A new light installation has gone on display at the world’s oldest iron-framed building, the Grade I listed Main Mill at Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings. Visible from the street, ‘As Shadows Return’ uses silhouettes behind the windows to show workers and machinery inside the mill.

Dating back to 1797, the building operated as a flax mill until 1886 and then as a maltings from 1897 to 1987. It was also a temporary barracks during the Second World War. Its iron frame was truly pioneering, the work of British engineers who were determined to overcome the problem of timber-framed mills and factories being destroyed when fires broke out. The design gave birth to the modern skyscraper.

The installation marks the completion of the first phase of the £28m restoration at the mill, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic England, Shropshire Council and the Friends of the Flaxmill Maltings. Work involved stabilising the building’s structure, replacing the roof and unblocking two thirds of the windows. Scaffolding that covered the mill has recently been taken away to reveal the building’s exterior which has not been seen for more than a decade.

Commissioned by Historic England and created by Shrewsbury-based and world-renowned light artist Andy McKeown, the temporary illumination will continue to light up the mill until 31 January. The lights will be switched on every day from sunset until late and the free installation will continually change for those who would like to go and see it more than once.

The flax mill used to be referred to as the ‘dragon on the hill’ because of the glow of light and noise of the machinery. It was the largest employer in Shrewsbury and at its peak more than 800 people worked at the mill, including children. An apprentice house was built on the site in 1811 to house them, just metres away from the Main Mill where they spent long hours in terrible conditions.

The restoration of the Grade I listed Main Mill and the adjacent Grade II Kiln is creating a new learning and enterprise quarter for Shrewsbury. The work is expected to be completed in 2021.

The buildings are being transformed into high quality offices for the region’s growing creative industries and small business start-ups, to help drive the town’s renaissance as a regional economic hub. A new interpretation space and café are also features of the new design, allowing members of the public to come and enjoy Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings and to learn more about its unique place in history.

To find out more about the history of Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings, the Visitor Centre is open on Saturdays from 10am – 4pm, Spring Gardens, Shrewsbury, SY1 2SY.