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Posts Tagged ‘Matthew Boulton’

Regency Personalities Series

In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Francis Eginton
1737–1805

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Francis Eginton

Francis Eginton was the grandson of the rector of Eckington, Worcestershire, and was trained as an enameller at Bilston. As a young man he was employed by Matthew Boulton at the Soho Manufactory. In 1764 Eginton was employed as a decorator of japanned wares, but also did much work in modelling. During the next few years Boulton brought together a number of able artists at Soho, including John Flaxman and James Wyatt; and Eginton rapidly became a skilful worker in almost every department of decorative art.

Eginton was a partner with Boulton in the production of “mechanical paintings” or “polygraphs” The idea for these was in all probability taken by Boulton from a process modified by Robert Laurie (1755?-1836) from Jean-Baptiste Le Prince’s ‘aquatint’ engravings. Eginton perfected the method and applied it to the production of coloured copies of paintings. More plates than one were required for each picture, and after leaving the printing-press Eginton finished them by hand. They were copied from the works of Philip James de Loutherbourg, Angelica Kauffman and other artists, and varied in price from £1. 10s. to £21. The largest were 40 inches by 50. They were sometimes mistaken for original paintings, although these old “polygraphs” were in fact nearly identical to the varnished coloured oleographs which later became prevalent, the main difference being that the latter were printed lithographically.

F. P. Smith, then of the Patent Museum in South Kensington, maintained, in a paper read before the Photographic Society of London in 1863, that some of these polygraphs preserved at the museum were actually early photographs . This claim, however was untenable. Pioneering photographer, Thomas Wedgwood, had indeed made experiments upon copying pictures by the action of light upon silver nitrate, but the results then obtained would not have been capable of producing pictures of their size and character. The matter was finally settled by a series of pamphlets written by Boulton’s grandson, M. P. W. Boulton, in 1863-5, in which he gave an account of the whole matter. Furthermore, the leading lithographer Vincent Brooks was able to produce an exact imitation of the “ground” of one of the examples exhibited at South Kensington by taking an impression from an aquatint engraved plate on paper used for transfer lithography.

The “picture branch” of Boulton’s business was discontinued as unprofitable, the loss on this and the japanning trade being over £500 for 1780. The partnership between Eginton and Boulton was dissolved. Lord Dartmouth proposed to grant Eginton a government pension of £20 a year for his work on the picture copying process, but Boulton raised objections and the offer was withdrawn. For the next year or two Eginton appears to have continued to work at Soho, and to have begun in 1781 to stain and paint upon glass. In 1784 he left Soho and set up in business for himself at Prospect Hill House (demolished in 1871), which stood just opposite Soho.

Before Eginton the art of glass-painting had fallen into complete disuse. He revived it and turned out a long series of works in stained glass from his Birmingham factory. His first work of consequence was the arms of the knights of the Garter for two Gothic windows in the stalls in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, and his other works included:

  • Salisbury Cathedral (east and west windows, and ten mosaic windows) and Lichfield Cathedral (east window), after Joshua Reynolds,
  • The east window of Wanstead Church, Essex,
  • A large representation of the “Good Samaritan” in the private chapel of the Archbishop of Armagh,
  • A window in the chapel of the Bishop of Derry’s palace,
  • Memorial and other windows in Babworth Church, Nottingham,
  • Aston Church,
  • Shuckburgh Church,
  • Tewkesbury Abbey Church,
  • The windows of Merton College chapel, Oxford,
  • The ante-chapel of Magdalen College.

Eginton painted a window (20 ft. by 10 ft.) representing Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, in the banqueting room of Arundel Castle, and did a large amount of work for William Beckford at Fonthill Abbey, including thirty-two figures of kings, knights, etc., and many windows, for which he was paid £12,000. Much of his work was for export, and some of his best work ended up in Amsterdam. In 1791 he completed what was then considered his masterpiece, the “Conversion of St. Paul”, for the east window of St Paul’s Church, Birmingham, for which he received the “very inadequate sum of four hundred guineas”.

Eginton’s works were, in fact, transparencies on glass. He was obliged to render opaque a large portion of his glass, and thus covered up the characteristic beauty of the old windows. Eginton’s showroom was visited by all distinguished visitors to Birmingham. Lord Nelson, accompanied by Sir William and Lady Hamilton called there on 29 August 1802.

Eginton died on 26 March 1805, and was buried in Old Handsworth churchyard.

His daughter married Henry Wyatt, the painter; his son, William Raphael Eginton, succeeded to his father’s business, and in 1816 was appointed glass-stainer to Princess Charlotte. His brother, John Eginton, was a noted stipple engraver. His nephew, also called Francis Eginton, was also a notable engraver.

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Regency Personalities Series

In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Peter Ewart
14 May 1767 – 15 September 1842

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Peter Ewart

Peter Ewart was a British engineer who was influential in developing the technologies of turbines and theories of thermodynamics.

He was son of the Church of Scotland minister of Troqueer near Dumfries, and was one of eleven children. His brother Joseph Ewart became British ambassador to Prussia; John, a doctor, became Chief Inspector of East India Company hospitals in India; and William, father of William Ewart. was business partner of Sir John Gladstone, father of William Ewart Gladstone, whose godfather he was and whom he was named after.

After graduating from the University of Edinburgh, he was apprenticed to millwright John Rennie. His work with water wheels led him to work with Matthew Boulton and James Watt for whom by 1790 he was agent in Manchester. At the same time as acting as agent he was also trading on his own account as a millwright, enabling him to provide the complementary shafts, gears and other necessities to harness the power of the Boulton & Watt steam engines.

In 1792, frustrated in administering the immature and, as yet, unreliable machinery, he left Boulton and Watt to work in partnership with Samuel Oldknow in a cotton bleaching and calico printing venture. He anticipated this being a profitable concern but the partnership was dissolved within a year and he returned to engineering. In 1798 he went into partnership with Samuel Greg, installing an innovative water wheel at Greg’s Quarry Bank Mill on the River Bollin in Cheshire. As a standby, he installed a Watt steam engine.

By 1811, Ewart had abandoned the venture with Greg to concentrate on his own manufacturing business but also his scientific work. He became, along with John Dalton, a vice-president of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society and became active in the contemporary controversies about heat, work and energy. Motivated by a paper of John Playfair and encouraged by Dalton, in 1813 he published On the measure of moving force in which he defended the nascent ideas of the conservation of energy championed by John Smeaton. The paper was strongly to influence Dalton’s pupil James Prescott Joule. A vocal advocate of the application of scientific knowledge in engineering, he was one of the founders of the Manchester Mechanics’ Institute.

Ewart took up the post of Chief Engineer and Chief Inspector of Machinery with the Admiralty in 1835 and died on 15 September 1842 at Woolwich Dockyard when a chain snapped as he was supervising the removal of a boiler.

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Regency Personalities Series

In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Boulton and Watt
1775-1895

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Boulton and Watt as an early British engineering and manufacturing firm in the business of designing and making marine and stationary steam engines. Founded in the English West Midlands around Birmingham in 1775 as a partnership between the English manufacturer Matthew Boulton and the Scottish engineer James Watt, the firm had a major role in the Industrial Revolution and grew to be a major producer of steam engines in the 19th century.

The partnership was formed in 1775 to exploit Watt’s patent for a steam engine with a separate condenser. This made much more efficient use of its fuel than the older Newcomen engine. Initially the business was based at the Soho Manufactory near Boulton’s Soho House on the southern edge of the then-rural parish of Handsworth. However most of the components for their engines were made by others, for example the cylinders by John Wilkinson.

In 1795, they began to make steam engines themselves at their Soho Foundry in Smethwick, near Birmingham, England. The partnership was passed to two of their sons in 1800. William Murdoch was made a partner of the firm in 1810, where he remained until his retirement 20 years later at the age of 76. The firm lasted over 120 years, albeit renamed “James Watt & Co.” in 1849, and was still making steam engines in 1895, when it was sold to W & T Avery Ltd..

The business was a hotbed for the nurturing of emerging engineering talent. Among the names which were employed there in the eighteenth century were James Law, Peter Ewart, William Brunton, Isaac Perrins, William Murdoch, and John Southern.

  • Smethwick Engine, Thinktank science museum, Birmingham, manufactured 1779.
  • Whitbread Engine, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, manufactured 1785.
  • Crofton Pumping Station manufactured 1812.
  • Kew Bridge Steam Museum manufactured 1820.

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Regency Personalities Series

In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

James Watt
19 January 1736 – 25 August 1819

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James Watt

James Watt was born on 19 January 1736 in Greenock, Renfrewshire, a seaport on the Firth of Clyde. His father was a shipwright, ship owner and contractor, and served as the town’s chief baillie, while his mother, Agnes Muirhead, came from a distinguished family and was well educated. Both were Presbyterians and strong Covenanters. Watt’s grandfather, Thomas Watt, was a mathematics teacher and baillie to the Baron of Cartsburn. Despite being raised by religious parents, he later on became a deist.

Watt did not attend school regularly; initially he was mostly schooled at home by his mother but later he attended Greenock Grammar School. He exhibited great manual dexterity, engineering skills and an aptitude for mathematics, while Latin and Greek failed to interest him.

When he was eighteen, his mother died and his father’s health began to fail. Watt travelled to London to study instrument-making for a year, then returned to Scotland, settling in the major commercial city of Glasgow intent on setting up his own instrument-making business. He made and repaired brass reflecting quadrants, parallel rulers, scales, parts for telescopes, and barometers, among other things. Because he had not served at least seven years as an apprentice, the Glasgow Guild of Hammermen (which had jurisdiction over any artisans using hammers) blocked his application, despite there being no other mathematical instrument makers in Scotland.

Watt was saved from this impasse by the arrival of astronomical instruments at the University of Glasgow, instruments that required expert attention. Watt restored them to working order and was remunerated. These instruments were eventually installed in the Macfarlane Observatory. Subsequently three professors offered him the opportunity to set up a small workshop within the university. It was initiated in 1757 and two of the professors, the physicist and chemist Joseph Black as well as the famed Adam Smith, became Watt’s friends.

At first he worked on maintaining and repairing scientific instruments used in the university, helping with demonstrations, and expanding the production of quadrants. In 1759 he formed a partnership with John Craig, an architect and businessman, to manufacture and sell a line of products including musical instruments and toys. This partnership lasted for the next six years, and employed up to sixteen workers. Craig died in 1765. One employee, Alex Gardner, eventually took over the business, which lasted into the twentieth century.

In 1764, Watt married his cousin Margaret (Peggy) Miller, with whom he had five children, two of whom lived to adulthood: James Jr. (1769–1848) and Margaret (1767–1796). His wife died in childbirth in 1772. In 1777 he was married again, to Ann MacGregor, daughter of a Glasgow dye-maker, with whom he had two children: Gregory (1777–1804), who became a geologist and mineralogist, and Janet (1779–1794). Ann died in 1832. Between 1777 and 1790 he lived in Regent Place, Birmingham.

There is a popular story that Watt was inspired to invent the steam engine by seeing a kettle boiling, the steam forcing the lid to rise and thus showing Watt the power of steam. This story is told in many forms; in some Watt is a young lad, in others he is older, sometimes it’s his mother’s kettle, sometimes his aunt’s. James Watt of course did not actually invent the steam engine, as the story implies, but dramatically improved the efficiency of the existing Newcomen engine by adding a separate condenser. This is difficult to explain to someone not familiar with concepts of heat and thermal efficiency. It appears that the story of Watt and the kettle was created, possibly by Watt’s son James Watt Jr., and persists because it is easy for children to understand and remember. In this light it can be seen as akin to the story of Newton, the falling apple and his discovery of gravity.
Although it is often dismissed as a myth, like most good stories the story of James Watt and the kettle has a basis in fact. In trying to understand the thermodynamics of heat and steam James Watt carried out many laboratory experiments and his diaries record that in conducting these he used a kettle as a boiler to generate steam.

In 1759 Watt’s friend, John Robison, called his attention to the use of steam as a source of motive power. The design of the Newcomen engine, in use for almost 50 years for pumping water from mines, had hardly changed from its first implementation. Watt began to experiment with steam, though he had never seen an operating steam engine. He tried constructing a model; it failed to work satisfactorily, but he continued his experiments and began to read everything he could about the subject. He came to realise the importance of latent heat—the thermal energy released or absorbed during a constant-temperature process—in understanding the engine, which, unknown to Watt, his friend Joseph Black had previously discovered some years before. Understanding of the steam engine was in a very primitive state, for the science of thermodynamics would not be formalised for nearly another 100 years.

In 1763, Watt was asked to repair a model Newcomen engine belonging to the university. Even after repair, the engine barely worked. After much experimentation, Watt demonstrated that about three-quarters of the thermal energy of the steam was being consumed in heating the engine cylinder on every cycle. This energy was wasted because later in the cycle cold water was injected into the cylinder to condense the steam to reduce its pressure. Thus by repeatedly heating and cooling the cylinder, the engine wasted most of its thermal energy rather than converting it into mechanical energy.

Watt’s critical insight, arrived at in May 1765, was to cause the steam to condense in a separate chamber apart from the piston, and to maintain the temperature of the cylinder at the same temperature as the injected steam by surrounding it with a “steam jacket.” Thus very little energy was absorbed by the cylinder on each cycle, making more available to perform useful work. Watt had a working model later that same year.

Despite a potentially workable design, there were still substantial difficulties in constructing a full-scale engine. This required more capital, some of which came from Black. More substantial backing came from John Roebuck, the founder of the celebrated Carron Iron Works near Falkirk, with whom he now formed a partnership. Roebuck lived at Kinneil House in Bo’ness, during which time Watt worked at perfecting his steam engine in a cottage adjacent to the house. The shell of the cottage, and a very large part of one of his projects, still exist to the rear.

The principal difficulty was in machining the piston and cylinder. Iron workers of the day were more like blacksmiths than modern machinists, and were unable to produce the components with sufficient precision. Much capital was spent in pursuing a patent on Watt’s invention. Strapped for resources, Watt was forced to take up employment—first as a surveyor, then as a civil engineer—for eight years.

Roebuck went bankrupt, and Matthew Boulton, who owned the Soho Foundry works near Birmingham, acquired his patent rights. An extension of the patent to 1800 was successfully obtained in 1775.

Through Boulton, Watt finally had access to some of the best iron workers in the world. The difficulty of the manufacture of a large cylinder with a tightly fitting piston was solved by John Wilkinson, who had developed precision boring techniques for cannon making at Bersham, near Wrexham, North Wales. Watt and Boulton formed a hugely successful partnership (Boulton and Watt) which lasted for the next twenty-five years.

In 1776, the first engines were installed and working in commercial enterprises. These first engines were used to power pumps and produced only reciprocating motion to move the pump rods at the bottom of the shaft. The design was commercially successful, and for the next five years Watt was very busy installing more engines, mostly in Cornwall for pumping water out of mines.

These early engines were not manufactured by Boulton and Watt, but were made by others according to drawings made by Watt, who served in the role of consulting engineer. The erection of the engine and its shakedown was supervised by Watt, at first, and then by men in the firm’s employ. These were large machines. The first, for example, had a cylinder with a diameter of some 50 inches and an overall height of about 24 feet, and required the construction of a dedicated building to house it. Boulton and Watt charged an annual payment, equal to one third of the value of the coal saved in comparison to a Newcomen engine performing the same work.

The field of application for the invention was greatly widened when Boulton urged Watt to convert the reciprocating motion of the piston to produce rotational power for grinding, weaving and milling. Although a crank seemed the obvious solution to the conversion Watt and Boulton were stymied by a patent for this, whose holder, James Pickard, and associates proposed to cross-license the external condenser. Watt adamantly opposed this and they circumvented the patent by their sun and planet gear in 1781.

Over the next six years, he made a number of other improvements and modifications to the steam engine. A double acting engine, in which the steam acted alternately on the two sides of the piston was one. He described methods for working the steam “expansively” (i.e., using steam at pressures well above atmospheric). A compound engine, which connected two or more engines was described. Two more patents were granted for these in 1781 and 1782. Numerous other improvements that made for easier manufacture and installation were continually implemented. One of these included the use of the steam indicator which produced an informative plot of the pressure in the cylinder against its volume, which he kept as a trade secret. Another important invention, one which Watt was most proud of, was the parallel motion which was essential in double-acting engines as it produced the straight line motion required for the cylinder rod and pump, from the connected rocking beam, whose end moves in a circular arc. This was patented in 1784. A throttle valve to control the power of the engine, and a centrifugal governor, patented in 1788, to keep it from “running away” were very important. These improvements taken together produced an engine which was up to five times as efficient in its use of fuel as the Newcomen engine.

Because of the danger of exploding boilers, which were in a very primitive stage of development, and the ongoing issues with leaks, Watt restricted his use of high pressure steam – all of his engines used steam at near atmospheric pressure.

Edward Bull started constructing engines for Boulton and Watt in Cornwall in 1781. By 1792 he had started making engines of his own design, but which contained a separate condenser, and so infringed Watt’s patents. Two brothers, Jabez Carter Hornblower and Jonathan Hornblower Jnr also started to build engines about the same time. Others began to modify Newcomen engines by adding a condenser, and the mine owners in Cornwall became convinced that Watt’s patent could not be enforced. They started to withhold payments due to Boulton and Watt, which by 1795 had fallen. Of the total £21,000 (£1,940,000 as of 2016) owed, only £2,500 had been received. Watt was forced to go to court to enforce his claims.

He first sued Bull in 1793. The jury found for Watt, but the question of whether or not the original specification of the patent was valid was left to another trial. In the meantime, injunctions were issued against the infringers, forcing their payments of the royalties to be placed in escrow. The trial on determining the validity of the specifications which was held in the following year was inconclusive, but the injunctions remained in force and the infringers, except for Jonathan Hornblower, all began to settle their cases. Hornblower was soon brought to trial and the verdict of the four judges (in 1799) was decisively in favour of Watt. Their friend John Wilkinson, who had solved the problem of boring an accurate cylinder, was a particularly grievous case. He had erected about twenty engines without Boulton’s and Watts’ knowledge. They finally agreed to settle the infringement in 1796. Boulton and Watt never collected all that was owed them, but the disputes were all settled directly between the parties or through arbitration. These trials were extremely costly in both money and time, but ultimately were successful for the firm.

Before 1780 there was no good method for making copies of letters or drawings. The only method sometimes used was a mechanical one using linked multiple pens. Watt at first experimented with improving this method, but soon gave up on this approach because it was so cumbersome. He instead decided to try to physically transfer some ink from the front of the original to the back of another sheet, moistened with a solvent, and pressed to the original. The second sheet had to be thin, so that the ink could be seen through it when the copy was held up to the light, thus reproducing the original exactly.

Watt started to develop the process in 1779, and made many experiments to formulate the ink, select the thin paper, to devise a method for wetting the special thin paper, and to make a press suitable for applying the correct pressure to effect the transfer. All of these required much experimentation, but he soon had enough success to patent the process a year later. Watt formed another partnership with Boulton (who provided financing) and James Keir (to manage the business) in a firm called James Watt and Co. The perfection of the invention required much more development work before it could be routinely used by others, but this was carried out over the next few years. Boulton and Watt gave up their shares to their sons in 1794. It became a commercial success and was widely used in offices even into the twentieth century.

From an early age Watt was very interested in chemistry. In late 1786, while in Paris, he witnessed an experiment by Berthollet in which he reacted hydrochloric acid with manganese dioxide to produce chlorine. He had already found that an aqueous solution of chlorine could bleach textiles, and had published his findings, which aroused great interest among many potential rivals. When Watt returned to Britain, he began experiments along these lines with hopes of finding a commercially viable process. He discovered that a mixture of salt, manganese dioxide and sulphuric acid could produce chlorine, which Watt believed might be a cheaper method. He passed the chlorine into a weak solution of alkali, and obtained a turbid solution that appeared to have good bleaching properties. He soon communicated these results to James McGrigor, his father-in-law, who was a bleacher in Glasgow. Otherwise he tried to keep his method a secret.

With McGrigor and his wife Annie, he started to scale up the process, and in March 1788, McGrigor was able to bleach 1500 yards of cloth to his satisfaction. About this time Berthollet discovered the salt and sulphuric acid process, and published it so it became public knowledge. Many others began to experiment with improving the process, which still had many shortcomings, not the least of which was the problem of transporting the liquid product. Watt’s rivals soon overtook him in developing the process, and he dropped out of the race. It was not until 1799, when Charles Tennant patented a process for producing solid bleaching powder (calcium hypochlorite) that it became a commercial success.

By 1794 Watt had been chosen by Thomas Beddoes to manufacture apparatus to produce, clean and store gases for use in the new Pneumatic Institution at Hotwells in Bristol. Watt continued to experiment with various gases for several years, but by 1797 the medical uses for the “factitious airs” had come to a dead end.

Watt combined theoretical knowledge of science with the ability to apply it practically. Humphry Davy said of him “Those who consider James Watt only as a great practical mechanic form a very erroneous idea of his character; he was equally distinguished as a natural philosopher and a chemist, and his inventions demonstrate his profound knowledge of those sciences, and that peculiar characteristic of genius, the union of them for practical application”.

He was greatly respected by other prominent men of the Industrial Revolution. He was an important member of the Lunar Society, and was a much sought-after conversationalist and companion, always interested in expanding his horizons. His personal relationships with his friends and partners were always congenial and long-lasting.

Watt was a prolific correspondent. During his years in Cornwall, he wrote long letters to Boulton several times per week. He was averse to publishing his results in, for example, the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society however, and instead preferred to communicate his ideas in patents. He was an excellent draughtsman.

He was a rather poor businessman, and especially hated bargaining and negotiating terms with those who sought to use the steam engine. In a letter to William Small in 1772, Watt confessed that “he would rather face a loaded cannon than settle an account or make a bargain.” Until he retired, he was always much concerned about his financial affairs, and was something of a worrier. His health was often poor. He was subject to frequent nervous headaches and depression.

At first the partnership made the drawing and specifications for the engines, and supervised the work to erect it on the customers property. They produced almost none of the parts themselves. Watt did most of his work at his home in Harper’s Hill in Birmingham, while Boulton worked at the Soho Manufactory. Gradually the partners began to actually manufacture more and more of the parts, and by 1795 they purchased a property about a mile away from the Soho manufactory, on the banks of the Birmingham Canal, to establish a new foundry for the manufacture of the engines. The Soho Foundry formally opened in 1796 at a time when Watt’s sons, Gregory and James Jr. were heavily involved in the management of the enterprise. In 1800, the year of Watt’s retirement, the firm made a total of forty-one engines.

Watt retired in 1800, the same year that his fundamental patent and partnership with Boulton expired. The famous partnership was transferred to the men’s sons, Matthew Robinson Boulton and James Watt Jr. . Longtime firm engineer William Murdoch was soon made a partner and the firm prospered.
Watt continued to invent other things before and during his semi-retirement. Within his home in Handsworth, Staffordshire, Watt made use of a garret room as a workshop, and it was here that he worked on many of his inventions. Among other things, he invented and constructed several machines for copying sculptures and medallions which worked very well, but which he never patented. One of the first sculptures he produced with the machine was a small head of his old professor friend Adam Smith. He maintained his interest in civil engineering and was a consultant on several significant projects. He proposed, for example, a method for constructing a flexible pipe to be used for pumping water under the Clyde at Glasgow.

He and his second wife travelled to France and Germany, and he purchased an estate in mid-Wales at Doldowlod House, one mile south of Llanwrthwl, which he much improved.

In 1816 he took a trip on the paddle-steamer The Comet, a product of his inventions, to revisit his home town of Greenock.

He died on 25 August 1819 at his home “Heathfield” in Handsworth, Staffordshire (now part of Birmingham) at the age of 83. He was buried on 2 September in the graveyard of St Mary’s Church, Handsworth. The church has since been extended and his grave is now inside the church.

William Murdoch joined Boulton and Watt in 1777. At first he worked in the pattern shop in Soho, but soon he was erecting engines in Cornwall. He became an important part of the firm and made many contributions to its success. A very able man, he made several important inventions on his own.
John Griffiths, who wrote a biography of him in 1992, has argued that Watt’s discouraging Murdoch from working with high pressure steam (Watt rightly believed that boilers of the time would be unsafe) on his steam road locomotive experiments delayed its development.

Watt patented the application of the sun and planet gear to steam in 1781 and a steam locomotive in 1784, both of which have strong claims to have been invented by Murdoch. The patent was never contested by Murdoch, however, and Boulton and Watt’s firm continued to use the sun and planet gear in their rotative engines, even long after the patent for the crank expired in 1794. Murdoch was made a partner of the firm in 1810, where he remained until his retirement 20 years later at the age of 76.

James Watt’s improvements to the steam engine “converted it from a prime mover of marginal efficiency into the mechanical workhorse of the Industrial Revolution”. The availability of efficient, reliable motive power made whole new classes of industry economically viable, and altered the economies of continents. In doing so it brought about immense social change, attracting millions of rural families to the towns and cities.

Watt was the sole inventor listed on his six patents:

  • Patent 913 A method of lessening the consumption of steam in steam engines-the separate condenser. The specification was accepted on 5 January 1769; enrolled on 29 April 1769, and extended to June 1800 by an act of Parliament in 1775.
  • Patent 1,244 A new method of copying letters; The specification was accepted on 14 February 1780 and enrolled on 31 May 1780.
  • Patent 1,306 New methods to produce a continued rotation motion – sun and planet. The specification was accepted on 25 October 1781 and enrolled on 23 February 1782.
  • Patent 1,321 New improvements upon steam engines – expansive and double acting. The specification was accepted on 14 March 1782 and enrolled on 4 July 1782.
  • Patent 1,432 New improvements upon steam engines – three bar motion and steam carriage. The specification was accepted on 28 April 1782 and enrolled on 25 August 1782.
  • Patent 1,485 Newly improved methods of constructing furnaces. The specification was accepted on 14 June 1785 and enrolled on 9 July 1785.

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Regency Personalities Series

In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Thomas Williams of Llanidan
13 May 1737 – 30 November 1802

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Thomas Williams of Llanidan

Thomas Williams of Llanidan was born in Llanidan, Anglesey, the son of Owen Williams of Cefn Coch in Llansadwrn.

In the 18th century, there was a significant shortage of food for labouring people. Williams, known to his Welsh speaking workmen as Twm Chwarae Teg (“Tom Fairplay”), once complained to the magistrate at Llanidan that the villagers on Anglesey raided his fields and stole the turnips intended for his cattle and used them to feed their families. His business rival, Matthew Boulton, called Williams the “copper king” – “the despotick sovereign of the copper trade”. To his friend and agent he said, “Let me advise you to be extremely cautious in your dealings with Williams”. He spoke of Williams as “a perfect tyrant and not over tenacious of his word and will screw damned hard when he has got anybody in his vice”. Of the Cornish producers, Boulton said “they would not have submitted to be kicked and piss’d on by me as they have been by them” (Williams and his partner Wilkinson).

Williams’ tenacity as a lawyer was very evident when acting for the Hughes family of Llysdulas who were in an acrimonious dispute with Sir Nicholas Bayly of Plas Newydd concerning the Parys Mountain copper mine. This dispute, which ran for over nine years, involved the interpretation of that very unsatisfactory testamentary device called a moiety. At one stage the dispute involved four years of expensive litigation in the Chancery court with the Attorney General and the Solicitor General acting for opposing sides and was not finally settled until 1778. In that year Sir Nicholas leased his own copper mine to a London banker John Dawes (a secret associate of Williams) for 21 years.

Williams emerged from the dispute as the managing partner with the Revd Edward Hughes and John Dawes in the Parys Mine Company. This under Williams control was cheap to run and extremely productive. His great problem was to obtain an attractive price for the copper. He faced a cartel of copper smelters whose aim was to buy cheap and sell dear. He moved decisively to establish his own smelting facilities and quickly entered into an agreement with John Mackay to establish an industrial complex at Ravenhead near St Helens in Lancashire. He also established warehousing and copper manufacturing and finishing facilities, and even a mint – thus creating a vertical organisation. In 1788, Williams purchased the Temple Mills at Bisham in Berkshire. He built himself a fine mansion there called Temple House and used the mills for smelting copper brought from his Welsh mines. He became MP for the nearby town of Marlow in Buckinghamshire.

He also acted quickly to absorb or control other producers – notably the Cornish mines to produce a complete response to the cartel. Although always the driving force, Williams built up and controlled a major commercial organisation and surrounded himself with able staff. The Revd Edward was always a sleeping partner but younger brother Michael Hughes was an able manager. Other partners and staff included The Earl of Uxbridge, Owen Williams, and Thomas Harrison.

His business organisation was first rate. He developed the technique of establishing his various businesses in separate companies. Thus the Parys Mine Company controlled its own smelting in South Wales, Lancashire and copper manufacture at Holywell and Wraysbury. Likewise the Mona mine (adjoining Parys) output was smelted by the Stanley Company in both Lancashire and South Wales. Other Companies dealt with manufacture at Greenfield near Flint and in the Thames Valley, Chemical Works (vitriol) at Garston Liverpool and still others with warehousing and banking.

Williams had built copper works at Flint and Penclawdd where he made copper and brass products. Many of these materials were for use in the African slave trade. These copper trinkets etc. were largely exported to Africa for use as payment for slaves, who were then transported to the West Indies and sold. The proceeds were then used to purchase commodities for import into Britain. Williams claimed to have invested £70,000 in this trade and petitioned parliament in 1788 when a bill was being discussed to prevent British ships from carrying slaves. Williams is said also to have introduced the use of copper bolts to fix the copper sheeting to naval vessels and it would appear that he sold them to all sides in the naval conflicts. When he died in 1802, 1,200 people were employed in his Parys and Mona mines, but five years later the number had dropped to 120. This owing partly to the collapse of copper prices, but also to the exhaustion of the known local copper deposits – but no doubt largely resulting from the death of the firm’s great driving force.

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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Matthew Boulton
3 September 1728 – 17 August 1809

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Matthew Boulton

Boulton was a descendant of families from around Lichfield, his great-great-great-great grandfather, Rev. Zachary Babington, having been Chancellor of Lichfield. Boulton’s father, also named Matthew and born in 1700, moved to Birmingham from Lichfield to serve an apprenticeship, and in 1723 he married Christiana Piers. The elder Boulton was a toymaker with a small workshop specialising in buckles. Matthew Boulton was born in 1728, their third child and the second of that name, the first Matthew having died at the age of two in 1726.

The elder Boulton’s business prospered after young Matthew’s birth, and the family moved to the Snow Hill area of Birmingham, then a well-to-do neighbourhood of new houses. As the local grammar school was in disrepair Boulton was sent to an academy in Deritend, on the other side of Birmingham. At the age of 15 he left school, and by 17 he had invented a technique for inlaying enamels in buckles that proved so popular that the buckles were exported to France, then reimported to Britain and billed as the latest French developments.

On 3 March 1749 Boulton married Mary Robinson, a distant cousin and the daughter of a successful mercer, and wealthy in her own right. They lived briefly with the bride’s mother in Lichfield, and then moved to Birmingham where the elder Matthew Boulton made his son a partner at the age of 21. Though the son signed business letters “from father and self”, by the mid-1750s he was effectively running the business. The elder Boulton retired in 1757 and died in 1759.

The Boultons had three daughters in the early 1750s, but all died in infancy. Mary Boulton’s health deteriorated, and she died in August 1759. Not long after her death Boulton began to woo her sister Anne. Marriage with a deceased wife’s sister was forbidden by ecclesiastical law, though permitted by common law. Nonetheless, they married on 25 June 1760 at St. Mary’s Church, Rotherhithe. Eric Delieb, who wrote a book on Boulton’s silver, with a biographical sketch, suggests that the marriage celebrant, Rev. James Penfold, an impoverished curate, was probably bribed.

The union was opposed by Anne’s brother Luke, who feared Boulton would control (and possibly dissipate) much of the Robinson family fortune. In 1764 Luke Robinson died, and his estate passed to his sister Anne and thus into Matthew Boulton’s control.

The Boultons had two children, Matthew Robinson Boulton and Anne Boulton. Matthew Robinson in turn had six children with two wives. His eldest son Matthew Piers Watt Boulton, broadly educated and also a man of science, gained some fame posthumously for his invention of the important aeronautical flight control, the aileron. As his father before him, he also had two wives and six children.

After the death of his father in 1759, Boulton took full control of the family toymaking business. He spent much of his time in London and elsewhere, promoting his wares. He arranged for a friend to present a sword to Prince Edward, and the gift so interested the Prince’s older brother, George, Prince of Wales, the future King George III, that he ordered one for himself.

With capital accumulated from his two marriages and his inheritance from his father, Boulton sought a larger site to expand his business. In 1761 he leased 13 acres (5.3 ha) at Soho, then just in Staffordshire, with a residence, Soho House, and a rolling mill. Soho House was at first occupied by Boulton relatives, and then by his first partner, John Fothergill. In 1766 Boulton required Fothergill to vacate Soho House, and lived there himself with his family. Both husband and wife died there, Anne Boulton of an apparent stroke in 1783 and her husband after a long illness in 1809.

The 13 acres (5 ha) at Soho included common land that Boulton enclosed, later decrying what he saw as the “idle beggarly” condition of the people who had used it. By 1765 his Soho Manufactory had been erected. The warehouse, or “principal building”, had a Palladian front and 19 bays for loading and unloading, and had quarters for clerks and managers on the upper storeys. The structure was designed by local architect William Wyatt at a time when industrial buildings were commonly designed by engineers. Other buildings contained workshops. Boulton and Fothergill invested in the most advanced metalworking equipment, and the complex was admired as a modern industrial marvel. Although the cost of the principal building alone had been estimated at £2,000 (about £276,000 today); the final cost was five times that amount. The partnership spent over £20,000 in building and equipping the premises. The partners’ means were not equal to the total costs, which were met only by heavy borrowing and by artful management of creditors.

Among the products Boulton sought to make in his new facility were sterling silver plate for those able to afford it, and Sheffield plate, silver-plated copper, for those less well off. Boulton and his father had long made small silver items, but there is no record of large items in either silver or Sheffield plate being made in Birmingham before Boulton did so. To make items such as candlesticks more cheaply than the London competition, the firm made many items out of thin, die-stamped sections, which were shaped and joined together. One impediment to Boulton’s work was the lack of an assay office in Birmingham. The silver toys long made by the family firm were generally too light to require assaying, but silver plate had to be sent over 70 miles (110 km) to the nearest assay office, at Chester, to be assayed and hallmarked, with the attendant risks of damage and loss. Alternatively they could be sent to London, but this exposed them to the risk of being copied by competitors. Boulton wrote in 1771, “I am very desirous of becoming a great silversmith, yet I am determined not to take up that branch in the large way I intended, unless powers can be obtained to have a marking hall [assay office] at Birmingham.” Boulton petitioned Parliament for the establishment of an assay office in Birmingham. Though the petition was bitterly opposed by London goldsmiths, he was successful in getting Parliament to pass an act establishing assay offices in Birmingham and Sheffield, whose silversmiths had faced similar difficulties in transporting their wares. The silver business proved not to be profitable due to the opportunity cost of keeping a large amount of capital tied up in the inventory of silver. The firm continued to make large quantities of Sheffield plate, but Boulton delegated responsibility for this enterprise to trusted subordinates, involving himself little in it.

As part of Boulton’s efforts to market to the wealthy, he started to sell vases decorated with ormolu, previously a French speciality. Ormolu was milled gold (from the French or moulu) amalgamated with mercury, and applied to the item, which was then heated to drive off the mercury, leaving the gold decoration. In the late 1760s and early 1770s there was a fashion among the wealthy for decorated vases, and he sought to cater to this craze. He initially ordered ceramic vases from his friend and fellow Lunar Society member Josiah Wedgwood, but ceramic proved unable to bear the weight of the decorations and Boulton chose marble and other decorative stone as the material for his vases. Boulton copied vase designs from classical Greek works and borrowed works of art from collectors, merchants, and sculptors.

Fothergill and others searched Europe for designs for these creations. In March 1770 Boulton visited the Royal Family and sold several vases to Queen Charlotte, George III’s wife. He ran annual sales at Christie’s in 1771 and 1772. The Christie’s exhibition succeeded in publicising Boulton and his products, which were highly praised, but the sales were not financially successful with many works left unsold or sold below cost. When the craze for vases ended in the early 1770s, the partnership was left with a large stock on its hands, and disposed of much of it in a single massive sale to Catherine the Great of Russia—the Empress described the vases as superior to French ormolu, and cheaper as well. Boulton continued to solicit orders, though “ormolu” was dropped from the firm’s business description from 1779, and when the Boulton-Fothergill partnership was dissolved by the latter’s 1782 death there were only 14 items of ormolu in the “toy room”.

Among Boulton’s most successful products were mounts for small Wedgwood products such as plaques, cameo brooches and buttons in the distinctive ceramics, notably jasper ware, for which Wedgwood’s firm remains well known. The mounts of these articles, many of which have survived, were made of ormolu or cut steel, which had a jewel-like gleam. Boulton and Wedgwood were friends, alternately co-operating and competing, and Wedgwood wrote of Boulton, “It doubles my courage to have the first Manufacturer in England to encounter with—The match likes me well—I like the Man, I like his spirit.”

In the 1770s Boulton introduced an insurance system for his workers that served as the model for later schemes, allowing his workers compensation in the event of injury or illness. The first of its kind in any large establishment, employees paid one-sixtieth of their wages into the Soho Friendly Society, membership in which was mandatory. The firm’s apprentices were poor or orphaned boys, trainable into skilled workmen; he declined to hire the sons of gentlemen as apprentices, stating that they would be “out of place” among the poorer boys.

Not all of Boulton’s innovations proved successful. Together with painter Francis Eginton,[a] he created a process for the mechanical reproduction of paintings for middle-class homes, but eventually abandoned the procedure. Boulton and James Keir produced an alloy called “Eldorado metal” that they claimed would not corrode in water and could be used for sheathing wooden ships. After sea trials the Admiralty rejected their claims, and the metal was used for fanlights and sash windows at Soho House. Boulton feared that construction of a nearby canal would damage his water supply, but this did not prove to be the case, and in 1779 he wrote, “Our navigation goes on prosperously; the junction with the Wolverhampton Canal is complete, and we already sail to Bristol and to Hull.”

Boulton’s Soho site proved to have insufficient hydropower for his needs, especially in the summer when the millstream’s flow was greatly reduced. He realised that using a steam engine either to pump water back up to the millpond or to drive equipment directly would help to provide the necessary power. He began to correspond with Watt in 1766, and first met him two years later. In 1769 Watt patented an engine with the innovation of a separate condenser, making it far more efficient than earlier engines. Boulton realised not only that this engine could power his manufactory, but also that its production might be a profitable business venture.

After receiving the patent, Watt did little to develop the engine into a marketable invention, turning to other work. In 1772, Watt’s partner, Dr. John Roebuck, ran into financial difficulties, and Boulton, to whom he owed £1,200, accepted his two-thirds share in Watt’s patent as satisfaction of the debt. Boulton’s partner Fothergill refused to have any part in the speculation, and accepted cash for his share. Boulton’s share was worth little without Watt’s efforts to improve his invention. At the time, the principal use of steam engines was to pump water out of mines. The engine commonly in use was the Newcomen steam engine, which consumed large amounts of coal and, as mines became deeper, proved incapable of keeping them clear of water. Watt’s work was well known, and a number of mines that needed engines put off purchasing them in the hope that Watt would soon market his invention.

Boulton boasted about Watt’s talents, leading to an employment offer from the Russian government, which Boulton had to persuade Watt to turn down. In 1774 he was able to convince Watt to move to Birmingham, and they entered into a partnership the following year. By 1775 six of the 14 years of Watt’s original patent had elapsed, but thanks to Boulton’s lobbying Parliament passed an act extending Watt’s patent until 1800. Boulton and Watt began work improving the engine. With the assistance of iron master John Wilkinson (brother-in-law of Lunar Society member Joseph Priestley), they succeeded in making the engine commercially viable.

In 1776 the partnership erected two engines, one for Wilkinson and one at a mine in Tipton in the Black Country. Both engines were successfully installed, leading to favourable publicity for the partnership. Boulton and Watt began to install engines elsewhere. The firm rarely produced the engine itself: it had the purchaser buy parts from a number of suppliers and then assembled the engine on-site under the supervision of a Soho engineer. The company made its profit by comparing the amount of coal used by the machine with that used by an earlier, less efficient Newcomen engine, and required payments of one-third of the savings annually for the next 25 years. This pricing scheme led to disputes, as many mines fuelled the engines using coal of unmarketable quality that cost the mine owners only the expense of extraction. Mine owners were also reluctant to make the annual payments, viewing the engines as theirs once erected, and threatened to petition Parliament to repeal Watt’s patent.

The county of Cornwall was a major market for the firm’s engines. It was mineral-rich and had many mines. However, the special problems for mining there, including local rivalries and high prices for coal, which had to be imported from Wales, forced Watt and later Boulton to spend several months a year in Cornwall overseeing installations and resolving problems with the mineowners. In 1779 the firm hired engineer William Murdoch,[b] who was able to take over the management of most of the on-site installation problems, allowing Watt and Boulton to remain in Birmingham.

The pumping engine for use in mines was a great success. In 1782 the firm sought to modify Watt’s invention so that the engine had a rotary motion, making it suitable for use in mills and factories. On a 1781 visit to Wales Boulton had seen a powerful copper-rolling mill driven by water, and when told it was often inoperable in the summer due to drought suggested that a steam engine would remedy that defect. Boulton wrote to Watt urging the modification of the engine, warning that they were reaching the limits of the pumping engine market: “There is no other Cornwall to be found, and the most likely line for increasing the consumption of our engines is the application of them to mills, which is certainly an extensive field.” Watt spent much of 1782 on the modification project, and though he was concerned that few orders would result, completed it at the end of the year. One order was received in 1782, and several others from mills and breweries soon after. George III toured the Whitbread brewery in London, and was impressed by the engine. As a demonstration, Boulton used two engines to grind wheat at the rate of 150 bushels per hour in his new Albion Mill in London. While the mill was not financially successful, according to historian Jenny Uglow it served as a “publicity stunt par excellence” for the firm’s latest innovation. Before its 1791 destruction by fire, the mill’s fame, according to early historian Samuel Smiles, “spread far and wide”, and orders for rotative engines poured in not only from Britain but from the United States and the West Indies.

Between 1775 and 1800 the firm produced approximately 450 engines. It did not let other manufacturers produce engines with separate condensers, and approximately 1,000 Newcomen engines, less efficient but cheaper and not subject to the restrictions of Watt’s patent, were produced in Britain during that time. Boulton boasted to James Boswell when the diarist toured Soho, “I sell here, sir, what all the world desires to have—POWER.” The development of an efficient steam engine allowed large-scale industry to be developed, and the industrial city, such as Manchester became, to exist.

By 1786, two-thirds of the coins in circulation in Britain were counterfeit, and the Royal Mint responded by shutting itself down, worsening the situation. Few of the silver coins being passed were genuine. Even the copper coins were melted down and replaced with lightweight fakes. The Royal Mint struck no copper coins for 48 years, from 1773 until 1821. The resultant gap was filled with copper tokens that approximated the size of the halfpenny, struck on behalf of merchants. Boulton struck millions of these merchant pieces. On the rare occasions when the Royal Mint did strike coins, they were relatively crude, with quality control nonexistent.

Boulton had turned his attention to coinage in the mid-1780s; they were just another small metal product like those he manufactured. He also had shares in several Cornish copper mines, and had a large personal stock of copper, purchased when the mines were unable to dispose of it elsewhere. However, when orders for counterfeit money were sent to him, he refused them: “I will do anything, short of being a common informer against particular persons, to stop the malpractices of the Birmingham coiners.” In 1788 he established the Soho Mint as part of his industrial plant. The mint included eight steam-driven presses, each striking between 70 and 84 coins per minute. The firm had little immediate success getting a license to strike British coins, but was soon engaged in striking coins for the British East India Company for use in India.

Boulton offered to strike new coins at a cost “not exceeding half the expense which the common copper coin hath always cost at his Majesty’s Mint”.

Boulton spent much time in London lobbying for a contract to strike British coins, but in June 1790 the Pitt Government postponed a decision on recoinage indefinitely. Meanwhile, the Soho Mint struck coins for the East India Company, Sierra Leone and Russia, while producing high-quality planchets, or blank coins, to be struck by national mints elsewhere. The firm sent over 20 million blanks to Philadelphia, to be struck into cents and half-cents by the United States Mint—Mint Director Elias Boudinot found them to be “perfect and beautifully polished”. The high-technology Soho Mint gained increasing and somewhat unwelcome attention: rivals attempted industrial espionage, while lobbying for Boulton’s mint to be shut down.

The national financial crisis reached its nadir in February 1797, when the Bank of England stopped redeeming its bills for gold. In an effort to get more money into circulation, the Government adopted a plan to issue large quantities of copper coins, and Lord Hawkesbury summoned Boulton to London on 3 March 1797, informing him of the Government’s plan. Four days later, Boulton attended a meeting of the Privy Council, and was awarded a contract at the end of the month. According to a proclamation dated 26 July 1797, King George III was “graciously pleased to give directions that measures might be taken for an immediate supply of such copper coinage as might be best adapted to the payment of the laborious poor in the present exigency … which should go and pass for one penny and two pennies”. The proclamation required that the coins weigh one and two ounces respectively, bringing the intrinsic value of the coins close to their face value. Boulton made efforts to frustrate counterfeiters. Designed by Heinrich Küchler, the coins featured a raised rim with incuse or sunken letters and numbers, features difficult for counterfeiters to match. The twopenny coins measured exactly an inch and a half across; 16 pennies lined up would reach two feet. The exact measurements and weights made it easy to detect lightweight counterfeits. Küchler also designed proportionate halfpennies and farthings; these were not authorised by the proclamation, and though pattern pieces were struck, they never officially entered circulation. The halfpenny measured ten to a foot, the farthing 12 to a foot. The coins were nicknamed “cartwheels”, both because of the size of the twopenny coin and in reference to the broad rims of both denominations. The penny was the first of its denomination to be struck in copper.

The cartwheel twopenny coin was not struck again; much of the mintage was melted down in 1800 when the price of copper increased and it had proved too heavy for commerce and was difficult to strike. Much to Boulton’s chagrin, the new coins were being counterfeited in copper-covered lead within a month of issuance. Boulton was awarded additional contracts in 1799 and 1806, each for the lower three copper denominations. Though the cartwheel design was used again for the 1799 penny (struck with the date 1797), all other strikings used lighter planchets to reflect the rise in the price of copper, and featured more conventional designs. Boulton greatly reduced the counterfeiting problem by adding lines to the coin edges, and striking slightly concave planchets. Counterfeiters turned their sights to easier targets, the pre-Soho pieces, which were not withdrawn, due to the expense, until a gradual withdrawal took place between 1814 and 1817.

Boulton was widely involved in civic activities in Birmingham. His friend Dr John Ash had long sought to build a hospital in the town. A great fan of the music of Handel, Boulton conceived of the idea to hold a music festival in Birmingham to raise funds for the hospital. The festival took place in September 1768, the first of a series stretching well into the twentieth century. The hospital opened in 1779. Boulton also helped build the General Dispensary, where outpatient treatment could be obtained. A firm supporter of the Dispensary, he served as treasurer, and wrote, “If the funds of the institution are not sufficient for its support, I will make up the deficiency.” The Dispensary soon outgrew its original quarters, and a new building in Temple Row was opened in 1808, shortly before Boulton’s death.

Boulton helped found the New Street Theatre in 1774, and later wrote that having a theatre encouraged well-to-do visitors to come to Birmingham, and to spend more money than they would have otherwise. Boulton attempted to have the theatre recognised as a patent theatre with a Royal Patent, entitled to present serious drama; he failed in 1779 but succeeded in 1807. He also supported Birmingham’s Oratorio Choral Society, and collaborated with button maker and amateur musical promoter Joseph Moore to put on a series of private concerts in 1799. He maintained a pew at St Paul’s Church, Birmingham, a centre of musical excellence.

Concerned about the level of crime in Birmingham, Boulton complained, “The streets are infested from Noon Day to midnight with prostitutes.” In an era prior to the establishment of the police, Boulton served on a committee to organise volunteers to patrol the streets at night and reduce crime. He supported the local militia, providing money for weapons. In 1794 he was elected High Sheriff of Staffordshire, his county of residence.

Besides seeking to improve local life, Boulton took an interest in world affairs. Initially sympathetic to the cause of the rebellious American colonists, Boulton changed his view once he realised that an independent America might be a threat to British trade, and in 1775 organised a petition urging the government to take a hard line with the Americans—though when the revolution proved successful, he resumed trade with the former colonies. He was more sympathetic to the cause of the French Revolution, believing it justified, though he expressed his horror at the bloody excesses of the Revolutionary government. When war with France broke out, he paid for weapons for a company of volunteers, sworn to resist any French invasion.

When Boulton was widowed in 1783 he was left with the care of his two teenage children. Neither his son Matthew Robinson Boulton nor his daughter Anne enjoyed robust health; the younger Matthew was often ill and was a poor student who was shuttled from school to school until he joined his father’s business in 1790; Anne suffered from a diseased leg that prevented her from enjoying a full life. Despite his lengthy absences on business, Boulton cared deeply for his family.

With the expiry of the patent in 1800 both Boulton and Watt retired from the partnership, each turning over his role to his namesake son. The two sons made changes, quickly ending public tours of the Soho Manufactory in which the elder Boulton had taken pride throughout his time in Soho.

By early 1809 he was seriously ill. He had long suffered from kidney stones, which also lodged in the bladder, causing him great pain. He died at Soho House on 17 August 1809. He was buried in the graveyard of St. Mary’s Church, Handsworth, in Birmingham – the church was later extended over the site of his grave. Inside the church, on the north wall of the sanctuary, is a large marble monument to him, commissioned by his son, sculpted by the sculptor John Flaxman. It includes a marble bust of Boulton, set in a circular opening above two putti, one holding an engraving of the Soho Manufactory.

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