Watt's spellbinding workshop

Magical steam age time capsule reassembled at the Science Museum.

Last year’s opening of James Watt and Our World saw the Victorian engineer’s preserved workshop painstakingly reassembled in the Science Museum’s Energy Hall among his early engines – mechanical giants of the steam age.

The challenge for the team behind the project was to reintroduce James Watt to visitors from an age where steam power is no longer as visible, many of whom may not have even heard of him.

Andrew Nahum, Senior Keeper at the Science Museum, says "Research told us that quite a few people thought he invented the light bulb. Moreover, we wanted to make the display richer than a straightforward history of a steam pioneer and talk about the roots of industrialisation."

James Watt's workshop, reassembled at the Science Museum

Watt’s workshop is a historical time capsule, left undisturbed since his death in 1819 and presented to the Science Museum when his house was demolished in 1924. The complete room, including door, window, skylight, floorboards and some 6,500 objects, was carefully reassembled at the Museum to create a magical retreat and potent record of the man that Victorians called the father of the Industrial Revolution.

For the first time, visitors are given access to his tools, chemicals and inventions, but most notably to the absorbing and emotive ambience of the room itself.

Tools and chemicals on display in James Watt's reassembled workshop

The show’s opening in Spring 2011 generated exceptional media coverage, and in the year since has yielded a prodigious number of papers and lectures.

"Redisplaying James Watt’s workshop was animated by our sense that the shop space itself has the power to induce a sense of wonder," says Nahum. "And it does. But the accompanying permanent exhibition is also about society changing from a world without mechanical power to one running on steam and which could produce new goods in profusion."