Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame

Celebrating James Watt: 2015-2019


On 28/29 July 2016, Birmingham University hosted two stimulating days of knowledge sharing and networking among scholars and heritage professionals and covering everything to do with James Watt, his life and times. There were several talks covering the James Watt workshop at the Science Museum, South Kensington, London; the technological and scientific world experienced by James Watt in Glasgow and Birmingham in the spheres of mechanical engineering, chemistry, medicine, business, industrial patents and natural philosophy; Watt and espionage during the political ferment in the wake of the French Revolution; the papers of the Watt family and the rich seam of insights into 18th century patronage and learning; how Birmingham Museums are celebrating James Watt, his life and times in the bicentenary year of his death; the resources available of the legacy of Watt; the archaeological excavations at the Soho Manufactory in Birmingham of entrepreneur Mattew Boulton and where James Watt built his steam engines in partnership with Matthew Boulton from the 1770s and Watt's steam engine in popular culture.


Friends of Kinneil at the James Watt Celebration
Watt Celebration 3

The birthday of iconic Scottish innovator James Watt, and 250 years since his invention of the condensing steam engine, were commemorated on the evening of 19th January 2016 at Holyrood.

The reception in the Scottish Parliament celebrated the inspiration of James Watt's story to today's young scientists and entrepreneurs, and the value to local communities of our history and heritage after the Industrial Revolution, which transformed Scotland and the world.

The event was among several held to begin the Scottish Government's Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design 2016 and was organised by the Celebrating James Watt Steering Group and the Friends of Kinneil.

Minister for Young People Aileen Campbell said: "Described as the 'Most useful man that ever lived' James Watt revolutionised industry, radically transforming our ability to harness the full potential of steam power, thereby profoundly influencing the history of industrial development across the globe. In so doing, he has left us with a powerful and lasting legacy and, of course, his name lives on as a unit of power the 'Watt'.

"It is appropriate as we celebrate the 250 years since James Watt revolutionised the future of engineering, that we also celebrate 2016 as the year of Innovation, Architecture and Design - shining a spotlight on Scotland's modern day achievements.

"Our industrial heritage is as much a part of our future as our past and this is in no small way part of Watt's legacy, as we cannot divorce his achievements from the world we live in. James Watt is a remarkable Scot who continues to inspire us today."

Dr David Mitchell, Director of Conservation, Historic Environment Scotland, said: "As 2016 is the year of Innovation, Architecture and Design, it seems fitting that we recognise the achievements of a man who literally changed the world. His improvements to the steam engine provided power for industrial activity which changed society and economics. From mining to brewing and from steam ships to locomotives, Watt's improvement to the steam engine had a global impact which can still be felt today.

"It is 250 years since Watt was creating something remarkable in secret at Kinneil House in Bo'ness and, with the bicentenary of his death in 2019, now is the time to be re-assessing his legacy and ensuring his contribution is marked in a fitting way, so that people in Scotland and across the world, can continue to be inspired by his achievements."

Guests in the Garden Lobby
Watt Celebration 4

Maria Ford, Chair of the Friends of Kinneil, said: "James Watt first developed his invention with Dr John Roebuck at Kinneil House in Bo'ness. The local coal-mining and early iron-founding industries forged the crucible for his Industrial Revolution.

James Watt's story remains a powerful memory to our community and we believe it still has great resonance and many parallels for the innovators of 2016 and the future."

James Watt was born in Greenock on 19 January 1736, and later worked in Glasgow. He first had the idea for his condensing steam engine - his most famous of many inventions - whilst walking on Glasgow Green in the Spring of 1765.

By January 1766 he had begun to develop it in partnership with the businessman Dr John Roebuck of Kinneil House, Bo'ness, co-founder of the Carron Iron Company. Watt eventually patented the idea in 1769, with Roebuck holding a two-thirds share.

The period 2015-19 marks 250 years since these developments of the separate condenser. 2019 will also be the Bicentenary of James Watt's death in 1819.

The reception in the Scottish Parliament, attended by up to 200 invited guests, was hosted by Angus MacDonald MSP (Falkirk East) and organised by the Celebrating James Watt 2015-19 Steering Group*.

*Partners include: Historic Environment Scotland, The Friends of Kinneil, The University of Glasgow, Heriot-Watt University, National Museums Scotland, Scottish Council for Development & Industry, Scottish Maritime Museum, Institution of Engineers & Shipbuilders in Scotland, Falkirk Community Trust, Inverclyde Council, Scottish Transport & Industry Collections & Knowledge Network (STICK), Scottish Industrial Heritage Society, The Association for Industrial Archaeology, Young Engineers & Science Clubs Scotland.

See also
Twitter: @watt2019

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