Ref NoMS 3782/12
TitleCorrespondence and Papers of Matthew Boulton
Date1760 - 1809
LevelSub Collection
DescriptionNote that several of Matthew Boulton’s files of correspondence and papers were continued by his son, and will therefore be found among the papers of Matthew Robinson Boulton.

General Letter Books.
Nine of Matthew Boulton’s Letter Books survive, though it is clear that more were created. The existing volumes do not form a distinct sequence, for there are periods for which no books survive—in particular, between 1773 and 1780—while at other times two or more books were kept concurrently. The manner in which these books were assembled has not been examined in detail, though such an examination might be fruitful in determining how many volumes are wanting from the surviving series.

Other Volumes.
Of the four Volumes relating to Steam-Engines two contain tables recording the performance of Cornish engines and two contain directions and diagrams for assembling engines. The first book of Directions contains, inserted between pages 20 and 21, a memorandum concerning the eduction pipe, in the hand of Ashley Hall, who has practised his signature on it. The second book of Directions appears to be a copy of the first one, but it contains more full-page diagrams. These manuscript volumes were probably written about the year 1779, when similar printed directions were published.

After these are listed five Volumes relating to the Dispute with Jean Pierre Droz, the Swiss die-sinker. The two Letter Books were clearly not compiled contemporaneously with the letters, but somewhat later, at the time of the dispute. One contains copies of Droz’s letters to Boulton; the other, copies of Boulton’s letters to Droz. For the estimated date of the Narrative of Transactions subsequent to the Award see Boulton’s letter to Sir Joseph Banks, 12 Jul. 1787. There are three copies of this document. Its full title, as cited in the version which appears first in the List, is "Narrative of all the transactions relative to the conduct of Mr. John Peter Droz and Mr. Matthew Boulton, since the signing of the award on the 31st of July, 1790." The next two items appear to be copies of this one, except that the latter of these has some supplementary pages inserted at the back.

Not included in the groups above are four Other Volumes. The volume tentatively described as a Partners’ Ledger is puzzling. The title on the spine (added by M. R. Boulton) is "M. Boulton (private) Ledger," and on the title page are words, "Matthew Boulton, Soho, January 1st, 1770"—this being presumably the date on which the book was begun. There follow 34 folios headed with account-names (mostly personal), but very few of these accounts have been used. The entries made appear to fall into two groups: first, entries dated between 31 Dec. 1768 and 31 Dec. 1773 were made to the following accounts:

Trade under the firm of Boulton & Fothergill.
John Fothergill, his Account proper, in the Trade under the Firm of Boulton & Fothergill, at Birmingham and Soho.
John Herman Ebbinghaus, his Account proper, in the Trade under the Firm of Boulton & Fothergill at Birmingham and Soho.
Stock in the Trade under the Firm of Boulton & Fothergill, at Birmingham and Soho.

Secondly, entries dated between 1 Nov. 1774 and 27 Jul. 1778, relating to loans, were made to the accounts of Thomas Day and Dr. John Ash. This book has been placed here for want of a better place, though it may belong with the records of Boulton & Fothergill.

The Letter Book ("Case of B with F") contains transcripts of letters concerning the dispute between Boulton and Fothergill. The title of the volume entitled Tables for calculating the ticketing of Copper Ore is self-explanatory. The Copy of Mr. Stanesby Alchorne’s Report… was made from a copy which, according to a note on the front, "Samuel & Francis Garbett received from and examined with Mr. Alchorne at the Mint in the year 1782."

Files of Correspondence and Papers: Provenance.
The earliest record of the arrangement of Matthew Boulton’s papers is contained in a small volume entitled—

Catalogue of Papers, M. B.’s Counting Room, 1760 to 1790

This Catalogue was compiled by Boulton’s clerk William D. Brown not long after he arrived at Soho in early November 1791, though it was later annotated by Matthew Robinson Boulton in the early part of the next century, when a substantial re-arrangement was made. The volume comprises, at the back, a list of files of correspondence and papers contained in several boxes marked with letters, and, at the front, an alphabetical index to this list. The files were probably at this time simple bundles, though it may be that in some cases one title referred to more than one bundle.

It is not clear whether Brown’s original entries record a system already substantially in place, or whether the arrangement he describes was mostly of his devising, but it is clear that he undertook a thorough examination of the papers at this time, as witnessed by the large number of dockets added or amended by him. The files listed by Brown form three distinct categories—namely General Correspondence Files, Special Correspondents Files, and Special Subjects Files. This system, which was continued for the files created after this date, was also later adopted (about 1806) by Matthew Robinson Boulton for his own files, and its principles are described in detail in the corresponding Index to Correspondence and Documents. M. R. Boulton also incorporated some of the files begun by his father into his own scheme of arrangement and made additions to them, and they will therefore be found among his papers.
About the year 1820, the first substantial arrangement of the "Matthew Boulton Papers" as a whole was undertaken, and it was probably at this time that the bundles of Matthew Boulton’s papers were placed in portfolios of the same kind that M. R. Boulton was already using. In several instances, the contents of two or more original bundles were combined in one portfolio; so, for instance, the files listed in Brown’s Catalogue under the following titles—
John Vivian. Letters 1785 to 1790
Thos. Williams. do 1781 to 1790
Jno Wilkinson. do. 1775 to 1790
Jno Hurd. do 1785 to 1790
were combined in one portfolio entitled—
Jn. Vivian T. Williams Jn. Wilkinson W. Wilkinson J. Hurd 1772 to 1805
The portfolios were then placed in tin boxes, along with M. R. Boulton’s own closed files and various other records, as described in the Rough Catalogue made at the time. After this they lay more or less undisturbed till their transfer to the Birmingham Assay Office in 1921, as is plain from the Inventories compiled at that time.

Files of Correspondence and Papers: Arrangement.
The correct arrangement of the General Correspondence Files is difficult to determine, and remains unsatisfactory. The files were much disturbed while the Matthew Boulton Papers were in the custody of the Assay Office, and numerous documents were added to and subtracted from them. Indeed, by the time they were listed as part of the Archives of Soho Project (1998-2003) the series had lost its identity altogether and was known merely under the title "Alphabetical Boxes" or "General Catalogue." The arrangement now adopted follows Brown’s Catalogue, in which are listed thirteen files of General Correspondence, under the following titles—
Sundry Letters, A to W. 1758 to 1773.
Sundry Letters, A to W. 1774 to 1779.
Sundry Letters, A to W. 1780.
Sundry Letters, A to Y. 1781.
Sundry Letters, A to Y. 1782.
Sundry Letters, A to Y. 1783.
Sundry Letters, A to Y. 1784.
Sundry Letters, A to W. 1785.
Sundry Letters, A to W. 1786.
General Letters, A to Y. 1787.
General Letters, A to W. 1788.
General Letters, A to Z. 1789.
General Letters, A to W. 1790.
The titles suggest that the files may have been subdivided and ordered according to the letters of the alphabet. No distinction appears to have been intended by the two different names—the "Sundry Letters" were in Box D, and the "General Letters" in Box E, and Brown probably changed the name inadvertently when beginning to list the contents of the latter box. It is likely that the letters in this series continued to be kept in annual bundles till Matthew Boulton’s death, but under the arrangement made by M. R. Boulton the whole of his father’s General Correspondence was deposited in four tin boxes, as follows:
M. I. General Correspondence, A to I, 1757 to 1797. M.B.
M. II. General Correspondence, K to Z, 1757 to 1797. M.B.
L. I. General Correspondents, A to K, 1798 to 1808. M.B.
L. II. General Correspondence, L to Z, 1798 to 1808. M.B.
Evidently some alteration must have been made to the original files for them to have been distributed in this way; but unfortunately no record exists of it. The Inventories compiled by the Assay Office—often most helpful in determining the state of the records when they came into their custody—do not list the contents of these boxes, though they reveal that Box L. I contained "Ten bundles of letters, and one odd bundle" and Box M. II "Nineteen bundles of letters." In the absence of any more helpful information as to the arrangement at this date, the order recorded by Brown has been restored—that is, the General Correspondence is now arranged in annual files, with the exception of the two earlier files which cover longer periods. Within these files, the documents are listed in chronological order.
The arrangement of the various Special Correspondents Files and Special Subjects Files is less doubtful, and notes on their provenance and composition with be found in the Introductions to the individual Lists of Contents.


There are no restrictions on access to or use of the Correspondence and Papers of Matthew Boulton. However fragile items or those in a poor state of repair may not be served at the discretion of the Duty Archivist.

List prepared by Adam C. Green and Tim Procter, Project Archivists, Birmingham City Archives, under the Archives of Soho Project, November 1998 to March 2004.
    Powered by CalmView© 2008-2024