I was introduced at Soho by Dr Small in 1767 but Mr Boulton was then absent; Mr Fothergill
his partner & Dr Small showed me the works. The goods then manufactured there were
steel gilt and fancy buttons, steel watch chanins & sword hilts, plated wares, ornamental
works in Or moulu, Tortoise shell snuff boxes, Bath metal buttons inlaid with steel
& various other articles which I have now forgot. A mill with a water wheel was employed
in Laminating metal for the buttons, plated goods &c and to turn Laps for grinding
& polishing steel work & I was informed that Mr Boulton was the first Inventor of
the inlaid buttons, & the first who had applied a mill to turn the Laps. Mr B. at
that [time] also carried on a very considerable trade in the manufacture of buckle
chapes, in the making of which he had made several very ingenious improvements. Besides
the Laps in the mill, I saw an ingenious lap turned by a andwheel for cutting and
polishing the steel studs for ornamenting buttons, chains, sword hilts &c, and a
shaking box put in motion by the mill for scowering button blanks & other small
pieces of metal which was also a thought of Mr B. - there was also a steelhouse for
converting iron into steel, which was frequently employed to convert the cuttings
and scaps of the chapes & other small iron wares into steel which was afterwards
melted & made into cast steel for various uses.
In 1768 I was again at Soho, on my return from London where I had been taking the
necessary steps for obtaining a patent for the improved steam engine, & was then
introduced to Mr Boulton, by Mr Garbett or Dr Small. I found the same manufactures
carried on & had much conversation with Mr B. on them when he explained to me many
things of which I had been before ignorant. On my part I explained to him my invention
of the Steam Engine & several other schemes of which my head was then full, in the
success of which he expressed a friendly interest. My stay at Birmingham at that
time was short, but I afterwards kept up a correspondence with Mr B. through our
mutual friend Dr Small.
In 1773 or 1774, finding that in my then situation & circumstances I could not bring
my invention into general use, I prevailed upon Dr Roebuck who was then my associate
& Patron to offer his share in the invention to Mr B. on certain terms, which after
some hesitation, he accepted, provided he was satisfied with the invention on trial
at Soho. I accordingly sent to him an Engine with an 18 inch cylinder, which I had
erected some years before at Kinneil in Scotland & followed it myself in the summer
of that year. After sufficient trial Mr B. agreed to assist & support me in obtaining
an act of parliament for the prolongation of the patent, which by his exertions,
the assistance of Dr R & all the friends we could muster was obtained after a long
attendance upon Parliament; after which Dr R. was induced to transfer all his rights
to the profits to Mr B. in consideration of certain sums paid & to be paid to him
& Mr B. entered into partnership with me, his partner Mr Fothergill having some time
before declined taking any share. Through the whole of this business Mr B's. active
and sanguine disposition, served to counterballance the despondency & diffidence
which were natural to me & every assistance which Soho or Birmingham could afford
was procured. Mr B's amiable & friendly character together with his fame as an ingenious
& active manufacturer procured me many & very active friends in both houses of parliament.
MEMORANDUM CONCERNING MR BOULTON:
Commencing with my first acquaintance with him.
GLASGOW, September 17th 1809
By James Watt
The first large engine we made was at Bloomfield Colliery in Staffordshire & nearly
at the same time one for Mr Wilkinson at Broseley Iron works, to blow bellows; soon
after we erected one at Hawkesberry Colliery & a small one at Messrs. Cooke & Comps.
Distillery at Stratford Le bow, which was followed by other in various places & among
the rest by engines at Shadwell & Chelsea waterworks.
I think it was in 1778 we erected the first engine in Cornwall on an addit belonging
to Chacewater mine, which was soon followed by Tingtang and Poldice engines. The
order & even names of all the engines we erected in that county I cannot now recollect,
but it was in 1781 that we erected 5 engines on Wheal Virgin & the Consolidated Mines.
The series of our erections in Cornwall & other places it is unnecessary now to enumerate.
I think it was in 1782 that I obtained a patent for the rotative engines which with
their subsequent improvements have been of so much service to the manufactures of
this country. The first in London was erected for Messrs Goodwyn & Co., Brewers,
which was followed by Mr Whitbread & others. But what raised their reputation the
most was their splendid exhibition at the Albion Mill, a concern highly beneficial
to the publick & by its catastrophe highly injurious to its owners.
I forbear tracing the steam engine farther lest I should appear to be writing its
history instead of that of Mr Boulton. Suffice it to say that to his generous patronage,
the active part he took in the management of the business, to his judicious advice
& to his assistance in contriving & arranging many of the applications to various
machines, the publick is indebted for great part of the benefits they now derive
from that machine; without him, or some similar partner (could such a one have been
found) the invention could never have been carried by me to the length it has been.
Soon after my connection with Mr B. he declined the or moulu business & the tortoise
shell boxes, but supported Mr Francis Egginton in the manufacture of what are now
called polygraphick pictures, which some time afterwards he resigned entirely to
About this time a quantity of the wheel work for the reels used in organising silk
were wanted by the E. India Comy, which Mr Boulton undertook & by the assistance
of the late Mr Rehe made considerable improvements in. That company also wanted a
large quantity of a peculiar sort of Tobacco boxes which Mr Boulton contracted for
at a very low price which he was enabled to do by making them of Bath metal which
admitted of being struck when hot in vary handsome forms; they could not have been
made of brass at twice the money.
When the new coinage of gold took place in 17 Mr B. was employed to receive &
exchange the old coin, which served to revive his ideas on the subject of coinage
which he had considered as capable of great improvement. Among other thing, he conceived
that the coin should all be struck in collars, to make it round & all of one size
which is by no means the case with the common gold coin & if also all of one thickness,
the purity of the gold might be determied by passing it through a gauge or slitt
in a piece of steel made exactly to fit it; and he accordingly made a proof guinea,
with a raised border & the letters en creux, somewhat similar to the penny pieces
he afterwards coined for Government, & which completely answered the intention, as
any piece of baser metal which fitted the gauge was found to be considerably lighter
& if made to the proper weight would not go through the gauge. Such money was also
less liable to wear in the pocket than the common coin where all the impression is
prominent. His proposals on this head were not however approved of by those who had
the management of his Majesty's mint, & there the affair rested for the time.
In 1786 Mr B. & I were in France where we saw a very fine crown piece executed by
Mr P. Droz in a new manner. It was coined in a collar split into 6 parts which came
together when the dies came into contact with the blank & formed the edge and the
inscription upon it. Mr D. had also made some other improvements on the coining press
& pretended to others in the art of multiplying the dies. And, as to his mechanical
abilities Mr D. joined that of being a good die sinker, Mr B. contracted with him
to come over at a high salary & work at Shoh, Mr B. having then a prospect of an
extensive copper coinage for the East India Comy. & a probability of one for Government.
A number of coining presses were constructed & a Steam Engine applied to work them.
Mr Droz was found to be of a troublesome disposition, several of his contrivances
were found not to answer & were obliged to be better contrived or totaly changed
by Mr B. & his assistants. The split collar was found to be difficult of execution,
& subject to wear very soon when in use, & in short very unfit for an extensive coinage.
Other methods were therefore adopted & it was laid to rest. Mr Droz was dismissed
after being liberally paid, and other engravers were procured (It should be noticed
here that Mr D's method of multiplying the Dies did not answer & that it appeared
that he did not know so much on that subject as Mr B. himself did. That process was
therefore brought to perfection by Mr B. himself & his assistants) - Much ingenuity,
time & great expence were required to perfect the applicaton of the steam engine
to coining, in all which Mr B. acted as the principal part & gave life to the whole.
The machinery being perfected, Mr B. undertook & executed several extensive coinages
both for Government, for the [East] India Company & others of minor importance &
to his exertions are owing the perfection the copper coin of this country has now
attained to. He also executed a considerable quantity of beautiful coin for the revolutionary
government of France, while we remained at peace with that country, which coin was
afterwards suppressed by the arbitrary measures of a fresh set of rulers in that
unhappy country, to the great Loss of the French contractors who nevertheless paid
Mr B. honourably.
Although the expensive machinery which has been mentioned performed very well, yet
Mr B. was not satisfied, and some years afterwards he set about & executed machinery
for that purpose, in a manner which does not seem to admit of any material improvement,
& with which he has executed several large coinages.
In the year  Mr B. with the approbation of our government contracted with the
Emperor of Russia for a complete coining apparatus, which is now at work at St Petersburgh,
and after that with the Danish government of rone which is erected at Copenhagen.
Since that time he has been employed by our government to erect one on Tower-hill,
which is nearly completed & will be one of the finest establishments of the kind
which have ever been executed & to the planning & establishment of which he attended
even under the pressure of age & of a painful disease. In short had Mr B. done nothing
more in the world than what he has done in improving the coinage, his fame would
have deserved to be immortalized, & if it is considered that this was done in the
midst of various other important avocation, & at an enormous expense for which he
could have no certainty of an adequate return, we shall be at a loss whether to admire
most his ingenuity, his perseverance or his munificence. He has conducted the whole
more like a sovereign than a private manufacturer. The Love of fame has been to him
a greater stimulus than the love of gain; yet it is to be hoped that even in the
latter view, it has answered the purpose.
To enter into all the various mechanical improvements which have been due either
to his own invention or to his fatherly patronage is beyond my powers; of some I
may never have heard, & others may have slipt my memory.
I have omitted to mention (A) that the first engine of 18 inch cylinder, which was
employed in returning the water to Soho Mill was replaced about 1778 or 79 by a larger
engine, the first on the expansive principle, which still remains there. And that
(B) there were two different orders for the E. India reels, in the first of which
I think Mr John Whitehurst of Derby made the model & gave other assistance, and in
the second order Mr Rehe directed the execution. At this time also our very respectable
friend Mr Keir being disengaged from other Business, and Mr B. being obliged to be
frequently absent, Mr K. gave his assistance in the general superintendance of all
the businesses at Soho during which he made many valuable arrangements, & gave other
In 17 Mr B. erected a new rolling or laminating mill with a powerful water wheel,
and which also turned Laps and polishers of various kinds & other machinery, in which
it is assisted by a rotative steam engine. This mill and engine also turn machinery
for cutting out the blanks for coining & performing other operations on them, by
very ingenious contrivances, of Mr Boulton's. In the method of forming the rollers
or cylinders which laminate the metal & in other points connected with it much merit
is due to Mr B.
I have omitted to mention Soho Foundery, as the part which Mr Boulton took in that
is better known to others than to me.
I should have mentioned on the head of the Albion Mill (C) that it was planned by
Mr Boulton & the late Mr Saml. Wyatt a very ingenious architect & that at that time
no edifice of the kind had been constructed with similar conveniences or powers.
The machinery was constructed under the direction of Mr Rennie whose abilities as
an Engineer are now well known to the Publick.
Mr Boulton was not only an ingenious Mechanick, well skilled in all the practices
of the Birmingham manufacturers but possessed in a high degree the faculty of rendering
any new invention of his own or others useful to the Publick by organising & arranging
the processes by which it could be carried on, as well as of promoting the sale by
his own exertions & by his numerous friends & correspondents.
His conception of the nature of any invention was quick & he was not less quick in
perceiving the uses to which it might be applied & the profits which might accrue
When he took any scheme in hand, he was rapid in executing it & on these occasions
neither spared his own trouble or expence. He was a liberal encourager of merit in
others & to him the country is indebted for various improvements brought forward
under his auspices which have not been mentioned.
To his family he was a most affectionate parent. He was steady in his friendships,
hospitable & benevolent to his acquaintances & indeed I may say to all who came within
his reach who were worthy of his attention & to sum up humane & charitable to the
I have said he had may friends; some of the most intimate were the late Dr E. Darwin,
the late Dr Wm. Small, the late Saml. Garbett Esqr., the late Thomas Day Esqr., Chas
Dumergue Esqr., and others, which can easily be recollected by his family & friends.
In respect to myself, I can with great sincerity say that he was a most affectionate
& steady friend & patron with whom during a close connection of 35 years I have never
had any serious difference.
In respect to his improvements & erections at Soho, his turning a barren heath into
a delightful garden & the populaton & riches he has introduced into the parish of
Handsworth, I must leave them to those whose pens are better adapted to the purpose
& whose ideas are less benumbed with age than mine now are.
● The text of this Memorandum formed Appendix 1 to the book 'Matthew Boulton' by
H W Dickinson published in 1936.
A uniface Guinea Coin Weight of the type thought to have been made at Soho
and struck with the Anchor mark of the Birmingham Assay Office as verification