Fa­ther of the In­dus­trial Revolution

John Martin Robin­son pro­files the de­signer­en­trepreneur who shaped neo-clas­si­cal taste through his early mass pro­duc­tion of met­al­ware from a fac­tory famed as the won­der of Europe

Country Life Every Week - - Great British Tastemakers -

In 1769, Josiah Wedg­wood de­scribed Matthew Boul­ton as the ‘First Man­u­fac­turer in Eng­land’. This was ap­po­site, as they were both pi­o­neer­ing fig­ures in the In­dus­trial Revolution and trans­formed the branches of man­u­fac­tur­ing of which they were the re­spec­tive lead­ers: Wedg­wood pot­tery and Boul­ton or­molu and sil­ver­ware.

Boul­ton was the son of a suc­cess­ful ‘toy’ man­u­fac­turer—a trade that en­com­passed the pro­duc­tion of brass but­tons, buck­les and other metal goods—and grew up in a Birm­ing­ham newly hum­ming with in­dus­try, in­no­va­tions and ideas. He be­came a part­ner in the fam­ily firm in 1752 and, on his fa­ther’s death in 1759, took sole con­trol, trans­form­ing its out­put in both so­phis­ti­cated de­sign and scale of pro­duc­tion.

His new fac­tory at Soho on Handsworth Heath was the largest in Eng­land and the won­der of Europe. Com­pleted by Ben­jamin Wy­att and Sons in 1766, it em­ployed 700 work­men and was much vis­ited by roy­alty, the no­bil­ity and gen­try, as well as for­eign tourists. Boul­ton de­voted much of his time to the en­ter­tain­ment of vis­i­tors to his house at Soho, net­work­ing, pro­mot­ing his pro­duc­tion and ob­tain­ing new clients and or­ders.

His great sig­nif­i­cance was that he brought the de­sign and man­u­fac­ture of English met­al­ware into line with the ar­chi­tec­ture that had been de­vel­oped in Eng­land since the 1750s.

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