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INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION: A DOCUMENTARY HISTORY
Series Three: The Papers of James Watt and his Family formerly held at Doldowlod House, now at Birmingham Central Library

Part 3: Correspondence, Papers & Business Records, 1736-1848

Part 3 has a strong focus on material relating to James Watt’s son, James Watt Junior. This is particularly important for the 1790s when Watt was training his son to take over the reins of all aspects of the Boulton & Watt empire along with Boulton’s son, Matthew Robinson Boulton.

James Watt Junior officially joined the firm of Boulton & Watt in 1794. He was responsible for the building of Soho Foundry to manufacture engines ready for immediate sale. This was completed in 1795. He developed the business in various new directions, in particular steam navigation, after 1800. There are excellent letters in the collection both to and from the American steamboat pioneer, Robert Fulton.
A new focus became necessary with the expiry of the engine patent in 1800 and dwindling royalty revenue from the old business of erecting engines on licence.

The following categories of material allow scholars to assess the careers of James Watt’s sons and to understand how the business was organised and developed after 1800:

  • James Watt Junior's personal correspondence and papers.
  • William Hamper’s collections about the parish of Aston.
  • Gregory Watt's personal correspondence and papers. 

This material will be of strong interest to all those studying the inter-relationship between science and industry. It also offers important insights into how Watt adapted to the changing circumstances of the 1820s and 1830s to build upon his father’s success.

There are also surveying papers and plans of John Watt Senior, correspondence to
James Watt Senior from his partners Robert Finlay, Walter Maxwell and David Calion concerning their partnership and trade between 1748-1754, and other papers from foreign agents in Boston, Barbados, Gibraltar, Cadiz, Madeira, Cork and the Isle of Man, as well as the pocket account books of James Watt Senior covering his business in Greenock and Glasgow.  

Dr Joseph Priestley

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