Tag Archives: Boulton and Watt

Catalogues and curiosity

Paris quadrifolia. Illustration from Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz, 1885, Gera, Germany

There are many ways to explore Archives. Sometimes you set out with a destination in mind and a carefully planned research route. Sometimes that works well and the desired information is found; sometimes you meet with difficulties – missing records, indecipherable scripts, records too fragile or damaged to consult – so the route and destination have to change.

Then there are the ‘lucky dip’ explorations where you’re not quite sure what to expect! Here follow a few examples –

Using the Archives and Collections, Library of Birmingham online catalogue, I tried some random words in the search box, just to see what appeared. In alphabetical order:

Campanile: 1 reference, to a will of Anna Brown of Campanile Cottage, Canonbury Road, London, 1872. [MS 857/11]

Duckling: 2 references to ‘Ugly Duckling’ in the John English Archive, a playscript and a theatre programme, 1958 [MS 2790/1/17/1 and MS 2790/2/2/14/1]

1 reference to ‘Duckling brand bedding brochure, 1948’ in Hoskins and Sewell records. [MS 1088/4/4/2]

Emerald: 2 references, both to jewellery of Mary Anne Boulton (Matthew Robinson Boulton’s wife), 1819 and 1826. The 1826 one was to ‘a gold serpent ring with emerald eyes’ [MS 3782/15/25/56]

Parrot: all references but one were to this as a surname. The one as a pet, owned by Fred Jordan of Shropshire, was in the Charles Parker Archive. [MS 4000/5/3/5/5/11]

Shell: 46 references, from spectacle frames to shell boilers in Boulton & Watt, chocolate shell eggs to ammunition shells, tortoise- shell and pearl shell – for buttons, boxes etc., and an advert for Babcock Power Ltd., Shell boiler division.

Whisky: 11 references appeared – all from the Charles Parker Archive [MS 4000]. Interesting to note the connection between whisky and folk song!

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O’Aargh me hearties!

Tuesday 19th September is officially Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Sadly as we have no actual pirates working in Archives & Collections that we can ask about pirating, we’ve done the next best thing and found some pirate themed treasures to give us some inspiration…

A History of the Lives and Exploits of the most remarkable Pirates, Highwaymen, Murderers, Street Robbers. 1742. [LS SA/2/39 224844]

The Life of Mary Read

Among our printed reference collection, we came across the perfect book to share with you  – A History of the Lives and Exploits of the most remarkable Pirates, Highwaymen, Murderers, Street Robbers etc. by Captain Charles Johnson, published in 1742. The volume contains biographies of many questionable characters, including Blackbeard himself! Also making the cut were women pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read, although as they didn’t command any ships, it seems being a female pirate was enough to warrant inclusion on the list of dastardly individuals.

Engine for H.M. Pluto. [MS 3147/5/1224]

Pirates were not just on the High Seas. We also found numerous references to pirates in the papers of Boulton & Watt, for trying to steal and pirate their patented engine technology! One of their engines was made for H. M. Navy and used for the defence against pirates. Two 50 horse power side lever boat engines were made for the Navy Steamer Pluto in the 1830s.  The engines were made in 1826 but not appropriated to the Pluto until 1830.  In March 1832, Pluto was about to proceed to the African coast, her first service.  According to the Catalogue of Old Engines she was armed with two long 18 pounder guns for the suppression of pirates on the Bahama Banks.  Pluto was broken up in 1861. Continue reading

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