How Northcot Brick helped restore Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings

Shrewsbury Flaxmill MaltingsAcclaimed brick manufacturer, Northcot Brick, is celebrating the latest in a string of prestigious awards for its flagship projects.

Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings, one of the most important buildings of the industrial revolution, is not only winner of the Brick Development Association’s 2023 ‘Supreme Award’ but it has also scooped wins for the ‘Sustainability’ and ‘Craftsmanship’ categories.

This is the fifth ‘Supreme Award’ to be claimed by a Northcot Brick project in the last eight years following successes for Radley College’s Chapel Extension (2022), Newnham College’s Dorothy Garrod Building (2019), Newport Street Gallery (2016), and Manchester’s Whitworth (2015).

Heritage BricksShrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings – the restoration

Built in 1797 as a steam powered flax mill and then operated as a maltings from 1897 to 1987, Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings is the world’s first ever cast-iron framed building, often dubbed as the ‘grandparent’ of the modern skyscraper.

After years of decline on the ‘Heritage at Risk’ register, the site was bought in 2005 by Historic England, who partnered with Shropshire Council and Friends of the Flaxmill Maltings to secure a £20.7 million grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund in 2017.  This enabled the restoration of the Grade I listed Main Mill and the Grade II listed Kiln and its repurposing as a vibrant business hub and heritage destination.

Historic skills and craftsmanship

The project team, which was led by architects Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, working with Croft Building & Conservation and over 80 specialist craftsmen, undertook a comprehensive programme of repair, reuse, and retrofitting, with some bold architectural insertions.

The frame of the original five storey Main Mill, which comprised three rows of cast iron columns with beams extending between them and brick arches between the beams forming the floors, had developed serious structural flaws.

The fragile frame was reinforced with hidden steel grillage and new central columns on the ground and first floors. Rotting embedded timbers, which were causing walls to delaminate, were safely removed, the roof was replaced, walls were thermally upgraded, and the historic brick elevations were repaired and rebuilt. 

Heritage conservationThe making of bespoke oversized ‘Great Bricks’

The Main Mill had originally been constructed with ‘Great Bricks’ which were made approximately one-third larger than standard bricks to reduce the burden of the 18th century brick tax imposed by George III to fund his American wars.

Some of the old bricks were cleaned off and re-laid in lime mortar.  However, the challenge of making matching oversized bricks required very specialist brickmaking knowhow.

This is where the traditional skills that have been carefully developed and refined by Northcot Brick over the company’s 100-year history proved invaluable. By combining age-old hand throwing and traditional kiln firing with highly sophisticated weathering techniques, Northcot was able to make 90,000 bespoke oversized bricks in two sizes (75 & 93mm) for three different blends designed to match both the colour and the texture of the originals.

These new handmade bricks were used primarily for reinstating 110 former window openings, repairing gaps in the floorplates and for repair of the roof lines. Special brick squints were also made for the splayed window reveals.

Northcot also took an active and enthusiastic part in a heritage skills programme, supported by the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation, by providing hands-on experience in traditional brick making for college students.

‘A highly executed example of craftsmanship’

The judges who gave the Brick Development Association’s ‘Supreme Award’ to Northcot’s flagship project said:

“The creation and application of new brickwork into this existing building is a highly executed example of craftsmanship. The heritage skills programme and light touch conservation approach as a mechanism to repair and convert this internationally important building is an accomplishment.”

Thanks to the great work of Northcot Brick and the wider project team, this historic building has been preserved for a viable and sustainable economic future.

Click onto this link to the 2023 BDA award video for more information about this award-winning project.

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