The Birmingham church where James Watt is buried will stage a celebration of life – on the 200th anniversary of his death.

St Mary’s Church, Handsworth, also known as Handsworth Old Church, will host a “Choral Evensong” – attended by the Bishop of Birmingham and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, on Sunday, August 25, 2019.

Modern-day relatives of James Watt, living in Wales, are also expected to attend.

The service is due to start at 4 p.m.

St Mary’s is known as the “Cathedral of the Industrial Revolution”. It hosts the remains of James Watt and an impressive statue of the inventor by Francis Leggat Chantrey. There are also memorials to Watt’s business partner Matthew Boulton and another Scottish engineer William Murdoch.

Read more about the Church’s history on its website.

The Church has been undergoing extensive refurbishment work. It is using the Watt service to relaunch itself to the community.

Watt died just a short distance from the parish church at his home at Heathfield Hall. The house no longer exists – however, Watt’s workshop has been reconstructed and is on display in London’s Science Museum.

Earlier this year, we caught with St Mary’s Scottish-born Rector, the Rev. Dr Bob Stephen, to tell us more Watt and the church – and plans for the special service.

You can also see pictures from inside the church at the bottom of this article.

“I’m the Reverend Dr Bob Stephen, Rector of Handsworth here in Birmingham. It’s in this church that we are able to host the mortal remains of James Watt.

“There has been a church on this site since about 900 – the oldest building in Handsworth. And just behind us, we can see the stone tower that’s been there since 1170, and the oldest stone part of the building.

“And just behind that is the chapel, where James Watt’s statue and James Watt’s grave is. Of course, he died in 1819 – 25th of August – and the chapel was built in 1827 and primarily to house the great statue made by Chantrey in 1825.  

“And it’s great to be here. This church hosts the remains of the three great men of the Industrial Revolution, and all part of the Birmingham community. And, of course, James Watt a member of this congregation. His estate was over there, about 100 yards away, and he worshipped here with his family, every Sunday.

“And we’re part of a great community now. We’re engaged in massive reordering inside – using technology that I think James Watt himself would have been very pleased for us to use. Air source exchange and underfloor heating and all the latest things. So, we are part of a historic community certainly and part of a living community now – and looking forward in this year to honouring the memory of James Watt.”

“Through this door on the 25th of August of this year, 2019, for the service at four o’clock on that Sunday, we will have a great many honoured guests …. We’ve got the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland coming particularly to honour that great Scotsman James Watt. Out here we’ll have a military band. In there we’ll have a piper. And Bishop of Birmingham will lead us in a Choral Evensong – a very simple service. And the great and the good of this area, and invited guests -from Scotland, from America, and James Watt’s own family, who live in Wales just now – will all come here to honour that great man in a very simple service and in a very simple act of remembrance … but one that’s important to honour him in the church where he is buried.”

St Mary's Church in Handsworth, Birmingham - where James Watt is buried.
St Mary’s Church in Handsworth, Birmingham – where James Watt is buried.

The statues and busts inside the historic church – hosting the Watt celebration on August 25, 2019.