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Book launch Report - University of Birmingham April 9th 2022

At an event hosted by Birmingham University on April 9th, two new books were launched that are of interest to industrial historians of the Black Country - one describing the Soho building complex, and one exploring the life and times of James Watt.

The Soho Manufactory, Mint and Foundry, West Midlands by George Demidowicz

George Demidowicz has worked for many years on the archaeology and history of the three Soho manufacturing sites where Matthew Boulton, James Watt and William Murdoch pioneered industrial innovation and production in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. His findings have been published in a splendidly illustrated and well-researched hard-back publication by English Heritage and Liverpool University Press,

From the Liverpool University Press

The book provides a comprehensive analysis of the ground-breaking historic industrial complex created to the west of Birmingham in the eighteenth century and associated with Matthew Boulton, James Watt, and William Murdoch. The Soho Manufactory (1761-1863) and Soho Mint (1788-1850s) were both situated in the historic parish of Handsworth, now in the city of Birmingham, and the Soho Foundry (1795-1895) lay in the historic township of Smethwick, now within Sandwell Metropolitan Borough. Together they played a key role in the Industrial Revolution , achieving many world 'firsts': the first working Watt steam engine, the first steam-engine powered mint and the first purpose-built steam engine manufactory (the Soho Foundry), to name but a few. Existing literature focuses largely on the biography of the people, primarily Boulton and Watt, or the products they manufactured. The place - the Soho complex - has attracted very little attention. This volume is the first to concentrate on the buildings themselves analysing not only their physical origins, development and eventual decline but also the water and steam power systems adopted. An interdisciplinary approach has been employed combining archival research in the magnificent Soho collection at the Library of Birmingham with the results of archaeological excavations. The volume is profusely illustrated with archival material, most published for the first time, and contains a large number of reconstruction plans and drawings by the author.

James Watt, 1736–1819: Culture, Innovation and Enlightenment, edited by Malcolm Dick and Caroline Archer-Parré

This book was published at the start of lockdown by Liverpool University and contains essays by leading scholars which focus on Watt's contributions to science and technology, his intellectual world, family life, links with the slave trade and the massive Watt archives at the Library of Birmingham.

Again, from the Liverpool University Press

James Watt (1736-1819) was a pivotal figure of the Industrial Revolution. His career as a scientific instrument maker, inventor and engineer was developed in Scotland, his land of birth. His subsequent national and international significance as a scientist, technologist and businessman was formed in the Birmingham area. There, his partnership with Matthew Boulton and the intellectual and personal support of other members of the Lunar Society network, such as Erasmus Darwin, James Keir, William Small and Josiah Wedgwood, enabled him to translate his improvements in steam technology into efficient machines. His pumping and rotative steam engines represent a summit of technological achievement in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. This is the traditional picture of James Watt. After his death, his surviving son, James Watt junior projected his father's image through commissioning sculptures, medals, paintings and biographies which celebrated his reputation as a `great man' of the Industrial Revolution. In popular historical understanding Watt has also become a hero of modernity, but the context in which he operated and the roles of others in shaping his ideas have been downplayed. This book explores new aspects of his work and evaluates him in his locational, family, social and intellectual contexts.

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