Soho House and Works

Matthew Boulton

The home and factory of industrialist Matthew Boulton 1766 to 1809.

The house is located in Soho Avenue off Soho Rd, Handsworth. During his time there Boulton hosted meetings of the Lunar Society and the people who belonged to the society were the most important Thinkers, Scientists & Engineers of that time.

Meetings were held on the Mondays nearest the full moon

not having street lighting in those days would have made it dangerous to travel home afterwards.)

The house, possibly the first with central heating since Roman times, is now part of Birmingham Museums & Art Galleries< and open to the public.

Inside the house the visitors will find some of the original furniture and displays of some of the products that were made at the Boulton factory, such as buckles, buttons and silver tableware and also the history of the steam engine which he developed in partnership with James Watt.

Soho House

The Soho Manufactory 1762


1757…Edward Ruston and John Eaves leased from John Wyrley a site to cut a leat to a mill pool constructed there. They built a house and a small mill for rolling metal.

1761-2…The property was acquired by Matthew Boulton, who demolished the mill and rebuilt it.

1764…He laid the foundations of the factory that was to become famous. He installed a second water wheel, then a horse mill.

1802…The Soho works became the first factory to be lit by gas lighting to celebrate the “Peace of Amiens”.

1818…A large water wheel was still in use.

Soho Manufactory not to be confused with the Soho Foundry, was an early factory which pioneered mass production on the assembly line principle. It was established by the toy manufacturer Matthew Boulton and business partner John Fothergill. In 1761 they leased a site of Handsworth Heath, Ruston’s Pool and Mill, containing a cottage and a water driven metal rolling mill. The mill was replaced by a new factory, designed and built by the Wyatt family of Lichfield. This was completed in 1766. The cottage was later demolished and Boulton’s home, Soho House, was built on the site. This to was built by the Wyatt family. The manufactory was demolished in the middle of the 19th century and the site was used for housing. Matthew Boulton built a row of houses at the Manufactory, called Brook Row, for some of his employees, he also rented gardens out to them. Soho manufactory closed in 1848 after the death of James Watt the younger, being demolished 15 years later.

John Wyatt born April 1770 died November 1766

An English inventor, who was born near Lichfield and was related to Sarah Ford, Doctor Johnson’s mother. A carpenter by trade, he began to work in Birmingham on the development of a spinning machine. In 1733 he was working in the mill at New Forge (Powells) Pool, Sutton Coldfield attempting to spin the first cotton thread ever spun by mechanical means.

His principal partner was Lewis Paul and together they developed the concept of elongating cotton threads by running them through rollers and then stretching them through a faster second set of rollers. They produced the first ever roller spinning machine but it was never successful. Paul took out patents in 1738 and 1758, the year before he died.

Wyatt went to work for Matthew Boulton in his foundary in Birmingham. There he invented and produced a weighing machine and experimented with donkey power to run his spinning machine. He was brought down by his debts and was made bankrupt.

Despite their failures, their ideas laid the foundations for others who followed, particularly Sir Richard Arkwright.

Sir Richard Arkwright born December 1732 died August 1792

Sir Richard Arkwright was an English man credited with the spinning frame…later renamed the water frame following the transition to water power. The spinning frame.. a quantum leap forward from the spinning jenny of James Hargreaves…was developed in 1769, and the worlds first water powered cotton mill was built in 1771 at Cromford, Derbyshire, creating one of the catalysts for the Industrial Revolution. He was knighted in 1786.


“Handsworth was one of the most exciting places in England. For, in Handsworth, near the point where Hockley Brook is crossed by Factory Road, was the Soho Manufactory. It was founded by Mathew Boulton in 1762 for making buckles, buttons, plate and silver ware using the latest technological advances and was the envy of Europe. He was a member of a group of intellectual inventors known as “The Lunar Society”. Another member was James Watt, who produced the steam engine which kick started the industrial revolution. Matthew Boulton and James Watt went into partnership together.

The manufactory was the first building to use gas for light in 1802/03. The wattage measurement of lighting which every household knows in the use of electric light bulbs, was named after James Watt. The foundry was rebuilt in the 1860’s and was taken over by W & T Avery Ltd who were particulary famous for their weighing scales. The site is now covered by housing and gardens, it is such an important site that they have been excavated by the Channel 4 Time Team.

Unfortunately no one seems to have seen the ghost of Matthew Boulton or James Watt”.