'Orders Will Be Numerous'



The Soho Foundry, which still partially survives in Smethwick, was the first purpose-built steam engine manufactory in the world – and was to be a major factor in the development of steam power.

The Soho Foundry was established in 1795 by the second generation of Boulton & Watt, Matthew Robinson Boulton (1770-1842) and James Watt Jnr (1769-1848), the latter taking the lead role. The Foundry should not be confused with the Soho Manufactory, established in the early 1760s by Matthew Boulton on Handsworth Heath.

In the 1790s, the future of Boulton & Watt steam engines was threatened. The patent for B&W engines with a separate condenser was due to expire in 1800 and it was imperative for the business to obtain an advantage over future competitors. This was made even more necessary by the break-up in 1795 of the firm of the brothers William and John Wilkinson, located in Bersham, Shropshire - suppliers of the finest engine cylinders in the country.

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Among the many treasures in the collections of the Science Museum in London is the complete workshop of the Scottish engineer James Watt (1736-1819), acquired in its entirety from the attic of Watt's Birmingham home in 1924, where it had been left as an industrial shrine since his death in...