Tag Archives: Boulton and Watt

Drawing connections

Drawing by Gregory Watt of a painting of a man's head by Van Dyck, nd. c. 1793 [MS 3219/7/Part 3/48]

Drawing by Gregory Watt of a painting of a man’s head by Van Dyck, nd. c. 1793
[MS 3219/7/Part 3/48]

I recently visited Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery to see the free exhibition ‘Turning to See: From Van Dyck to Lucian Freud. Curated by John Stezaker’, which I thoroughly enjoyed. On display were an array of portraits by a variety of famous names in art history.

The exhibition’s centrepiece is Anthony van Dyck’s masterly last self-portrait purchased for the nation in 2014. Inspired by what I had seen, I wanted to find out whether Archives and Collections at the Library of Birmingham holds any material relating to the artists featured in the exhibition.

Anthony van Dyck via Gregory Watt

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The Best of Friends

 

MS 3782_12_76_189 First page

Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Dr. William Small, 1775, page 1 [MS 3782/12/76/189]

It was reported by Fox News on 5 July 2016 that a letter written by Thomas Jefferson in 1815 had been found by a family in the U.S.A. among papers in their attic. It was put up for sale at a price of $325,000.

You do not, however, have to pay anything like that sum to see a letter from Jefferson, as one exists in Birmingham, within the Papers of Matthew Boulton [MS 3782/12/76/189] and it is free to view!

This letter, dated 7 May 1775, accompanied three dozen bottles of Madeira which Jefferson was sending by ship to Dr. William Small in Birmingham.

‘I hope you will find it fine as it came to me genuine from the island and has been kept in my own cellar eight years.’

Jefferson continues with news of continuing warfare between British troops and the fighters for American independence and with the failure of peace negotiations.

He finishes:

‘…but I am getting into politics tho’ I sat down only to ask your acceptance of the wine & express my constant wishes for your happiness…….I shall still hope that amidst public dissension private friendship may be preserved inviolate, and among the warmest you can ever possess is that of…..Th. Jefferson.’

MS 3782_12_76_189 Second page

Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Dr. William Small, 1775, page 2 [MS 3782/12/76/189]

Unfortunately, the letter and gift arrived after Small’s death, which had occurred on 25 February 1775, and of which Jefferson was unaware.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence (1776) and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom (adopted 1785). He was the third President of the United States, 1801-1809. How did he know Dr Small? Continue reading

Look Inside the Box: Appreciating the Library of Birmingham’s Collections

Library of Birmingham

LoB Official Photograph – Copyright Christian Richters

The Library of Birmingham deserves to have its reputation burnished wherever possible.  Whilst the building is just two years old, it houses a venerable institution whose wonderful collections have been developed and enhanced by archivists, librarians, donors and contributors for 150 years.

MLA Award-2

BCC Additional, Accession 2015/132

Collectively, these collections have been described as the Library’s ‘unique selling point’.[i]   In 2005 this value was officially recognised when the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council [MLA] designated them as a single Outstanding Collection.  The MLA award applied to the Archives, The Birmingham Collection, the Early and Fine Printing Collections, Literature Collections, Music Collections and the Photography Collections.  It did not single out any specific collection, recognising their mutually supportive nature.  For example, the Boulton & Watt Collection contains a rare variant of the iconic photograph of Isambard Kingdom Brunel (James Watt & Co. of Soho, Handsworth, manufactured the screw engines for this ship. They were horizontal & double-acting of 1800 nominal horse-power and 4886 horse-power indicated, and weighed 500 tons).  It seems appropriate that such engineering giants should be linked in this way.  However, the full significance is that Brunel’s image is by the pioneering photographer Robert Howlett and it can be studied alongside the Library’s extensive collections of Victorian photography.

Photograph of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, designer of the Great Eastern, showing anchor chains of the ship, nd. Photographed by Robert Howlett; albumen print, 1857. James Watt & Co. of Soho, Handsworth, manufactured the screw engines for this ship. They were horizontal & double-acting of 1800 nominal horse-power and 4886 horse-power indicated, and weighed 500 tons. This photograph is part of the Archives of Soho, held by Birmingham City Archives [Ref. MS3147/31/1/1]

Photograph of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, designer of the Great Eastern, showing anchor chains of the ship, nd. Photographed by Robert Howlett; albumen print, 1857.
[Ref. MS 3147/31/1/1]

MS 3147/5/149

Arnold Mill Engine [MS 3147/5/149]

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The Elgin Marbles

adjusted elgin006

When last year the British Museum lent the statue of Ilissos, a Greek river god, to the Hermitage in St Petersburg to help celebrate that institution’s 250th anniversary, I was reminded that the ‘Elgin Marbles’ , of which this sculpture is one, had also made an appearance in the Papers of James Watt and Family.

Thadjusted elgin005ee statues have been in the British Museum since 1816, when the British Parliament purchased the collection from Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin and presented them to the Museum. Elgin had removed the sculptures from the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens during his time as Ambassador to the Ottoman court in Istanbul , 1798 – 1812 (Greece was then part of the Ottoman Empire) and arranged their transport to England.

Even before their move to the British Museum, John Henning (1771-1851), a Scottish artist who made portrait medallions and cameos, had visited Burlington house to draw and make copies of the sculptures. He also studied drawings of the sculptures by earlier artists and went on to create slate moulds of the sculptures which he used to reproduce the frieze from the temple as a miniature version two inches high. One copy of the frieze was purchased by William IV for £42 but Henning was unable to obtain a patent and did not profit from his invention. The British Museum has preserved a copy of the frieze and the original moulds. Continue reading

Library of Birmingham – The Power House of Research

Ironwork surrounding the Library of Birmingham, representing local industry

Ironwork surrounding the Library of Birmingham, representing local industry

Launched just ten weeks ago and already having welcomed half a million visitors, the Library of Birmingham is rightly proud of its services.  Much popular attention has focused on the distinctive architecture, the visitor experience offered by the terraces, Shakespeare Memorial Room and the ‘added value’ services: Gallery, Mediatheque and much, much more.

The Library (LoB) is also providing access to its world class collections for research.  Such research can take many forms and is available to our entire range of visitors, from first time users of all ages to experienced investigators following structured academic or professional research programmes.  I could highlight any number of collections which may be consulted, but taking my cue from LoB’s ‘Rings of Steel’, I will concentrate on our industrial collections.

Winfield Rolling Mills Ltd. Birmingham [MS 322/169]

Winfield Rolling Mills Ltd. Birmingham [MS 322/169]

The ‘Rings of Steel’ on the Library’s façade provide an iconic brand for LoB.  They derive from and represent Birmingham’s proud industrial heritage, which literally underpins the Library: it is built on the site of Winfield’s Brass-works, which was powered by a Boulton & Watt steam engine.  Today, the Library holds the records of the Winfield Company and Boulton & Watt, as well as very many other manufacturing concerns associated with Birmingham.  A selected list is provided below and this very rich resource supports diverse research agendas.  Historians of technology and economic, social and business historians find such resources invaluable, as do family and local historians.  Researchers of the ‘here and now’ also find inspiration in these collections for art, design and other creative subjects. Continue reading

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

It’s been a fine autumn so far for all of us, what with having a new building with its lovely roof gardens (shown here with local celebrity Alys Fowler) and we’re heading back into our collections to inspire us in our gardening endeavours.

Pomona Britannica - George Brookshaw (AF096/1817)

Pomona Britannica – George Brookshaw (AF096/1817)

These lovely illustrations come from the wonderfully illustrated book “Pomona Britannica” by Birmingham-born artist George Brookshaw (1751-1823).    Brookshaw was from an artistic family – his brother Richard became a noted engraver.  For a time George was apprenticed to the japanner Samuel Troughton but eventually George set up in business as a cabinet maker in London and sold painted furniture to the great and the good of London high society, including supplying a commode to the Prince of Wales.

Pomona Britannica - George Brookshaw (AF096/1817)

Pomona Britannica – George Brookshaw (AF096/1817)

Brookshaw’s furniture was the very last word in regency style and they graced the interior’s of the best homes. You can see examples of his work at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Many of his designs were inspired by the artist Angelica Kauffman who was also popular with Matthew Boulton and members of the Lunar Society.

In the  mid 1790’s Brookshaw disappeared from public view, only to re-emerge ten years later with the publication of Pomona Britannica in 1804, dedicated to his erstwhile patron the Prince of Wales. There is speculation that there was some sort of scandal associated with him perhaps linked to his marriage which broke down some time during this period.  Whilst his botanical drawings were widely praised, he never again achieved the heights of success that he had with his furniture.

Rachel MacGregor

Bloomin’ marvellous!

Botanical Drawings by Luke Linnaeus Pope, c.1825 (Ref: MS 2138)

Botanical Drawings by Luke Linnaeus Pope, c.1825 (Ref: MS 2138)

Spring may have got off to a slow start (brrr!) but now it’s here we in the Iron Room are all getting very excited about gardens and gardening!  First we had fantastic success at the Chelsea Flower Show with Birmingham City Council’s Library of Birmingham themed display “Enlightenment” which won a gold medal.  If you missed it at Chelsea, you can catch it again at the BBC’s Gardener’s World Live event.  If all that wasn’t exciting enough the Library is looking for volunteers to help with the outdoor beds in the new Library’s terrace gardens.  We can’t wait to move to the new Library to enjoy the new outdoor spaces.

Meanwhile we’ve been digging around, if you’ll excuse the pun, to look at some of the many archive collections we have relating to gardens and gardening and one of my favourites is the volume known as “Select Flowers, Vol. III”.  It doesn’t sound much but it contains some exquisite botanical illustrations dating from about 1825.

Botanical Drawings by Luke Linnaeus Pope, c.1825 (Ref: MS 2138)

Botanical Drawings by Luke Linnaeus Pope, c.1825 (Ref: MS 2138)

Botanical Drawings by Luke Linnaeus Pope, c.1825 (Ref: MS 2138)

Botanical Drawings by Luke Linnaeus Pope, c.1825 (Ref: MS 2138)

There are more images from this volume in a previous post

It was created by the Handsworth-based draftsman and botanical artist Luke Linnaeus Pope. Named after the great Swedish biologist and botanist of the eighteenth century Carl LinnaeusBloomin who developed a scientific classification system still used today.

Luke Linnaeus Pope worked for the family nursery which had been established by his grandfather, Luke, in about 1786 and then passed to Luke Linnaeus’ father John Pope (1772-1850).  John’s three sons Luke Linnaeus, Alexander and Leonard were also in the nursery business and at its height sold plants to many prestigious customers including James Watt junior, son of James Watt the engineer, who lived at Aston Hall between 1818 and 1848.  We are lucky enough to be able to trace exactly which plants were bought because of the rich survival of records from the Watt family which are in the archive collections in the Library.

James Watt jnr notebook

James Watt jnr notebook (MS 32196/20-12)

Aston Hall was subsequently acquired by the City and you can now visit the Aston Hall and Gardens and get some garden inspiration for yourself!

aston hall

 

Rachel MacGregor