Entrepreneur and inventor Matthew Boulton (1728-1809) is one of Birmingham’s most celebrated sons and this year marks the bi-centenary of his death. A host of activities are planned in the city to celebrate his life and work, and Aston will join the celebrations this Autumn.
Aston will co-ordinate a local Schools’ Challenge in the Autumn Term on the theme of what Boulton would be working on if he were alive today. It is hoped that at least 30 schools will take part. The Challenge will culminate in a ‘Dragon’s Den’ style final at Aston on 16th December at 2pm. Judges on the panel include Dana Skelly from Transport for London (Engineer of the Year in 2006) and Dr David Gregory (BBC Science Correspondent for Midlands Today).
The Schools’ Challenge will launch on 17th September at a public Matthew Boulton day to be held at the University. There will be a series of Boulton themed lectures during the day in the Byng Kenrick Lecture Theatre, which will culminate with Professor Julia King’s Lunar Society lecture that evening. Speakers include Dr Michael Jepson from Pharmacy who will talk about The Medical Dimension of the Lunar Society and Dr Malcolm Dick from the University of Birmingham with a lecture on Boulton’s life and work. Graham Fisher MBE will talk about the importance of canals in the industrial revolution and Barbara Fogarty will talk about the Mechanical Paintings of Soho and the science behind them. These are free lectures (lunch provided) and everyone is welcome to attend all or some of the lectures. Booking information will go out in due course.
At the same time, there will be a series of interactive demonstrations, displays and activities. The themes of the day are discovery, innovation, entrepreneurship, manufacturing and science. Schools will be invited to take part and staff are encouraged to run workshops – please let us know if you would like to take part.
If you would like further information please contact Sally Finn on ext 4552.
There is also an international Matthew Boulton Conference at the University of Birmingham between 3rd and 5th July.
So who was Matthew Boulton?
He was born in Birmingham in 1728. His father was a toymaker in Snow Hill and in 1749 his father took him into partnership in the business. In 1755, the Boultons moved to Sarehole Mill in Hall Green (which is now more famous for its Tolkein connections) and when his father died in 1759, Matthew took over the business.
In 1761 he acquired another water mill, called Soho, by Hockley Brook. Matthew rebuilt the Soho mill, turning it into the famous Soho Manufactory, which was finished in 1765. His own splendid home, Soho House, was adjacent. Jewellery, silverware and plated goods were made at the factory, and people from all over the world came to Birmingham to see it and meet the famous Mr Boulton.
He was a member of the Lunar Society, whose members included Erasmus Darwin, James Watt, Josiah Wedgwood and Joseph Priestley. The ‘Lunar Men’ as they were known would meet to discuss their ideas and inventions whenever the moon was full so that they had enough light to travel home by. Together, they helped shape the industrial world we know today.
Matthew Boulton was instrumental in the setting up of an Assay office in Birmingham for hallmarking silver and he also made great advances in British coinage.
Further information about Matthew Boulton. Also don’t miss the excellent exhibition Matthew Boulton – selling what all the world desires which is on at the Gas Hall at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery until 27th September.
Words by Sally Finn