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Ditherington Flax Mill - A Short History - Part Two
Ditherington Flax Mill and Maltings - Part Two of a Short History of the Buildings and the Site
The Flax Mill Waxes and Wanes
New processes and changing markets brought further change, with a gradual concentration towards the production of thread rather than cloth. The engine houses were modified for more powerful engines, and in the 1850’s the present dyehouse was the Marshalls’ last major investment in the site.
However, the third generation of Marshalls seem not to have inherited their grandfather’s business acumen: the business declined from the 1870s, and in 1886 the mill closed and the company was wound up.
Housing the Workers
Meanwhile the land surrounding the Flax Mill complex had been gradually developed for workers’ housing. Marshall, Benyons and Bage had started the process themselves by making some of their land between the turnpike road and the canal available for 16 houses, to be completed before 25th March 1797 – ie ready for the first of their new labour force. The site of these houses appears to include the site of the present bus garage.
As the mill prospered, more workers’ housing was built, until by the 1830s the whole of the Flax Mill’s frontage strip of land between the canal and road was covered by informal groups of very small houses. The only survivors from this development are the slightly larger roadside pair that formed the entrance to Haughmond Square.
A New Lease of Life as a Maltings
The Flax Mill complex stood empty for over a decade, then in 1897-8 William Jones (Maltsters) Ltd bought the whole site and converted the mill buildings into a maltings.
His adaptation of the Flax Mill included demolishing the boiler houses and constructing the large pyramidal roofed kiln at the junction of the Main Mill, Cross Mill and Flax Warehouse, together with a now demolished lean-to extension next to the canal. He laid concrete floors, installed large tanks to ‘steep’ or wet the barley, and constructed the prominent timber hoist tower with its ornamental capping to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.
The appearance of the mill was greatly changed by blocking two thirds of the windows and reducing the size of the other third: whereas a textile mill needs big windows to light the processes within, a maltings needs a dark and controlled space to stimulate the germination of the wet barley.
The Maltings in the 20th Century
In 1933-4 the company failed but continued in administration, then during the war years the buildings were partially used as temporary barracks and storage.
In 1948 the site passed to Ansells Brewery, later part of Allied Breweries, and the malting business revived. New concrete silos were constructed in the 1950’s and 60’s. The canal had been officially closed in 1944, although apparently intact well into the 1950s.
The malting business ceased in 1987, since when the site has been disused apart from some storage use in the late 1980s.