Gill Poulter of Dundee Heritage Trust has talked about the Boulton and Watt Engine at the Verdant Works museum in the city.

The engine is the star object of the High Mill section of the works and dates from 1801-1802. It’s one of only five of its kind surviving in the UK and is on loan from Dundee City Council via a partnership with Leisure and Culture Dundee.

The engine is typical of the type used in textile mills in the 1800s – and was originally used to drive the machinery at Douglasfield Bleachworks in Dundee.

Listen to the audio here . . . .

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Boulton and Watt Engine for Douglasfield Bleachworks 1801-02

The rotative beam engine (on display at Verdant Works, Dundee) was ordered from Boulton and Watt in Birmingham in February 1801. Costing £517, it was used to turn machinery at the Douglasfield Bleachworks, located on the River Dighty just outside Dundee.

Douglasfield was established by John Speid in 1756 and by the beginning of the 19th century was responsible for the largest share of Dundee’s bleaching business. This was an important element of the thriving linen industry, helping to produce higher quality material in a variety of colours.

After the engine was installed at the beginning of March 1802, manager William Sandeman sent word back to the makers  that ‘his engine gave perfect satisfaction’. On 20 April a visiting Boulton and Watt employee, James Lawson, wrote that the engine was at regular work and capable of providing twice the power required to turn the machinery.

Little is known of the engine’s working history after 1802. Douglasfield was sold to John McIntyre in 1844 and by 1900 had closed altogether as domestic production of flax declined with the majority now being imported from Russia.

In 1898 the engine was purchased by the Free Library Committee, responsible for Dundee’s museums. At 26ft long, 16ft wide and 16ft high it was too large to be displayed in the Albert Institute (now The McManus: Dundee’s Art Gallery and Museum) so  an auxiliary technological museum was established in the barracks of Dudhope Park. Opening in 1900 the engine continued to be displayed there until 1939 when the barracks were requisitioned for war work and the museum never re-opened.

Interest in the engine was revived in the 1950s when the Royal Scottish Museum, Edinburgh planned to showcase the engine in their new Hall of Physical Science and Power. This, however, fell through and the engine remained in storage.

In 2013 Dundee Heritage Trust began working in partnership with Leisure and Culture Dundee, who care for the engine on behalf of Dundee City Council, on an ambitious and complex project to conserve the engine as part of the wider High Mill Open Gallery development.  In 2015 this magnificent object was finally restored to working order and placed on public display.

Dundee Heritage Trust’s project to restore the High Mill at Verdant Works gave an opportunity of a space large enough for the engine to be put on public display again.  In partnership with the engine’s owner Dundee City Council and Leisure and Culture Dundee (who care for it on their behalf), a complex conservation project began to restore the engine to working order. In 2015 this was finally achieved.

Information courtesy of Dundee Heritage Trust

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