Boulton, Matthew

, who justly ought to be classed among public benefactors, the son of Matthew Boulton, by Christian, daughter of Mr. Peers, of Chester, was born at Birmingham Sept. 3, 1728, and was principally educated at a private grammar school, kept by the rev. Mr. Ansted. He learned drawing under Worlidge, and mathematics under Cooper, and laid in a stock of that useful knowledge by which he was enabled so highly to improve the manufactures of his country.' So early as the year 1745, Mr. Boulton invented and brought to great perfection, the inlaid steel, buckles, buttons, watch chains, &c. Great quantities of these were exported to France, from- whence they were re-purchased with avidity by the English, as the offspring of French ingenuity. His manufactory at Birmingham, however, being inadequate to his extensive improvements, and further experiments, he, in 1762, purchased a lease of the Soho, at Handsworth, in the county | of Stafford, distant about two. miles; at that time, a barren heath, on the bleak summit of which stood a naked hut, the habitation of a warrener. These extensive tracts of common were converted by Mr. Boulton into the present superb ^manufactory, which was finished in 1765, at the expence of 9000l.; and in the year 1794, he purchased the fee simple of Soho, and much of the other adjoining lands.

Impelled by an ardent attachment to the arts, and by the patriotic ambition of bringing his favourite Soho to the highest perfection, the ingenious proprietor soon established a seminary of artists, for drawing and modelling; and men of genius were sought for, and liberally patronized, which shortly led to the successful establishment of an extensive manufactory of ornaments, in what the French call or moulu; and these ornaments not only found their way into the apartments of his majesty, but also into those of the nobility and curious of this kingdom, France, and the greatest part of Europe.

Finding that the mill which he had erected fell infinitely short, even with the aid of horses, of the force which was necessary for the completion of his vast designs, Mr. Boulton, in 1767, had recourse to that master- piece of human ingenuity, the steam engine. This wonderful machine was yet in its infancy, and did not at first answer the expectations that had been formed of it. In 1769, Mr. James Watt, of Glasgow, obtained a patent for a prodigious improvement in the steam engine. This induced Mr. Boulton to form connexions with Mr. Watt, and invited him to settle at Soho, to which the latter consented. In 1775, parliament granted a prolongation of the patent for twenty-five years; and Messrs. Boulton and Watt entering into a partnership, established a very extensive manufactory of these engines at Soho, whence most of the great mines and manufactories in England continue to be supplied, and they are now applied in almost every mechanical purpose, where great power is requisite.

Amongst the various applications of the steam engine, that of coining seems to be of considerable importance, as by its powers, all the operations are concentrated on the same spot. It works a number of coining machines with greater rapidity and exactness by a few boys from twelve to fourteen years of age, than could be done by a great number of strong men, without endangering their fingers, as the machine itself lays the blanks upon the die perfectly | concentral with it, and, when struck, displaces one piece and replaces another. The coining mill, which was erected in 1788, and has since been greatly improved, is adapted to work eight machines, and each is capable of striking from sixty to an hundred pieces of money in a minute, the size of a guinea, which is equal to between 30,000 and 40,000 per hour, and at the same blow, which strikes the face and reverse, the edge of the piece is also struck, either plain or with an inscription.

About the year 1773, the ingenious art of copying pictures in oil colours, by a mechanical process, was invented at Soho; and was brought to such a degree of perfection that the copies were taken for originals by the most experienced connoisseurs. This art was brought to perfection under the management of the late ingenious Mr. F. Eginton, who was no less celebrated for his paintings on glass.

In 1788, Mr. Boulton struck a piece of gold, the size of a guinea, as a pattern, the letters of which were indented instead of a relief; and the head and other devices, although in relief, were protected from wear by a flat border; and from the perfect rotundity of shape, &c. with the aid of a steel guage, it may with great ease and certainty, by ascertaining its specific gravity, be distinguished from any base metal. Previous to his engagement to supply government with copper pence, in order to bring his apparatus to perfection, he exercised it in coining silver money for Sierra Leone and the African Company; and copper for the East India Company and Bermuda. Various beautiful medals, also, of superior workmanship to any of the modern money of this country, of our celebrated naval and other officers, have, from tune to time, been struck here by Mr. Boulton, for the purpose of employing and encouraging ingenious artists to revive that branch of sculpture.

Since the demise of the late empress Catherine of Russia, Mr. Boulton presented her successor, the late emperor Paul I. with some of the curious articles of his’manufactory, and in return received a polite letter of thanks and Approbation, together with a splendid collection of medals, minerals from Siberia, and specimens of all the modern money of Russia. Among the medals which, for elegance of design and beauty of execution, have never yet been equalled in this or any other country, is a massy one of gold, impressed with a striking likeness, it is said, of that monarch. This unrivalled piece was struck from a die | engraved by the present empress dowager, who has, from her youth, taken great delight in the art of engraving on steel.

With a view of still further improving and facilitating the manufactory of steam engines, Messrs. Boulton and Watt have lately, in conjunction with their sons, established a foundery at Smethwick, a short distance from Soho. Here that powerful agent is employed, as it were, to multiply itself, and its various parts are fabricated and adapted together with the same regularity, neatness, and expedition, which distinguish all the operations of their manufactory. Those engines are afterwards distributed to all parts of the kingdom by the Birmingham canal, which communicates with a wet dock belonging to the foundery.

In a national view, Mr. Boulton’s undertakings have been highly valuable and important. By collecting around him artists of various descriptions, rival talents have been called forth; and, by successive competition, have been multiplied to an extent highly beneficial to the public. A barren heath has been covered with plenty and population; and these works, which in their infancy were little known and attended to, now cover several acres, give employment to more than six hundred persons, and are indubitably the first of their kind in Europe. No expence has been spared to render these works uniform and handsome in architecture, as well as neat and commodious. The same liberal spirit and taste have been displayed on the adjoining gardens and pleasure grounds, which at the same time that they form an agreeable separation from the proprietor’s residence, render Soho a much admired scene of picturesque beauty. As his great and expanded mind formed and brought to perfection the wonderful works thus briefly described, so he felt no greater felicity, than that of diffusing happiness to all around him. Mr. Boulton was not only a fellow of the royal societies of London and Edinburgh, but likewise of that which bears the title of the free and ceconomical at St. Petersburg, and many other foreigrt institutions of the highest celebrity in Europe. He died in his eighty-first year, at Soho, August 17, 1809, regretted as an illustrious contributor to the wealth and fame of his country, and a man of amiable and generous character. He was succeeded in estate and talents by his only son, the present proprietor of Soho, in conjunction with his partners. 1


Memoirs of M. Boulton, esq.” printed at Birmingham 1809.