Ref NoMS 3147
TitleBoulton and Watt Collection
Date1761 - 1977
DescriptionThe scope and content of the Boulton & Watt collection is vast, as is the date range covered. The earliest items date back to the 1760s, while the latest item added by the Library dates from 1977. It contains information on all aspects of Matthew Boulton and James Watt's engineering and business activity, and those of their sons. It also contains a wealth of information about topics such as travel, medicine, employment conditions, politics, indeed any aspect of late 18th/early 19th century history is touched on by the collection, and the numerous files and volumes of correspondence between the partners, employees, customers, engineers and agents are a particularly rich source for study.

The drawings are the most visually appealing part of the collection, and illustrate Soho products from the original partnership of 1775 to the close of the firm in 1895. They also illustrate factories, mines, dockyards and other industrial premises, atmospheric engines that the Watt engine replaced, and other engineers' and firms' engines, making the collection an unrivalled visual as well as documentary source for the history of the Industrial Revolution.

Further information about the scope and contents of the various firms' records, and of the different types of record within each firm, will be found in the separate lists.
FormatCubic metres
Physical DescriptionVolumes of various sizes, letters and papers, engineering drawings, parchment deeds, printed items, photographs, photostats and facsimiles etc.
AccessConditionsThere are no restrictions on access to or use of the records of Boulton & Watt. However fragile items or those in a poor state of repair may not be served at the discretion of the Duty Archivist. Coloured items such as drawings, items that are tightly bound, or fragile items may not be photocopied – please consult the Duty Archivist for details.

The main language of the collection is English. However items will be found in French, German, Dutch and Spanish. Some letters and memoranda also contain a form of shorthand used by Boulton and Watt. There is also extensive use of chemical symbols and notation, for example the use of a small triangle to represent water.
AdminHistoryThe Boulton & Watt collection consists of the records of the following businesses: the steam engine partnership Boulton & Watt, and its allied and successor firms, of Soho Manufactory and Soho Foundry; the London office of the steam engine business; James Watt & Co., copying machine maufacturers, of Soho Manufactory; French Walls iron and steel works, in Smethwick; and M. R. Boulton J. Watt & Co., banking house, of 13 London Street. There are also records added by the later custodians of the collection, George Tangye, of the Cornwall Works, Smethwick, Birmingham Library and Birmingham City Archives.

Together these records form the collection known as Boulton & Watt, despite the fact that it contains records of several distinct Soho firms. All these firms were related, and owned by members of the Boulton and Watt families. The records of these firms are divided into separate sections (see Arrangement field). Each section is described in detail in a separate list, and the detailed administrative history of the firms will be found in these lists.

The withdrawal of Matthew Robinson Boulton (for more information on the people and businesses mentioned in this Introduction, see The Guide to Persons & Firms) from his business partnerships with James Watt Jr. in 1840, and Watt Jr.’s death in 1848 marked the end of the connection of the Boulton and Watt families with steam engine manufacture at Soho. The firm was re-named, somewhat misleadingly, James Watt & Co., and it continued to manufacture steam engines and other engineering products at Soho Foundry until 1895, when it faced financial collapse and was placed under the control of a trustee (For a more detailed history of the steam engine firm see the list MS 3147/1-11, Records of Boulton & Watt and Successor Firms). It was during the last years of the firm’s life that the Boulton & Watt collection truly came into being.
ArrangementArrangement and Listing of the Collection, 1890s-1998.
The arrangement of the Boulton & Watt collection changed little from Henry Hazleton's custody in the 1890s to the City Archives taking custody of the collection. Unfortunately, the way the collection was stored in The Watt Room at Soho Foundry, with the drawings stored in large drawers and display cases, the volumes stored on shelves, and the loose papers stored in a series of boxes and smaller drawers, accidentally established an arrangement by type of material that endured until the Archives of Soho Project in 1998. Hazleton made no detailed catalogue of the collection as a whole, nor was there any recording of the original order or indeed which offices the various records had come from. Given the age of some the records, much information of this sort had already been lost by the time The Watt Room was established. Beyond his work on the drawings, he did nothing to intellectually arrange the steam engine firm's records.

George Tangye simply replicated the storage arrangements while the collection was under his care from 1895 to 1915. The photographs of his Watt Museum also show drawings in frames and wall cases and large drawers, and the volumes arranged together on shelves. If Tangye or his curator R. H. Kirton ever made a catalogue, it has not survived. They presumably used Henry Hazleton’s 'Catalogue of Old Engines' as a guide to the drawings.

Thus when the collection came to the Library it was already divided by types of record, and such an arrangement fitted with Library practice of the time, so nothing was done to alter it. Hazleton's 'Catalogue of Old Engines' continued to be used as as the guide to drawings, affording it a currency it did not deserve.

A typed list was made of the volumes, but unfortunately this simply listed the volumes alphabetically by type, for example 'Carrier Invoice Book, Cash Books, Castings' and so on. Some of the volumes were mis-identified, as many had lost their original spines and covers, and there were no records of the original order to refer back to. Re-binding programmes in the 1950s and 1960s unfortunately perpetuated the mis-identification errors. Also some key records, including nine of the Engine Order Books, were ommitted from the list. Nor was any attempt made to distinguish the later the deposits of material.

A rough index was made to the papers and correspondence, which were now stored in boxes and parcels, presumably in the order they had been received from George Tangye. The order of many of the bundles of papers and letters, particularly those of Matthew Boulton and James Watt, had been badly disrupted. The true nature of the records of the separate concerns – the copying machine business James Watt & Co., the French Walls iron and steel works, and the London engine agency and banking house – was partially lost. While the loose paper records of the former two concerns retained at least some identity and were kept in separate boxes, the papers of the London concerns had become mixed up with the other papers. The Muirhead Papers were listed as an adjunct to the Boulton & Watt records.

Under the custody of the City Archives, the situation was somewhat improved. Although the arrangement by type of record was retained (it being virtually impossible to do anything else without dedicated resources), the volumes were re-arranged by type, and numbered through, so that letter books were grouped together, followed by pattern books, cash books, then engine books, and production records such fitting accounts and order books, and so on. In 1987 a Wolfson grant allowed detailed listing of the contents of the boxes and parcels to take place, which gave much greater access to this huge amount of material. Further sporadic listing took place, such as a detailed examination of the contents of the first 100 portfolios of drawings, but no major re-arrangement or intellectual assessment of the collection along archival principals was undertaken before the Archives of Soho Project.

At the start of the project, the collection was arranged thus:
562 numbered volumes and 8 unumbered volumes
The contents of 54 boxes and 9 parcels (listed as Parcels A-E and I-III)
Approximately 1350 portfolios of drawings
10 large boxes of miscellaneous drawings
98 portfolios of drawings deposited by W. & T. Avery Ltd. in 1936
The contents of a large wooden boxed called 'The Steam Boat Box'
The contents of 5 wooden boxes of drawings deposited by the Birmingham Museum of Science & Industry

There was no unified finding aid to the collection, nor was there any description of the structure of the steam engine firm or the provenance of the records. Moreover the collection was in need of conservation attention – nearly all the loose documents required repackaging, many of the volumes needed phase-boxing, and several of the letters and drawings needed repairing.

The Archives of Soho Project, 1998-2004

Purchase of the James Watt Papers by the City Archives in 1994 meant that the Boulton & Watt business records, the Matthew Boulton Papers (given by the Birmingham Assay Office on permanent loan in 1974) and the papers of Watt and his family (the Muirhead deposit of 1921 and the purchase of 1994) were now together under one roof. Attention began to be given to the question of conserving the various 'Archives of Soho' and improving the respective catalogues. In 1998 a successful bid was submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund for funding to do this. Work on the cataloguing part of the project began in December 1998 and was completed in March 2004. The present Catalogue is one of the results of that Project, and is designed to be consulted in conjunction with the other finding aids produced at the same time, namely the Catalogues of the Matthew Boulton Papers and the Papers of James Watt & Family, the Itineraries and the Guide to Persons and Firms. The methodology used in cataloguing the collection is described in the next section.

It was clear at the start of the Archives of Soho project that the existing arrangement based on divisions between drawings, volumes and loose records, was unsatisfactory and misleading. Initial investigations began to reveal hitherto unsuspected complexities, such as the existence of the completely separate banking firm of M. R. Boulton J. Watt & Co., and James Watt Jr.’s independent ownership of the French Walls iron and steel works. It had been hoped that something approximating the original order might be restored, if all the creating departments, offices and engineers could be identified, or if contemporary lists of records and record-keepers revealed themselves Sadly this proved not to be possible. A few contemporary memoranda describing record-keeping were discovered, but these did not cover the whole firm (some of these memoranda have been transcribed as an appendix to MS 3147/4, Production Records). The exact origins of many of the records proved unidentifiable in the time allowed.

It was therefore decided to divide the records into sections by the creating concern, to make it clear that the collection contained not just the records of the Soho steam engine but also the records of other businesses. The sub-collection of each concern was then divided into further sub-collections according to function, for example Financial Records, Legal Records and so on, based on business archives practices such as those outlined in Turton et al, Business Archives. The collection is therefore arranged as follows:

MS 3147 Boulton & Watt:

Boulton & Watt (and Successors, Steam Engine Manufacturers & Engineers, Soho)
1. Accounting and Financial Records, 1777-1874
2. Legal Records, 1766-1851
3. Correspondence and Papers, 1769-1895
4. Production Records, 1774-1895
5. Drawings – Main Series, 1775-1904
6. Drawings – 'Avery' Series, 1815-1903
7. Drawings – 'Science Museum' Series, 1797-1919
8. Staff and Employment Records, 1784-1888
9. Premises Records, 1783-1894
10. Miscellaneous Manuscript and Printed Material, 1776-1896
11. Miscellaneous Non-Engine Business Material, 1761-c. 1850s

Boulton Watt & Co. (London Office)
12. Correspondence, 1818-1885
13. Letters of Advice, 1828-1837
14. Financial Records, 1835-1883
15. Survey of Steam Power in the North East, 1835
16. Miscellaneous Papers, 1817-1881

James Watt & Co. (Copying Press Manufacturers, Soho Manufactory)
17. Accounting and Financial Records, 1803-1841
18. Legal Records, 1779-1780
19. Correspondence, 1780-1826
20. Printed Directions, Price Lists and Advertisments, 1780-1851

French Walls (Iron and Steel Works, Smethwick, owned by James Watt Jr.)
21. Accounting and Financial Records, 1816-1841
22. Legal Records, 1833
23. Correspondence and Papers, 1816-1849
24. Houses and Rents Records, 1819-1866
25. Miscellaneous Records, 1816-1822, 1830s

M. R. Boulton J. Watt & Co. (London Banking Agency)
26. Financial and Legal Records, 1804, 1816-1836
27. Correspondence 1816-1840
28. Papers of William and Charlotte Matthews, 1771-1830
29. Papers of Joseph Taylor and Taylor Campbell & Bowden, 1804-1813
30. Papers of John Woodward, 1803-1812

Later Additions
31. Material added by George Tangye, 1857-1915
32. Material added by Birmingham Library, 1772-1977

Lists have been prepared for each sub collection (Boulton & Watt, the London office, etc.) and each further subcollection (Boulton & Watt's Accounting and Financial Records, Legal Records, Correspondence & Papers etc.). These lists should be consulted for details of the histories of the various firms and their records, and details of the arrangement and content of the archives.

It was decided to remove many of the additions that had been made to the collection over the years. These included a few items relating to Aston Hall that had been placed in the original collection at Soho Foundry, a pattern book added by George Tangye, and the various additions made by the Library. These additions either belonged with the other Archives of Soho collections, or they warranted treatment as separate deposits, as follows:

Aston Hall gardener's wages book, housekeeper's account, cellar book, letter from Charles Claget to James Watt, James Watt Jr.'s personal engineering notebooks and building account (formerly Boulton & Watt Vols. 497-499, Box 26/1/1, Box 34/14 and 18, Vol. 552) – replaced in the Papers of James Watt & Family.

Boulton & Scale pattern book acquired by George Tangye, 1895 (formerly B&W Volume 168A) – returned to the Matthew Boulton Papers

Matthew Boulton legal papers, 1917 (formerly B&W Vols. 529, 530) – listed as a separate collection

Muirhead Papers, 1921 (formerly B&W/MI-IV) – re-united with the James Watt Papers to form the Papers of James Watt & Family

Boulton & Fothergill letter book, 1924 (formerly B&W Vol. 0) – returned to the Matthew Boulton Papers

Correspondence on the Royal Mint, 1924 (formerly B&W Vol. 533) – returned to the Matthew Boulton Papers

A. J. Muirhead deposit, 1927 (formerly B&W Vols. 532, 537, 538, 540, 542) – listed as a separate collection

Elkingtons Pattern Books, 1943 (formerly B&W Vols. 169-176) – transferred to the Matthew Boulton Papers

Hamilton family letters (formerly B&W Vols. 534. 535, 541) – listed as a separate collection

Letters of John Southern (formerly B&W Vol.548) – listed as a separate collection

Volumes of photostats (formerly B&W Vols. 531, 536, 539, 543, 545-547) – removed and placed on open shelves
Related MaterialArchives of Soho Collections

MS 3219 – Papers of James Watt and Family.
In particular the following sub-fonds:
MS 3219/4, Papers of James Watt
MS 3219/6, Papers of James Watt Jr.

MS 3782 – Matthew Boulton Papers.
In particular the following sub-fonds:
MS 3782/3, Records of Soho Mint, 1791-1850
MS 3782/4, Records of the London banking agency, 1802-1819
MS 3782/12, Letters and Papers of Matthew Boulton, 1760-1809
MS 3782/13, Letters and Papers of Matthew Robinson Boulton, 1770s-1842

Small Collections removed from the Boulton & Watt collection:

Letters to John Southern from Matthew Boulton, James Watt etc., 1789-1815
Letters from Boulton & Watt & Co. to William Buckle concerning steam boat engines for Ivanhoe, Vixen, Meteor, Royal Sovereign etc., 1822-1824
MS 3069, Matthew Boulton legal papers (includes papers on the Soho robbery, 1802)

Small Manuscript (MS) Collections.

The following is not a complete list of the Small MS collections that form part of the Archives of Soho, but a list of those which are particularly relevant to the Boulton & Watt collection. Separate lists are available for many of these collections.
MS 49, Correspondence and Papers from the collection of Samuel Timmins including letters about the engine at Cadiz for Fernando de Torres, 1790s, and about the Turkish Armoury Mill engine, 1833
MS 53, Papers relating to Holyhead Steam Packets, 1824
MS 59, Miscellaneous Papers, including a photograph of Soho Foundry, c. 1860
MS 80, Business Correspondence: Boulton & Watt and the Committee of the Birmingham Flour & Bread Co., 1796-1797
MS 131, Newscuttings and ephemera concerning Boulton & Watt.
MS 181, Letter from Monsieur P. Leveque to James Watt, 1793.
MS 798, Business Correspondence: James Watt Jr. and William Chadwell Mylne, 1830
MS 1149, Photographs and Illustrations of the Soho Foundry and Manufactory, and of Boulton, Watt and Murdock - Material from W. & T. Avery Ltd.
MS 1381, Volume of drawings of Cornish Mines, c. 1780-1790
MS 1354, James Watt Jr. Personal Correspondence, 1834-1847
MS 1380, Letters Patent for Watt’s improved furnace construction for steam engines, 1785
MS 1682, Architectural drawings of Soho House, drawings of mints and mint engines
MS 2063, Diary of William Garland, mid-19th c. [copy]
MS 4346, Negatives (mostly glass) of Boulton & Watt images from BCA

Other Collections in Birmingham City Archives

The following is a list of other material in Birmingham City Archives that particularly relates to the Boulton & Watt collection. This list is not comprehensive.
Lee Crowder Collection – papers concerning the Aston Estate [ref. no. 361], title deeds for French Walls, 1709-1888 [ref. no. 581], 'steam engines' [ref. nos. 1437, 1479, 1490, 1496, 1548]
MS 59, Extracts of letters re. beam engines for the Austrian Navy, 1849 (/3), Notebook of steam engine prices (/6)
MS 184, Two apprenticeship indentures with James Watt & Co., 1877, 1881, and printed envelope
MS 446, Drawing of Whitacre Water Works (engines by James Watt & Co.)
MS 1149/45-46, Views of Soho Foundry
MS 1160, Jonathan Hornblower’s engine at Radstock
MS 1432, Archives Division Correspondence 1935-196, contains several items relating to Boulton & Watt including photostats of engine drawings (B&W/3-6) the Batavian engine (D/4), Newcomen engines in Cornwall (H/1), and several letters discussing various Boulton & Watt engines around the world
MS 1633/2, letter from James Watt to Samuel Tertius Galton about pumping engines, 1808
MS 1619, Letters from James Watt Jr. to Count Bulow of Berlin about engines, 1822-1827
MS 1750, M. R. Boulton J. Watt & Co. letter to Taylor & Co., Oporto, 1830

Material held elsewhere
Archives and Library of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers – drawings of a sun & planet engine, notebooks of Boulton Watt & Co. employee Henry Wright
Heriot-Watt University Archives, Records Management and Museum Service – Business Records of James Brown, 1817-1863 (partner in Boulton Watt & Co., James Watt & Co.)
Greater London Record Office – Courage Group Archives (includes drawings and references to Barclay & Perkins’ engine, 1786)

Much of the Boulton & Watt collection has been microfilmed by Adam Matthew Publications as part of Industrial Revolution: A Documentary History. The following parts were all filmed prior to the Archives of Soho project:
Series 1, Part 3: Engineering Drawings – Watt Engines of the Sun and Planet Type c. 1775-1802
Series 1, Part 5: Engineering Drawings – Watt Engines of the Crank Type; Canal Engines; Dock and Harbour Engines; Engines for Water Works; Mint Engines; Small Side-Lever, Blowing and Pumping Engines, 1775-1800
Series 1, Part 11: Engineering Drawings, c. 1801-1865

All the above films are available in the Archives Research Room. Researchers should be aware that the books describing the first series of films are all misleadingly titled 'The Boulton & Watt Archive' on the spine, even those parts which describe films made from other collections. The following parts were filmed towards the end of the project, and the records are thus in their new order:

Series 1, Part 12: Boulton & Watt Correspondence and Papers (filmed, not yet published)
Series 1, Part 13: Boulton & Watt Correspondence and Papers (filmed, not yet published)
Series 1, Part 14: Boulton & Watt Correspondence and Papers (to be filmed Oct. 2004)
Series 1, Part 15: Boulton & Watt Correspondence and Papers (to be filmed Oct. 2004)

The majority of the boxes and volumes were also microfilmed by the University of Birmingham. These films were never intended for commercial publication. A set is available in the Archives Research Room, but users should bear in mind that the collection was filmed in its pre-Archives of Soho Project order.

The number of publications concerning the steam engine, James Watt and Soho is huge, and includes many works that have drawn directly on the Boulton & Watt collection. Researchers are referred to the 'Select Bibliography for the Archives of Soho' (at the end of this list) and the collection of 'Boulton and Watt Pamphlets' available in the Archives Research Room. The following list gives a few publications which deal directly with the history of Boulton & Watt, or which have made extensive use of transcripts and reproductions from the collection:

Demidowicz, G., Soho House and Manufactory, London, forthcoming
Demidowicz, G., The Soho Foundry, Smethwick, West Midlands – A Documentary and Archaeological Study, for Sandwell Borough Council/Heritage Lottery Fund, 2002
Dickinson, H. W., James Watt, Craftsman and Engineer, Cambridge, 1936
Dickinson, H. W., Matthew Boulton, Cambridge, 1937
Dickinson, H. W. & Jenkins, R., James Watt and the Steam Engine, Cambridge, 1927
Gale, W. K. V, Soho Foundry, Birmingham, 1946
Hills, R. L., Power from Steam, Cambridge, 1989
Hills, R. L., James Watt Vol. 2, forthcoming
Ince, L., 'The Soho Engine Works 1796-1895', Stationary Power: The Journal of the International Stationary Steam Engine Society, 16, 200.
Musson, A. E. & Robinson, E., Science and Technology in the Industrial Revolution, Manchester, 1969
Robinson, E. & Musson, A. E., James Watt and the Steam Revolution, London, 1967
Roll, E., An Early Experiment in Industrial Organization, London, 1930
Smiles, S., The Lives of the Great Engineers: Boulton & Watt, London, 1865
Tann, J., The Development of the Factory, London, 1970
Tann, J., The Selected Papers of Boulton & Watt Vol. 1: The Engine Partnership, 1775-1825, Cambridge (Mass.) and London, 1981
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