Remains of the Boulton and Watt Soho foundry and mint, Birmingham Canal, Smethwick


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1021388

Date first listed: 17-Apr-2008


Ordnance survey map of Remains of the Boulton and Watt Soho foundry and mint, Birmingham Canal, Smethwick
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Sandwell (Metropolitan Authority)

National Grid Reference: SP 03421 88863


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

The remains of the Soho foundry provide a unique example of an early industrial Foundry. Soho was one of the first purpose-built steam engine manufactories in the world, founded by the pioneering firm of Boulton and Watt and associated with other renowned engineers and new techniques. William Murdoch, John Southern and Peter Ewart all worked for Boulton and Watt. In establishing this ground breaking manufactory Boulton and Watt established a format which was copied and developed by many later steam engine firms and general engineering concerns. At the date of its inception in 1795, the engineering industry had barely developed and the steam engine manufactory represented a pioneering venture of fundamental importance to the origins of an industry for which Britain became renowned. The site may be considered as one of the founders of the great industrial lineage in which Britain was pre-eminent in the world for much of the C19. In addition to steam engines, Boulton and Watt had important associations with the development of steamships from 1804 and the Boulton and Watt marine engine business was one of the most important in the country during the C19. Its most celebrated contract was the provision of the screw engines for Brunel's Great Eastern, which successfully laid the first transatlantic cables. In 1788 Boulton and Watt manufacturing was also the first to introduce steam powered mint machinery, which was then exported worldwide, for example to Mexico, Russia and India. The works were also the first gas-lit factory building in the world and responsible for pioneering the production of gas lighting equipment on a commercial basis. The remains of the Boulton and Watt Soho foundry and mint survive well. They will help to illuminate this pioneering phase of industrial development in the West Midlands. The significance of the site is enhanced by the exceptional archive associated with it which includes the papers of the Boulton and Watt company as well as the separate collections of the personal papers of James Watt and Matthew Boulton which are housed in the Birmingham City Reference Library.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes the buried remains of the Soho foundry, associated buildings and adjacent canal basin. The Soho foundry was established by James Watt (1736-1819) and Matthew Boulton (1728-1809) although much of the credit for the Foundry lies with their sons, James Watt junior and Matthew Robinson Boulton in 1795. Soho was an integrated engineering works dedicated to the manufacture of steam engines. Steam engines had been powering machinery since the C18 and prior to the establishment of the Soho Foundry, the various stages in the production of steam engines were carried out at small-scale furnaces, foundries, forges and workshops scattered around the country, located close to the sources of raw material and power. As the leading steam engine manufactory, Boulton and Watt's Soho foundry aimed for the first time to apply the techniques of making and assembling all the engine parts on one site, allowing assembled delivery to the purchaser. The foundry attracted many leading engineers, such as William Murdoch and John Southern, who in turn pioneered further innovations. In 1798 the foundry was the first factory in the world to be lit with gas from a fixed retort. The production of marine steam engines began in 1804, and during the C19 Soho developed into one of the most important marine engine businesses in the country, including the manufacturing of screw engines for Brunel's Great Eastern, for instance. The scheduling includes the buried remains of the original Boulton and Watt foundry, dating from 1795-6 and its various extensions and ancillary buildings. These include the light foundry and its extension; the range of pattern stores; the erecting shop; H shop; weighbridge shop; the foundry stores and site of the boring mill; and the powerhouses. Archaeological excavations carried out during 2000-01 demonstrated extensive and high quality survival of the buried remains of the original buildings, including the survival of engine beds and machine fixings etc. Survey work has indicated that the north western and north eastern walls of the original late C18 mint building survive incorporated in later extensions. These two standing walls are also included in the scheduling. All paths, surfaces, extant buildings, including the listed buildings, are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 35144

Legacy System: RSM


EIA, Demidowicz, G Belford, P Hislop, M, Historic environment Assessment Soho Foundry, (2003)
report 20000/142, University of Leicester, The Mint building Soho foundry, (2000)

End of official listing