Soho House is a museum run by Birmingham Museums Trust, celebrating Matthew Boulton's life, his partnership with James Watt, his membership of the Lunar Society of Birmingham and his contribution to the Midlands Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. It is a Grade II* listed 18th-century house in Handsworth (historically in the county of Staffordshire, but part of Birmingham since 1911). It was the home of entrepreneur Matthew Boulton from 1766 until his death in 1809, and a regular meeting-place of the Lunar Society.
Matthew Boulton, one of the 18th century's greatest entrepreneurs, acquired the lease of the five-year-old Soho Mill in 1761 and developed it into Soho Manufactory. He expanded the cottage next to it into Soho House, changing it several times. It is faced with sheets of painted slate to give the appearance of large stone blocks. Boulton moved into Soho House when the Manufactory was completed. The Soho Manufactory was demolished in 1863.
The Soho Manufactory was an early factory which pioneered mass production on the assembly line principle, in Soho, Birmingham, England, at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. It operated from 1766–1848 and was demolished in 1863.
The factory was established by the "toy" manufacturer Matthew Boulton and his business partner John Fothergill. In 1761, they leased a site on Handsworth Heath, containing a cottage and a water-driven metal-rolling mill. The mill was replaced by a new factory, designed and built by the Wyatt family of Lichfield, and completed in 1766. The cottage was later demolished and Boulton's home (Soho House) was built on the site, also by the Wyatts. Water was drawn from Hockley Brook.
The Manufactory produced a wide range of goods from buttons, buckles and boxes to japanned ware (collectively called "toys"), and later luxury products such as silverware and ormolu (a type of gilded bronze).
In 1782, it became the first site with a Watt steam engine with the sun and planet gear.[ It was also home to the first steam-powered mint, whose presses were subsequently used at the first Birmingham Mint. In later years, the Manufactory was served by canal at Soho Wharf, at the end of the short Soho Branch of the Birmingham Canal Navigations' Soho Loop. The manufactory was demolished in the middle of the 19th century and the site used for housing.
In 1766 Boulton became one of the founders of the Lunar Society. In 1789, Boulton commissioned Samuel Wyatt to extend the buildings and fully revamp it and the gardens. Work on extending the building was completed in 1796 following the submission of designs by James Wyatt, Samuel's brother, for the additions of a main entrance front. Wyatt was also responsible for the large dining room, the regular venue for meetings of the Lunar Society. It is a Grade II* listed building.
Soho House was also a favourite meeting place of the Lunar Society, a leading Enlightenment group. The Lunar Society would meet every month on the night of the full moon to dine, conduct experiments, and discuss philosophical matters of the day. Members of the society included Erasmus Darwin, James Watt and Joseph Priestly who all gathered around the Lunar Room table and engaged in a lively exchange of ideas which inspired many new discoveries and inventions.
After Boulton's death, in the house, it passed to his son Matthew Robinson Boulton and later his grandson, Matthew Piers Watt Boulton, who eventually sold it in 1850. It then had a number of owners, and was at one time used as a residential hostel for police officers, before being acquired by Birmingham City Council in 1990 and being opened by them as a museum in 1995.
** – The House and Museum – **
Soho House has been restored, retaining its 18th-century appearance, with "fine collections of ormolu, silver, furniture and paintings". Of particular note are the displays of silver and ormolu which were made in the manufactory, and the ormolu Sidereal clock made by Boulton and Fothergill, in 1771-72. There is a Blue Plaque commemorating Matthew Boulton on the house. The garden, once over 100 acres in size but now less than half an acre, contains a walk with sphinxes, dated to around 1795. Part of the garden has been recreated using Boulton’s original planting notes.
Soho House is a Heritage Site and branch museum of the Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, owned by Birmingham City Council. Since April 2012 the Heritage Sites and all other museums formerly run by Birmingham City Council have been run by Birmingham Museums Trust. It hosts exhibitions of local and community interest. Previously free, since April 2011 admission charges apply for entry to the house. It remains free to under 16s. Gardens, grounds and visitor facilities are free to all visitors. Artists-in-residence at the house have included Vanley Burke and Pauline Bailey.
** – Events – **
The Birmingham Museums Trust organises many fascinating and exciting events centred on Soho House. These events include the 2019 celebrations of James Watts bi-centennial, James Watt tours, Crazy Science and the handsworth Fair. Please click here for a full list of events at Soho House
** – Visiting – **
Please visit the Accessibility Guides website pages for Soho House for access information and a downloadable guide to help you plan your visit.
Soho House can be accessed via a ramp. Once inside the house, a lift connects all the floors. The visitor centre, shop and gardens are also accessible for wheelchair users and the house has its own car park.
Social Stories are guides which aim to prepare individuals with autism for social situations by letting them know what to expect. Click here to download or view the Family Social Story for a visit to Soho House.
** – Facilities – **
Entry to the house is by guided tour only. Tours take place at 11.30am, 1pm and 2.30pm. Tours last approximately 1 hour. Throughout the year, themed tours will take place, see What's On for details. Visitor centre, café and gardens are FREE to visit and are open during Soho House opening hours.
Location : Soho House, Soho Avenue, Handsworth, Birmingham B18 5LB
Transport: Birmingham New Street (National Rail) then bus. Bus routes: 74 stops close by (see above), OR Metro (see above).
Opening Times: Wednesday and Thursday, 11:00 - 16:00. Also open:
Tour Tickets (see above) : Adult £7.00; Concessions £5.00; Children (3-15) £3.00
Tel: 0121 3488150