James Watt built an experimental steam engine at Kinneil, Bo’ness (in central Scotland) – as part of a partnership with Dr John Roebuck.
But did you know that this engine eventually went to work in Birmingham at the famous Soho Manufactory?
The Manufactory was set up by businessman Matthew Boulton. Boulton teamed up with Watt after Watt’s partnership with Roebuck foundered.
Honorary Research Fellow George Demidowicz from the University of Birmingham says the Kinneil engine was the first working James Watt steam engine in the world.
It was installed in the works to support a water wheel – the only source of power at the Manufactory until the 1780s.
George spoke to us after a presentation at the recent Watt conference at the University of Birmingham.
“My name is George Demidowicz. I’m an Honorary Research Fellow in Department of History at Birmingham University – although, for most of my life, I have been a conservation officer and archaeologist: very much interested in industrial archaeology.
“One of my main topics of research has been the Soho Manufactory. I think I was the first to discover how exactly the first working James Watt steam engine in the world was put to work.
“I know that it came down from Kinneil in 1773. And it wasn’t until 1774 that James Watt came down. And immediately after his arrival in Birmingham – in Handsworth Birmingham then – that the engine was reassembled, and immediately put to work. It will experimental in Kinneil: it wasn’t really doing anything, except trying to try to work in its own right.
“But, in Birmingham – at the Soho Manufactory – it was put to work in order to help with a major problem: there was insufficient water, at the watermill, which was rolling metal and polishing finished goods in the mill at Soho – in the middle of the Manufactory.
“Matthew Bolton [Watt’s new business partner in Birmingham] saw the potential of the engine as one that which could efficiently – using less coal – pump water back from the ‘tailrace’ of the watermill, back into a canal at the front, which then had a culvert, taking water directly to the water wheel.
“So the first working James Watt steam engine in the world was basically coming to the aid – or helping – a watermill because of the problems of water supply, particularly in the summer.”
George Demidowicz was previously the head of the Conservation and Archaeology Team at Coventry City Council, where he worked for over twenty years.
He’s now an Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of History at the University of Birmingham.
George’s main research field is the historic environment, employing a multi-disciplinary approach combining documentary history with fieldwork and archaeological excavation.
His particular interests are building history, rural landscape history, garden history, urban topography and industrial archaeology.
He has published extensively in these fields, concentrating his activities in the West Midlands in an area extending from Sandwell to Coventry. One of George’s principal projects has been the study of the Soho Manufactory, Mint and Foundry working with Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.
In 1996 the opening of Soho House as a museum provided the opportunity to invite Channel 4’s Time Team to undertake their first industrial archaeological excavation.
FREE OPEN DAYS AT KINNEIL
You can visit the remains of Watt’s workshop at Kinneil, Bo’ness – and see inside neighbouring Kinneil House – during free open days at the site. Book places for House tours via the Historic Environment Scotland website.
VISIT SOHO HOUSE
The Soho Manufactory in Handsworth – now part of Birmingham – was demolished in the middle of the 19th century and the site used for housing. However, part of the nearby Soho House, the former home of Matthew Boulton, has survived and currently operates as museum. The site tells the story of Watt’s partnership with Boulton and also stages regular events.