'Old Bess' engine by Boulton & Watt, 1777

‘Old Bess’ engine by Boulton & Watt, 1777

This is the oldest surviving engine built by Boulton & Watt, and was the second engine built at Matthew Boulton's Soho Manufactory, Birmingham. It worked until 1848, helping the factory's water wheel when the river was low by pumping water from downstream back up to the mill pond. It was also used by Boulton & Watt for experiments on the way their engines worked, in the course of which it earned the alternative name 'Beelzebub'.

The enormous scale of the engine speaks of James Watt's pioneering engineering work – by 1800, his company had built almost 500 engines like this, and in the nineteenth century they were joined by thousands more: by 1851, Britain had half as much steam power in use as the whole of the rest of Western Europe.

Currently on display in:
James Watt and our World
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