Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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Soho Manufactory

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The Soho Manufactory (grid reference SP051890) was an early 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 later luxury products such as silverware and ormolu (a type of gilded bronze).

Soho Manufactory should be distinguished from Soho Foundry, which was the engineering works founded and carried on by Matthew Boulton and James Watt.

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.

1850 The manufactory was demolished.

The site was later used for housing.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The Lunar Men, by Jenny Uglow, Faber and Faber,2002