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British Industrial History

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Soho Manufactory

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The Soho Manufactory or Soho Works (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.

1850 Sale

'During the past week Messrs. Fuller and Horsey, auctioneers of London, have been engaged in disposing of the machinery, dies, coins, and medals of the Soho Works, near this town. The auction commenced on Monday last, by direction of the executors of the late Mr. Boulton, and was continued daily until Friday evening, when it closed with the 707th lot. The well-known celebrity of the Mint and other departments of the manufactory attracted a great concourse of machinists and others to the sale, and the competition for many articles was very spirited. The collection of dies was secured principally for Sir George Chetwynd, and Mr. Makepeace, who, it is presumed, represented Mr. Boulton. Some of them were afterwards re-purchased for France. The coining presses sold low, the highest prices being 75l. for lot 9 consisting of a press, highly finished, with 5 1/2-inch bright screw to rise 5 inches at one revolution, with steel plug, brass-box, 18 inches deep, cast-iron fly, and cast-iron balance-beam, 12 feet long. Lot 202, consisting of 119 medals and coins, struck at the Mint bronze, and including representations of tbe Emperor of Russia, Execution of the King of France, Queen Charlotte, tbe Battle the Nile, Lafayette, Rousseau, &c, sold for 6l. ...... Lot 341, a portable condensing steam-engine, 12-horse power, by Boulton, Watt, and Co., 185 guineas, purchased for Mr. Wilkes. Lot 549, a powerful medal, or multiplying press, purchased by Mr. Lingard, for 19l. 7s. The tools and machines sold well, considering the antiquity of their construction. The pumping engine, "Old Bess," the first constructed by James Watt, realized 52l. 10s.; purchased by Mr. S. Walker. This engine is a perfect curiosity, the piston-rod was made from broken Redditch needles, purchased by Mr. Watt for that purpose. Mr. Walker also bought another engine. The rolling mills and rolls were purchased by a London house for from 5l. to 12l. per pair. The present firm of James Watt and Co., purchased one of the coining presses and appendages.'[2]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The Lunar Men, by Jenny Uglow, Faber and Faber,2002
  2. Aris's Birmingham Gazette, 6 May 1850