Memorial to Birmingham’s Boulton

Bust of Matthew Boulton

Bust of Matthew Boulton in the Drawing Room at Soho House museum

On Friday 17th October staff and volunteers from Soho House Museum attended a special service at Westminster Abbey. The service was to commemorate a memorial stone dedicated to Matthew Boulton.

Staff and volunteers outside Westminster Abbey

Rachel West (Deputy Property Manager), John (volunteer) and Samina Kosar (Property Supervisor) outside Westminster Abbey

This is not the first time Boulton has been memorialised. Brummies are familiar with the gold statue on Broad Street that depicts Boulton, his business partner James Watt and Soho’s master engineer William Murdoch.

Matthew Boulton was a master manufacturer in the 18th century and along with other members of the Lunar Society has been credited for developing concepts and techniques that laid the foundations for the Industrial Revolution.

There are several other places throughout the city of Birmingham that memorialise Matthew Boulton. Matthew Boulton College opened in 1957 in his honour, and Boulton Road in Handsworth is a stone’s throw away from Soho House, where he lived for 43 years and which displays the first of three blue plaques.

Soho House Museum with blue plaque

Soho House museum with blue plaque

Sarehole Mill in Hall Green was leased by Boulton between 1756 and 1761. He probably used the mill to produce sheet metal until all production moved to the new Soho Manufactory in the 1760s. Today the mill displays a blue plaque recording Boulton’s time spent there. Steelhouse Lane in Birmingham city centre also has a blue plaque. It was here that Boulton was born and his father had a toy, button and buckle workshop.

Blue plaque on Steelhouse Lane

Blue plaque on Steelhouse Lane where Boulton was born

In 1788 Boulton established his Soho Mint and in 1797 he won a contract to produce Britain’s copper coinage. During the next two years his mint struck 45 million coins. Boulton was able to provide the Royal Mint with better machinery and coins from his workshops were exported around the world. Most importantly, his coin designs were so good it hugely decreased forgery, thus enabling the working classes a secure form of payment for a day’s work.

On 2nd November 2011, in recognition of their advancements in engineering and coinage, Boulton and Watt were immortalised by the Bank of England on the fifty pound note.

£50 note

A £50 note with portraits of Matthew Boulton and James Watt on the back.

On 10th March 2009, he along with other industrialists and inventors was honoured with the issue of a Royal Mail postage stamp. The stamp bares his image alongside the Soho Manufactory – home to his Sheffield Plate, Sterling Silver tableware and Ormolu ornamental wares.

Matthew Boulton is celebrated in St Mary’s Parish Church, Handsworth. Boulton, Watt and Murdoch were all buried in the churchyard. The church was later extended over the site of his grave. In recognition of this, inside, on the north wall of the Sanctury is a large marble monument to him, commissioned by his son, Matthew Robinson Boulton.

Marble bust inside St Mary’s

Marble bust inside St Mary’s Parish Church, sculpted by John Flaxman

Very active in public life, Boulton was involved with Birmingham Dispensory (which provided the poor with medicines), the General Hospital and established Soho Manufactory’s insurance scheme. This provided financial support for his workers who were sick and became the model for later schemes.

Order of Service from Westminster Abbey

Order of Service from Westminster Abbey

In the Westminster order of service The Bidding reads:

‘We come to add another illustrious name, that of Matthew Boulton of Birmingham, to the long list of distinguished men and women from the United Kingdom and from overseas who are buried or memorialised in Westminster Abbey.’

‘James Watt was given a memorial 189 years ago, within a few years of his death in St Paul’s Chapel […] Now an omission will be corrected. Matthew Boulton, without whom his achievements might not have been recognised, will be memorialised beside his business partner.’

Matthew Boulton memorial stone in Westminster Abbey

The Matthew Boulton memorial stone in Westminster Abbey

Boulton and Watt’s Smethwick engine, the world’s oldest working steam engine can be seen at Thinktank Museum and the Archives of Soho House, including thousands of Boulton’s letters can be viewed by appointment at the Library of Birmingham.

Louise Deakin,
Visitor Services Assistant,
Soho House

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