Soho Foundry - Home of James Watt & Avery Scales – Birmingham – Early 2018

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mockney reject

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The History



The Soho Foundry site dates back to 1795 where Boulton and Watt developed the steam engine into something that could be used in manufacturing. This place helped kick start the industrial

In 1795 Matthew Boulton began construction of the Soho Foundry, there he would build steam engines to the design of James Watt Mainly to be used in mills and factories to give power to machines that required rotating shaft drive.

In order to obtain the desired degree of perfection in the manufactory of steam-engines, Messrs. Boulton and Watt found it necessary to erect and establish an iron foundry for that purpose, and they did in partnership with their sons erect at a convenient distance and contiguous to the same stream a foundry at Smethwick.

According to an insert from west midlands history about the foundry, one of Boulton and Watt's engines will raise: "30,000,000 of pounds weight of water one foot high or the like proportion to any other height".

The engines could do as much work as 10 horses can to acting for an hour, turn 1000/1200 or more cotton spinning spindles for one hour; or will grind and dress from 11 to 12 bushels of wheat, or266 bushels of malt for a brewery. For the time, these new accomplishments from the steam engine were what really kicked off the industrial revolution.

The foundry opened in 1796 one year after construction began. The business was known as Boulton, Watt & Sons. Mathew Boulton would continue to develop the steam engine here and would begin producing a new copper coinage for Britain and begin other projects that eventually helped the Victorian's progression.

From the end of the 18th century various companies were operating from the foundry; M. Boulton and Plate Co, Boulton and Scale, Boulton and Watt, Boulton and Smith, and James Watt and Co.

In 1824, Mr Hayden took over the foundry and he constructed a mill for pulverizing bones for agricultural purposes and also a machine for sowing turnip or other seeds with fertilizer. From here until 1895, the foundry would continue to press coins until Avery Berkel, or W & T. Avery, took over.

History of W &T. Avery

From 1895 until modern day, Avery has owned the factory and works from James Watt & Co. Imagine exploring this place back then.

The site was purchased and rebuilt as the company's main factory. Avery continued to repair some of the old James Watt & Co. engines for several decades. All the other factories were closed, and the whole of the manufacturing was concentrated at Soho.

Only the Digbeth premises were retained, as a Birmingham office, the head office being moved to Soho. Approximately 50,000 weighing machines were repaired for users each year.
The company normally expects to answer a call on the day it is received and provides a Saturday emergency service for retailers, and special services to manufacturers having continuous processes. There are 250 sales and servicing branches for weighing and testing products, strategically located throughout the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic.

The factory, although considerably smaller, is still based in Smethwick at the Soho foundry. Inevitably the site will completely close down unfortunately and who knows what will happen to the old James Watt buildings and the old boiler house.

It's Grade II listed, but there are no plans for the future, English Heritage have erected a scaffold roof on the buildings in an attempt to stop the wooden roof from crumbling in, hopefully something is done soon, although it’s a bit of an odd building to re-purpose and doesn't really have many options for its future use. Avery still owns the site and there are no plans to close the foundry in the near future.


The Explore

I’ve always had an interest in Avery scales as my dad did his apprenticeship there back in the late 60’s. However he was based in London and not at the Soho work site.

I visited this site a few times with various people and also more recently on my own to grab a few extra pics.
The site is pretty big and at the time of the explore still had a few active departments.

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The first part we ventured into was the ware house opposite the former James Watt building.

The warehouse albeit fairly empty had a few really nice features including some old workshop posters.

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After the warehouse we found our way to the boiler room located to the side of the warehouse and along the back wall.

Now this was interesting and a bit of a double bubble for me.

Not only were we wandering around the buildings of a company my dad worked for but in the boiler house the water was pumped by Weir pumps. The very company my grandad worked for. What a small world. In fact “weir pumps blue” is a long running joke in my family after my grandad “acquired” some paint and painted his cars, fence and anything else he could with it lol.

The boiler rooms signage was pretty neat and great to see

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After the boiler room we headed to the original “listed” James Watt Building.

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What can I say this build was brilliant and was a lot bigger than it looked.
The main building was wooden beamed and carried huge old cranes that would have been at home in an episode of Peaky Blinders.

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Once up the cranes it would have been rude not to have checked out the roof to see what the scaffolding was hiding

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The roof was impressive to say the least.

After the roof we wandered around the rest of the building and found the stores

The original shelving and signage here was really cool

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After the stores we wandered into the tunnels which were full of goodies, old sets of scales to some rather odd German/Nazi graffiti.

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Once done in the old part we left, but I couldn’t leave without trying the door to the new part.

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Sadly my co-explorers bottle went at this point and we failed to venture inside much to my disappointment.
 

Brewtal

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Very nicely done mate, that’s a lovely report. Shame you didn’t venture further into the new bit, was it still live? Great mix of stuff in there, cheers for sharing.
 

wolfism

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Brilliant stuff, you won't get a more historic industrial site than that. You've caught some nice grimy details there.

Pity Soho Foundry and Coalbrookdale are so far away from me, would love a rake around. :)
 

Dirus_Strictus

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"The very company my grandad worked for. What a small world. In fact “weir pumps blue” is a long running joke in my family after my grandad “acquired” some paint and painted his cars, fence and anything else he could with it lol."

A very common occurrence in any town or city that had engineering firms that specified/blended their own paints. In the places that housed the big Railway Engineering Works, you could always tell what Region / Company area you were in by the colour of the shed doors and fences in the allotments and the colour of the front doors of the houses in the areas around the Works. In my old hometown of Doncaster it was LNER green and white. I worked for a while in the old LNER paint lab in Doncaster - the paints were far superior to anything in the shops. You always made sure that the samples were carefully stored until you had enough for the next private paint job. Properly applied to a properly prepared surface they lasted for years and as the surface 'chalked' rather than cracked, it only required a light rub down, to key the surface, before re-coating.
 

Tigershark

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I was told Sims Metals on Rabone Lane Behind averys had to pay for the Protective cover as their heavy equipment was causing the old building to deteriorate.
 

Sectionate

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That's lovely, the boiler room looks ace - I think I just let out a little wee lol
 

prettyvacant71

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Stunning old brick buildings and little chimney:) Big sigh of relief that English Heritage are actually working on the place and not "in talks" for many years until the buildings falls down! Hahaha respect to the gramps sounds my kinda guy...my mate worked for the post office maintenance dept so my capri was pillar box red:encouragement: Very interesting report MR and great back storey, must of felt rather surreal at times wandering around the place with the family connection. Love the DC/AC panel and the old boilers:congratulatory:
 

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