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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

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.

(A)

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.

(C)

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 Mr Egginton.

(B)

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[85] 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 [1799] 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 assistance.

 

In 17[88] 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 from it.

 

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 distressed.

 

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.

 

J. WATT

The text of this Memorandum formed Appendix 1 to the book 'Matthew Boulton' by

H W Dickinson published in 1936.

Matthew Boulton

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

Watt On Boulton