Salopians could help historians of future with census 2021, say Flaxmill volunteers

Volunteers who have pieced together the lives of people who worked at one of Shropshire's most historic sites are urging people to get involved in this year's census - to help the historians of the future.

Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings
Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings

Friends of the Flaxmill Maltings, the charity group and key partner in the restoration of Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings, has found historical census data essential in their research.

Its volunteers have spent the last eight years piecing together the lives of people who worked at the site of the world’s first iron-framed building during the 19th century when the site was a working flax mill, spinning flax into linen thread.

Records of former workers don’t exist and so the census information has been the key to unlocking information about who worked there and what their lives may have been like.

They have been able to collate thousands of names of residents from the Castlefields and Ditherington areas who were working in the flax mill between 1841 and 1881.

That research offered an insight into the roughly 800-strong flax mill workforce, for instance in 1861 37 per cent were women, 39 per cent were children under 16 and only 24 per cent were men.

The censuses also indicate the types of jobs that were held at the flax mill, including spinners, twisters, reelers, flax dressers, finishers and dyers.

This information has been vital in helping the Friends to share the story of the Flaxmill Maltings through their tours, talks and educational activities.

Penny Ward, board member for the Friends of the Flaxmill Maltings and lead for their census research, said: “The census is an essential historical document, and we would urge everybody to get involved in Census 2021.


"We are all part of the history of Shrewsbury and this is our way to join in. Looking back after over a 100 years, it makes you truly thankful to all those who went before, who worked to make Shrewsbury, and our flax mill, the place we know and love today.

"The Friends volunteers have been working for years to tease the stories out of the censuses which will bring the site to life once again.”

Penny has taken the research further, and linked names from the census records to births, marriages and deaths records, as well as geographical mapping, to see how the area around the flax mill developed.

The Friends will be sharing some of the research that they have gathered via their Facebook page in the coming weeks to mark census 2021.

Roger Belham, census engagement manager for Shropshire said: “The 2021 census that takes place on 21st March will be the 22nd census since 1801.

"The census is conducted by the Office for National Statistics and provides a snapshot of our country, its people and their lives.

"It is fascinating to see what the census records tell us about the lives of the people that worked in the Flaxmill Maltings. We find it hard to believe that young children were employed in industry.

"What will our descendants think about us when the records of the 2021 census are released in 100 years?”

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