Just before Christmas 1800, Boulton received word from his watchman on the premises
that some men had tried to bribe him to let them through the outer door. It appeared
that they were men who had previously been employed there, hence they knew their
way about. They had got possession of false keys for the door of the counting house.
This, not the Mint, was their objective, because not only were the week’s wages there
but also extra booty in the shape of cash etc for the Christmas presents which Boulton
was in the habit of distributing.
Boulton, his son Matthew, the younger Watt, and quite a number of the staff, armed
with blunderbusses and other weapons, stationed themselves in various parts of the
building. Sure enough, the burglars, equipped with dark lanterns, came, and were
let in by the watchman acting on Boulton’s instructions. They tried their keys, but
failed to open the door of the counting house, so retired, without the watchers making
any move. Boulton, writing as was his wont ‘to my dear Nancy’ his daughter, who was
staying in London, sent an account of the attack:
‘The best news I can send you is that we are all alive; but I have lost my voice
and found a troublesome cough by the agreeable employment of thief-watching.’
Next night, the night of 23rd December 1800, the burglars came again, tried the door
again unsuccessfully, and this time they forced it. They were allowed to seize the
booty, and were just making off with it when Boulton gave the signal to seize them.
A quantity of tow soaked in turpentine was set fire to, to light up the scene; four
of the burglars were taken but the fifth, a man named William Foulds, in the scuffle
and darkness got away. The four men were secured in custody till the morning.
Boulton got to bed about 2am but was aroused again by a noise outside the house and,
fearing the advent of more burglars, crept out stealthily and fired a gun in the
direction of the sound.
Boulton told of the sequel in another letter to his daughter, dated 27th December:
‘In the morning I found our gray pony had been graseing under the windows & had been
more frightened than I was. We have examined her but find she is not hurt.’
Foulds, the man who escaped, was arrested later, and all five men were committed
to Stafford Assizes. Foulds was sentenced to a long term of imprisonment but the
rest got off. Sir Walter Scott was told about this exploit and said: ‘I like Boulton;
he is a brave man.’