Shrewsbury Colleges Group students have become the first to gain hands-on experience of traditional construction methods, as part of a National Lottery-funded programme to plug England's heritage skills gap, using 18th Century Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings as a site for hands-on learning.

 On Thursday 8 March, 12 Level 1 and 2 Brickwork students spent the morning at the Flaxmill Maltings site learning  to make the ‘great’ bricks  that were used in the construction of the iconic Grade I listed Main Mill - the world’s first iron-framed building and forerunner of modern day skyscrapers, which was built in 1797.

Northcot Brick, specialist traditional brick manufacturers, have been making by hand 30,000 of the special sized bricks needed to restore the Main Mill.  Today they passed on their expert knowledge, demonstrating traditional hand-throwing methods.  The students were then able to get hands-on and make their own bricks.  Some of the bricks the students produced will be included in a time capsule, to be placed within the Main Mill later this year. 

The session is part of Historic England’s Heritage Skills programme, supported by the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation which offers a number of training opportunities, work-based placements and continuing professional development opportunities for construction trainees, students, contractors, craftspeople and professionals. The programme is being made possible under the wider £20.7 million National Lottery refurbishment of Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings.

Kate Gunthorpe, Senior Building Surveyor at Historic England said: “One of the biggest challenges to the future preservation and maintenance of our built heritage is the shortage of craftspeople and gaps in skills needed for traditional construction techniques and materials.  This programme aims to teach these in ways that will attract young people to rewarding careers in heritage and construction, which are so vital in ensuring England’s historic buildings can be restored and maintained for future generations to enjoy.”

Stuart Raine, Construction Trades Curriculum Leader at Shrewsbury Colleges Group said: “This brick making session was a unique opportunity for our students to learn a new skill, which could help to broaden their future employment opportunities. There is a national shortage of bricklayers and by working with companies and projects like the Flaxmill Maltings restoration,  Shrewsbury Colleges Group can inspire students to enter the construction trades, bringing great opportunities to the community.  This trip was a chance for them to see and feel part of the exciting developments taking place right on their doorstep.”

Alan Mosley, Chairman of the Friends of Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings said: “It’s fantastic to see students local to the Flaxmill Maltings learning how to make these unique bricks today, and benefiting directly from the restoration project and skills programme.  The bricks, which are approximately one third larger than standard sized bricks, tell part of the history as they were used for construction during a period when the number of bricks used in new buildings were taxed to raise funds for wars in the American Colonies, and using larger bricks was a method used to reduce the amount of bricks required, and consequently the amount of tax which would be charged.”

Michael Brown, Managing Director of Northcot Brick said: “We are proud to be working with Historic England in the restoration of a project of such historical and regional significance.  As a company we are committed to using our traditional brick-making expertise to help preserve our nation’s architectural heritage for future generations and to helping young people learn about and appreciate the value of genuine craftsmanship.” 

The Heritage Skills programme also includes hard-​hat tours for heritage, construction, colleges and universities and local interest groups, giving behind-the-scenes access to the works in progress and learning from the expert craftspeople working on the project.

For more information about the Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings please visit /get-involved/visit/shrewsbury-flax-mill/  

For more information on A Levels, visit or call 01743 235491. For more information about vocational courses and Apprenticeships call 01743 342342. Or come to the Advice Event on 22 March at London Road, between 5- 7.

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