Fire-proof slating Darley Abbey Mills

The typical eighteenth-century textile mill was five or six stories high, with strong brick walls, and wooden floors laid on wooden joists supported by timber beams.  The traditional use of timber the saturation of the floors with oil dripping of the machinery, the presence of quantities of cotton or other textile material and the installation of hundreds of candles or oil lamps to provide lighting for night-work, together produced ideal conditions for a conflagration.  Several of the early mills were soon to be totally destroyed by fire. (1)

The roof structures were also flammable: wooden trusses supporting purlins and rafters with slates, stones or tiles fixed to laths.


  1. External fireproof and mill links

  2. -Trencherfield Mill steam engine film

  3. -Ditherington Flax Mill conservation

  4. -Derwent Valley Mills

  5. -Belper Mills

  6. -Darley Abbey Mills

  7. -Papplewick Pumping Station

  8. -Construction History Vol. 9. 1993 Sarah Wormiel The Development of Fireproof Construction in Great Britain and the United States in the Nineteenth Century


Typical form of cotton mills (William Strutt 1792-3 in Derby)

The frequent fires led to a search for a fire-proof method of construction.  Internally iron framing with brick jack arches to support the floors or modular flagstones which spanned the floor beams were developed.  (The latter resulted in a huge industry in the Lancashire - Yorkshire industrial belt exploiting Carboniferous sandstones.)  The oldest surviving fire-proof mill using cast iron structural members is the Ditherington Flax Mill at Shrewsbury designed by Charles Bage, which was built in 1796-97.  It employed cruciform cast iron columns supporting Y section cast iron beams cast at William Hazeldine’s new foundry in Shrewsbury. 

The fire-proof structures in the Derwent Valley, now principally represented at Belper in the North Mill, and to a lesser extent at Darley Abbey, are important elements in the development of fire-proofing techniques. The typology started in Derby from 1792-93, and in the West Mill, Belper from 1793-95, and was taken to a higher degree of development in 1804 in the North Mill, Belper.

Cast iron roofing was also adopted in other fire risk buildings such as boiler houses.  One example is Papplewick Pumping Station built in 1881 for Nottingham Corporation.