Inventor James Watt worked on developing the steam engine to support the mining industry.
Watt gained early support from industrialist Dr John Roebuck, who was leasing pits around Bo’ness in central Scotland in the 18th century. Roebuck hoped Watt could improve the steam engine to reduce flooding in his pits.
Sadly Watt’s breakthrough improvements came too late for Roebuck. The pits kept flooding and Dr Roebuck went bankrupt.
But it also led Watt to one of Roebuck’s creditors, Matthew Boulton of Birmingham.
The story of Roebuck and Watt – and that connection with mining – is told in displays at the National Mining Museum Scotland at Newtongrange, a short drive from Edinburgh.
The displays also reveal that although Scottish-born Watt was at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution, the country of his birth was slow to adapt.
“At the start of the 19th century,” says one display, “colliery mechanisation in Scotland lagged almost 30 years behind Northumberland and Durham.”
The museum, which is open throughout the year, features extensive displays on the social and cultural history of mining in Scotland. Visitors can also see inside parts of an old mine, the Lady Victoria Colliery, and even visit a re-created coal face.
Assistant Curator David Bell told us more about the museum and James Watt.
Listen to the audio here.