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Ditherington Flax Mill (Bage's Mill)
Castle Foregate, Ditherington, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, UK
Ditherington Flax Mill (Bage's Mill)
associated engineer
Charles Bage
date  1796 - August 1797
era  Georgian  |  category  Building  |  reference  SJ498138
ICE reference number  HEW 425
photo  courtesy Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trut
Bage’s Mill, also known as Ditherington Mill, spun flax to make linen cloth. It was the first multi-storey building in the world to have an internal iron frame — and its non-combustible structure gave it a big advantage over earlier textile mills with wooden floors. The building still retains its original structure.
The five-storey brick building is 53m long and 11m wide internally, with external walls some 450mm thick. Its innovative metal frame and fireproof construction could be said to have set the construction template for modern high-rise buildings.
Inside the mill, three rows of slender cruciform cast iron columns support inverted Y-section cast iron beams spanning the building at each floor level. Brick arches span between beams to carry the floors. Wrought iron tie bars run the length of the building to brace the frame. A 15kW Boulton & Watt engine powered the mill machinery.
The picture shows the saddles incorporated in the columns to carry the line shafting for the mill workings.
The design is by Shrewsbury wine merchant, Charles Bage (1751-1822), who was an amateur engineer and friend of Thomas Telford (1757-1834). Bage's letters to Derbyshire engineer William Strutt (1756-1830) contain the earliest known analysis of the strength of iron beams and columns. Bage joined the partnership of Thomas and Benjamin Benyon and John Marshall, all flax merchants, to construct this mill close to the new transport route of the Shrewsbury Canal (built 1794-97).
The success of Bage's Mill quickly led to a series of other iron frame mills — at Salford, Belper Leeds and elsewhere. They incorporated improved beam designs by Bage himself. At Ditherington, by 1805 expansion at the site included an iron frame warehouse, a timber frame building for preparing raw flax, other associated buildings, stables and a smithy.
In 1811, the timber frame building burned down. It was replaced by Cross Mill, an iron frame structure also designed by Bage. The Ditherington complex was lit with gas produced from coal in an onsite gasworks — nine years before the Shrewsbury’s first gas lighting in 1820.
Bage’s Mill closed in 1886. Around 1897, it was converted into a malt house by William Jones & Sons. Other than during World War II (1939-45), the building was used for malting until its closure in 1987. It has been Grade I listed since January 1953.
Disused after 1987, the mill fell into disrepair and was placed on the Heritage at Risk register. English Heritage acquired the freehold in March 2005, and Alan Baxter Associates then carried out a detailed structural assessment. Bage's original papers showed that his design calculations were reasonably accurate, though he had not fully understood the ‘hogging’ (upward flexure) of beams or the differential ground settlement that would occur beneath brick walls and iron columns.
In November 2010, planning approval was granted for the mixed-use redevelopment of the Ditherington complex, including Bage’s Mill. The scheme has Heritage Lottery Fund backing.
Ironwork: Hazledine's foundary, Shrewsbury
Structural assessment (2005): Alan Baxter Associates
Redevelopment architect (2010-12): Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios
Research: ECPK
reference sources   CEH W&WBDCE1

Ditherington Flax Mill (Bage's Mill)