Welsh Slate on Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings



Roofing slates from Welsh Slate feature on the regeneration of a flagship Historic England project.

The world’s first iron-framed building, the forerunner of the modern skyscraper, will enjoy a new lease of life in the capital of England’s largest inland county, thanks to Historic England and Welsh Slate.

Tens of thousands of new Welsh Slate roofing slates now top four of the buildings at Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings including the five-storey iron-framed Main Mill which was built in 1797 and is one of eight listed buildings within the site.

The internationally significant site closed, when it was being used as a maltings, in 1987 and vandalism and neglect took their toll to such an extent that it was placed on the Heritage at Risk register.

Now it is completely refurbished, at a cost of £28 million, and the County-grade Penrhyn Heather Blue slates from Welsh Slate are protecting the Grade I listed Main Mill, South Engine House, Grade I listed Cross Mill and Grade II listed Kiln for more than a century to come.

Historic England, who took over the site in 2005, have redeveloped the complex over an eight-year restoration project, into a show piece of sustainable development, offering sensitive recycling of historic buildings and an inspirational place to visit and explore.

The now fully restored and re-roofed Main Mill and Kiln are opening in September 2022 for the first time as a visitor destination, with a new exhibition, an independent café, shop and workspace, where people can come to celebrate and explore the site’s story.

The restoration of these two buildings at the Flaxmill Maltings is taking place supported by a £20.7 million grant thanks to National Lottery players through The National Lottery Heritage Fund, combined with additional funding from the Marches Local Enterprise Partnership via its Growth Deal with Government, and from project partners Historic England and Shropshire Council.

As well as its iron frame construction, the flax mill was famed for its ‘fireproof construction’ and was entirely steam powered. Coal was transported to the site via the Shrewsbury and Newport Canal which completed in the same year. The building was first lit by gas provided by its own on-site gas works in 1811, some nine years before the town’s first gas lights.

With all these accolades to its name, it was appropriate that roofing slates widely regarded as the world’s finest were used on its regeneration. Welsh Slate’s 500mm x 300mm Penrhyn Heather Blues were installed, along with random diminishing 900mm to 450mm lengths, by building conservation specialists Croft Building and Conservation who worked on a total of almost 1,500m2 of roofs.

The Main Mill roof was 200 years old. Its last major overhaul was in the 1960s, with a mix of re-used original new (thin) slate laid to a minimal spec. When the building became redundant in 1987 it was held together with turnerising and flash band for the next 20 years.

In addition, a series of invasive investigations had revealed the Kiln roof particularly was at an advanced stage of decay due to its former intensive use as a maltings and the subsequent years of dereliction.

Croft Building and Conservation director Ollie Chance said: “Restoring the roofs on this project was a challenge, partly due to steep roof pitches which rose from 28° up to 63°, and the roof of the Main Mill being of a saw tooth design comprising a series of ridges with dual pitches either side. However, our skilled workforce rose to the challenge admirably, helped along by the high quality of the Welsh Slate used for the tiles.”

Tim Greensmith, associate at architects Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, said: “We used traditional crafts and local materials where possible to repair the Main Mill, drawing on the history of the building and ensuring its longevity into the future.”

FCB Studios, who have acted as strategic advisors and architect to Historic England on the project since 2003, have used Welsh Slate extensively before, but in this case, it was also recommended by The Stone Roof Association.

The architects’ proposals were designed to provide an exemplar of how modern technology and engineering innovation can be applied to such prototype heritage buildings, complementing and preserving their special character.

Nick Hill, national conservation projects manager for Historic England, said: “Throughout the restoration of Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings it has been important to Historic England that we retained as many of the original features of these internationally-significant buildings as possible.

“Where we have had to replace elements, as with the roofs, we strived to obtain appropriate materials from high-quality sources and local suppliers where we could. The original roof was of Welsh slate, so it was vital to ensure the same material was used for the replacement roofing. The new roofs look fantastic and will help to keep these buildings safe for many decades to come.”

For the full story on Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings, Historic England’s flagship project, go to https://www.shrewsburyflaxmillmaltings.org.uk/.