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Birmingham City Council

Boulton, Watt and Murdock

In 1762 Matthew Boulton opened Soho Manufactory at a cost of 0,000. It was the biggest factory in the world and put Handsworth at the centre of the industrial revolution. In 1775 Boulton went into partnership with James Watt - Watt being taken on board to develop steam engine production, while Boulton concentrated on the company's other products such as Coins and Tokens, Ormolu and Silver Plate. Steam engine production expanded rapidly and the firm set up offices in Cornwall where demand was heavy from the tin and copper mines.

William Murdock (sometimes spelt Murdoch), the firm's chief mechanic and technical agent, represented company interests there for nineteen years. On his return in 1797 he developed a gas lighting system to increase productivity, for which he remains known to this day. All three men are buried in Saint Mary's Church Handsworth where thee are tablets commemorating their magnificent achievements. Boulton once remarked that they had succeeded in providing "What all the world desires tohave - power !"


Soho Foundry 1860 by Sir Benjamin Stone


The archives of Boulton and Watt are housed in the Archives section of Birmingham Central Library. Due to the vast size of the collection, Digital Handsworth Project is unable to digitise all of it, so we will be presenting a sample of it online. Much of the material has not been widely available before and it will provide a fascinating look at life, work and products of the principals and the factory itself.


Technical drawing of Boulton and Watt engine


Digital Handsworth ProjectDigital Handsworth Project
Benjamin Stone
Vanley Burke: Handsworth from the inside
George Hallett: Handsworth Through Southern Eyes
Wish you were here?: Handsworth on postcards
Handsworth in the Blitz
Hot Air Over Handsworth: Lieutenant Lempriere
The Warwickshire Photographic Survey
Plan of the parish of Handsworth 1872