Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

Registered UK Charity (No. 115342)

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 163,484 pages of information and 245,913 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Soho Manufactory

From Graces Guide

The Soho Manufactory or Soho Works (grid reference SP051890) was an early large-scale factory which pioneered mass production on the assembly line principle, in Soho, Birmingham.

The factory was established by the "toy" manufacturer Matthew Boulton and his business partner John Fothergill. The manufactory produced a wide range of goods from buttons, buckles and boxes to japanned ware (collectively called toys), and luxury products such as silverware and ormolu (a type of gilded bronze). Steam engine component production and engine assemblys were later added.

Soho Manufactory should be distinguished from Soho Foundry, which was the engineering works founded and carried on by Matthew Boulton and James Watt, located 1 mile west of the Manufactory, established in 1795.

1761 Boulton and Fothergill leased a site on Handsworth Heath, containing a cottage and a water-driven metal-rolling mill. The mill was replaced by a new factory, designed and built by the Wyatt family of Lichfield, and completed in 1766.

The cottage was later demolished and Boulton's home (Soho House) was built on the site, also by the Wyatts.

1774 Fothergill considered the business to be on the edge of bankruptcy, having made losses for many years.

1775 Boulton entered into a partnership with James Watt and traded as Boulton and Watt

1781 Boulton gave his partner notice that the partnership, Boulton and Fothergill, should cease on 31 December 1781; Fothergill died in the following year.

One of the first rotary engines made by Boulton and Watt was erected here; it was of the sun-and-planet type, with wooden main lever, which gave motion to the glasscutter's laps, and was hence called the Lap engine. It also gave motion to the Steel Company's works, and to the cutting-out presses of the Mint.

1788 The first steam-powered mint, the Soho Mint, was erected by Boulton on the site, at a little distance from the south end of the courtyard.

There were various departments on the site: the Steam Engine Company, the Silver and Plated Company (which occupied the principal block of buildings), the Steel Toy and Fire Iron Company, the Copying Machine Company, and the Mint and Rolling Mill.

1795 Matthew Boulton began construction of the Soho Foundry for Boulton and Watt about one mile from his Soho Manufactory, where steam engines to the design of James Watt would be built[1].

1809 After Matthew Boulton's death, Matthew Robinson Boulton directed the Soho Manufactory on his own account.

The manufactory was gradually demolished from the 1850s to the early 1860s.

The site was later used for housing. There are no remains of the Manufactory or the Soho Mint to be seen above the ground.

The demolition of the celebrated Soho is determined upon to make room, we understand, for improvements in the neighbourhood. In a few weeks this renowned manufactory will be swept for ever from our view. It has had its day, and a good day too. Erected by Matthew Boulton, that enterprising and talented supporter and encourager of arts, science, and mechanics, in 1762-63-64, it has gone on crowned with unparalleled success through all the storms and trials of the English trade for nearly a century. Here it was that Matthew Boulton gathered around him the talent, the skill, and ingenuity available in Europe. Here the great Watt brought his steam-engine to perfection. Here Rennie studied and worked, and also the celebrated sculptor Flaxman, and Wyon. Eginton, the glass-stainer, who executed that beautiful altar-piece at our St. Paul's Church, was brought out by Mr. Boulton, and to him was entrusted the secret invention of copying pictures in oil. This secret died with Francis Eginton. Nor must forget Murdock, the inventor of the first locomotive steam-engine and the discoverer of the gas-light, was at this stately pile, then lying embosomed in plantations, that this useful and beneficial invention of Murdock's was first publicly exhibited, celebration of the peace of Amiens, and many our oldest inhabitants may recollect this illumination, as well as one which exceeded it in grandeur in 1814. Here, too, that most beautiful and perfect machinery was invented, constructed, and used for making the various coinages in Europe. The Soho penny piece - the Boulton's penny - was success beyond expectation. Before its introduction many and many a poor fellow lost his life on the gallows for forging bad money. Matthew Boulton's new mint almost put a stop to the fearful semes which after every assizes Washwood-heath and at the cross-roads. Well might Dr. Darwin, in his work on botany, say, if a civic crown was given in Rome for preserving the life of one citizen, Matthew Boulton should be crowned with garlands of oak. James Watt was introduced to Matthew Boulton, at Soho, by Dr. Small, in 1772, and in 1773 he entered into partnership with Boulton. Then commenced the great revolution in distributing power by means of steam; then the greatest of England's benefactors assembled at this venerable spot. There might bo seen monthly, on the night of the full moon, in close conclave, the brightest stars of ingenuity, science, and art, discussing and proposing all the great theories and practical calculations which have brought England to what it is - Priestley (by the side of Benjamin Franklin sometimes), Dr. Small, Dr. Black, Mr. Edgworth, James Watt, Matthew Boulton, Mr. Kerr, Dr. Darwin, Mr. Baskerville. Dr. Johnson, and others of the Lunar Society. This shrine of science, school of art, and temple of mechanics is now doomed, and in few weeks time all traces of the venerable and stately fame will be swept away; but its fame will live for evermore. Birmingham Post.'[2]

A Detailed Study, 2022

The book 'The Soho Manufactory, Mint and Foundry, West Midlands' by George Demidowicz provides a comprehensive and profusely illustrated analysis of the Soho factories [3]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The Lunar Men, by Jenny Uglow, Faber and Faber,2002
  2. Morning Advertiser - Monday 29 December 1862
  3. 'The Soho Manufactory, Mint and Foundry, West Midlands - Where Boulton, Watt and Murdoch made History' by George Demidowicz, 2022. Liverpool University Press for Historic England