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Archives of Soho

Matthew Boulton strived for innovation through his various business partnerships and friendships with the influential thinkers of his day. His most well known partnership with James Watt (1736-1819) developed the steam engine for use with industrial machinery. His intentional focus on quality improved Birmingham’s reputation for silverworks, led to the establishment of the city’s Assay Office in 1773 and the coining of money for the Royal mint in 1797. The records also tell the stories of those who worked in the manufactory at Soho and as servants in their households.
This is brief introduction to the Archives of Soho, now held by Birmingham Archives and Heritage. The Archives of Soho holds documents from all elements of Boulton and Watt’s business as well as their individual endeavors and personal papers, such as diaries, letters and notebooks.

Matthew Boulton

Matthew Boulton (1728-1809)

Matthew Boulton (1728-1809) - a key figure in the industrial growth of Birmingham.
Engraving of James Watt

James Watt (1736-1819)

Boulton's well-known partnership with James Watt (1736-1819) who developed the steam engine for use with industrial machinery.  
Portrait of Matthew Robinson Boulton

Matthew Robinson Boulton (1770-1842)

In 1800 Matthew Boulton and James Watt retired from their business, passing the running to their two sons.
Portrait of James Watt Jr.

James Watt Jr.

After involvement with the French Revolution and extensive European travel, James Watt Jr. returned to the UK and successfully ran the engine bus
Letter. James Watt to Dr Darwin 3 June 1781. MS 3219/4/125/64

The Lunar Society

During its existence from the 1750s to the end of the century, the Lunar Society included  John Whitehurst, Matthew Boulton, Josiah Wedgwood, Era
Sun and Planet Engine. MS 3147/5/239c

Steam Engines

Boulton and Watt are probably best known for their development of the steam engine.  
Soho Manufactory engraving

Soho Manufactory and Estate

The Soho estate was acquired by Matthew Boulton in 1761 and building work for the new manufactory started the next year. The Soho estate was constantl
Patent Office Document. MS 3782/17/2


With the construction of a mint at Soho that used steam to power it, Boulton became hopeful of a contract from the Royal Mint to produce much needed c
Pattern Book Vol.169 p.13.

Pattern Books

Pattern The pattern books cover everything from candlesticks and lamp stands, to dishes, cruet stands and toast racks, to tea pots, jugs and deca
Coach design from Matthew Boulton’s Notebook. MS 3782/12/108/22

Coach Design

Matthew Boulton’s thoughts and inventions also strayed from the sciences and manufacturing into coach design. The image is from one of Boulton’s Noteb
Indenture Document from 1780. MS 3147/18/2

Copying press

James Watt is most well known for his improvements to the steam engine, but his discovery of a method of letter copying became the basis of copying de
Memorial relative to Assaying and Marking Wrought Plate at Birmingham, &c. MS 3782/12/89/23

Trading in Silver

Matthew Boulton helped to found the Silver Assay office in Birmingham. The Boulton and Fothergill firm were producing silver goods by 1766, but t
Letter. Fothergill to Boulton with newspaper cuttings on new hospital. 5 November 1765. MS 3782/12/6


 “A general hospital, for the relief of the sick and lame, situated near the Town of Birmingham, is presumed would be greatly beneficial to the p
List of Butler’s Duties, 1811. MS 3782/13/149/70

Soho House

Matthew Boulton and his second wife, Ann, moved into Soho House in 1766. Soho House came to represent much of what Boulton accomplished in his life.
Letter. Matthew Boulton to George Scale. 26 July 1799. MS 3782/12/72/104


Thornhill House, to the north west of Soho, was built in 1773 by John Scale. Mr Scale was a partner with Matthew Boulton in the button trade and the p
Heathfield plans. MS 3219/4/235/1


In June 1790 James and Ann Watt moved from Harpers Hill in Birmingham to Heathfield in Handsworth.  
Map of Farmland Surrounding Soho from his Notebook. MS 3782/12/108/68

Farming and the Boultons

For both Matthew Boulton and Matthew Robinson Boulton farming became an important part of their business. The extensive lands that they owned were eit