill isn’t all that tall, five stories. However Wikipedia notes its innovation, especially for a flax mill: “Its design effectively overcame much of the problem of fire damage from flammable atmosphere, due to the air containing many fibres, by using a fireproof combination of cast iron columns and cast iron beams, a system which later developed into the modern steel frame which made skyscrapers possible.”
Its History. For a long time, Ditherington and another flax mill provided the chief industry of Shrewsbury, as noted in an 1851 directory. The mill closed in 1886, its structure converted to a maltings (where cereal grain is converted to malt by soaking, sprouting, and drying to stop further growth).
The malting continued in use until 1987, modern production methods overtaking it. The building lay derelict until 2005 with its purchase by English Heritage. This organization’s evolution caused the site to be inherited by Historic England with the visitor attractions managed by local charity Friends of the Flaxmill Maltings.
Lengthy restoration profited from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the European Regional Development Fund. Its second phase begun in 2017 led to an official opening on September 10, 2022, of the Main Mill as a mixed-use workspace and public exhibition with a café and shop.
Its Original Architect. The Flax Mill’s architect was Charles Bage, who also built the 3rd and 8th steel-framed buildings in the world. Wikipedia says Bage was inspired by William Strutt (let’s avoid puns on his surname). Strutt came from a family of cotton spinners and was thus aware of the importance of fire resistance in textile mills. He had already used cast iron for bridges in Derby.
Iron Bridge, 1781. This brings me to another bridge, this one in Shropshire, completed in 1781, and one that I have visited. Iron Bridge is the world’s first such structure of cast iron and, in a sense, the cradle of the Industrial Age.
As described here in SimanaitisSays, “Iron Bridge was designed by Thomas Farnolls Pritichard, an architect known for his interior designs and funerary monuments. The bridge’s construction was entrusted to Abraham Darby III, whose grandfather Abraham Darby I had developed a method of producing pig iron in a blast furnace fueled by coke rather than charcoal.”
Iron Bridge was intended as a money-making venture, with shareholders earning eight percent/annum on their investments. It was the sole river structure surviving the Severn flood of 1795. The structure continued to carry car and truck traffic until 1934, the year it was designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument. Pedestrian tolls were eliminated in 1950.
I had neither baggage waggon nor mail coach nor Royal when I visited. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022
The owners of Ironbridge must have earned a fortune. The Roman numerals on the side look like 1779, though, not 1781.
Sharp eyes! And I agree. Maybe it was 2-3 years in the construction, as sources report 1781 and an 1981 anniversary.