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The James Watt Podcast

The James Watt Podcast

By James Watt podcast
James Watt is a Scottish engineer and inventor who changed the world. His improvements to the steam engine drove the Industrial Revolution. His success was so great that a unit of power was named a Watt in his honour. The year 2019 marked the 200th anniversary of Watt’s death and the 250th anniversary of Watt’s patent (to use a separate condenser to improve the efficiency of a steam engine). This podcast reflects on his life and legacy and highlights areas to visit.

Podcast series produced by The PR Store - Supported by Historic Environment Scotland -
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James Watt - hero or villain?
Professor Gordon Masterton from the University of Edinburgh ponders the legacy of James Watt during a talk at the Hippodrome Cinema, Bo'ness, in January 2020. With thanks to staff at Falkirk Community Trust.
January 21, 2020
Walking in Watt's footsteps in Birmingham
James Watt spent half his life in the Birmingham area. In 2019, a new walking guide was produced to highlight some of the sites associated with James Watt. Download a PDF here: In this episode, we travel to Birmingham to visit places linked with James Watt – two churches, the home of his business partner Matthew Boulton and the impressive home of his son, James Watt Jnr. James Jnr is widely credited with the widespread memorialisation – and hero worship – of James Watt. With thanks to ASTON HALL, SOHO HOUSE, ST PAUL’S CHURCH and ST. MARY’S CHURCH, HANDSWORTH Music in this podcast: Excerpt from Prelude in C (BWV 846) Kevin MacLeod ( Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
January 21, 2020
The Watt Institution in Greenock
At the heart of Greenock – on the west coast of Scotland – is a complex which celebrates James Watt, learning and local heritage. This is the Watt Institution – a series of buildings housing the Watt Library, the Watt Hall and McLean Museum and Art Gallery.  The buildings cover part of Union Street and Kelly Street in the town. The Library was established first – to house a memorial statue of the great Greenock-born inventor James Watt and provide a new home for Greenock Library. The campus was then extended with the help of another architect to create the adjoining Hall and Museum. The final section was opened in 1876. In recent years the complex has undergone a £2 million refurbishment programme. It reopened to the public in November 2019. We spoke to Lorraine Murray, the archivist at Inverclyde Archives – part of Inverclyde Council – about the complex.
January 21, 2020
James Watt at the Riverside Museum, Glasgow
A new display – inspired by the achievements of the Scottish inventor James Watt – launched at Riverside Museum in Glasgow at the end of 2019. Watt’s development of the steam engine, 250 years ago, made it more efficient – radically reducing the amount of coal required and driving the Industrial Revolution. The new display at Riverside, the city’s transport museum is called Going Green – The Drive for Energy Efficiency (sponsored by Aggreko). It considers James Watt’s pioneering spirit and legacy in a modern-day context. The centrepiece of the exhibit is a Tesla Model S P85+, believed to be the first Tesla acquired by a public museum in Scotland. It is being shown alongside a rare Honda Insight Mk1, dating back to 2000. It is one of only 239 Mk1s sold in the UK and was the first hybrid car to be acquired for the city’s renowned Transport and Travel collection. The display also includes an item donated by a modern-day James Watt – that’s James Watt, the founder of the beer company Brewdog. He donated artwork from the firm’s Make Earth Great Again (mega) beer and a bottle of it too.
January 21, 2020
The changing narrative about James Watt
Researcher Kate Bowell has been looking at how the story of James Watt has been presented to audiences visiting the National Museum of Scotland. The Museum in Edinburgh is home to a Boulton and Watt engine, which takes pride of place in one of the first floor galleries. Kate has been examining labels and interpretative text used by the Museum to explain Watt’s story. She spoke about her work at the recent STICK conference in Stirling’s Engine Shed in 2019. She said – over time – progressive labels used by the museum praised Watt “more and more”. She says: “He becomes not just an inventor, but a genius.” Then “he moves from being a genius to being one of Scotland’s greatest minds of all time …. ” She also noted that after the 1960s, Watt wasn’t put on “as high a pedestal” by museum staff. Listen to her talk about her work here. Podcast produced by The PR Store
January 21, 2020
James Watt at the National Museum of Scotland
The Boulton and Watt engine on show at the National Museum of Scotland in Chambers Street in Edinburgh is one of the oldest surviving beam engines in the world. The metal and wood structure – weighing 20 tonnes – was made in London by Scottish inventor James Watt and dates from 1786. In this podcast, curator Ellie Swinbank tells you more about the exhibit, which is one of the key displays in the Science and Technology section of the museum. Visit the Museum website for more information.
January 20, 2020
Scotland’s first rotative Boulton & Watt engine at Kennetpans
Today it’s just a ruin on the north side of the River Forth. But Kennetpans Distillery, near Kincardine in central Scotland, was once the largest distillery in the country and is said to be the “birthplace” of the Scottish whisky industry. It was also once home to Scotland’s first rotative Boulton and Watt steam engine. The distillery was founded in the early 18th century by brothers John and James Stein. The buildings which survive today probably date from the 1770s. (See a map to the site here.) They were in production until the site closed in 1825. The site then started to fall into disrepair – and internal machinery and fittings removed. In recent years, work has taken place to revamp the ruinous site – removing vegetation, consolidating buildings and creating new interpretation. There have also been events to explain the buildings’ history to local people. Historian Bill Whitehead has been delving into the history of Kennetpans. He spoke at a conference on Watt at the University of Birmingham and chatted later about his research. FIND OUT MORE The Kennetpans Trust website The Scotsman: “Ruined whisky distillery gets a new lease of life” Alloa Advertiser: “Project to restore ‘origin of Scottish Whisky’ at Kennetpans” Travels With A Kilt: Kennetpans Distillery The Inner Forth Landscape Initiative Kennetpans Distillery: The Site and the Wider Landscape Video: Kennetpans: The Birthplace of Scotch Whisky Distilling
January 19, 2020
James Watt at the National Galleries of Scotland
Art lovers can come face-to-face with inventor James Watt through the collection of the National Galleries of Scotland. You can view online images from the NGS collection here. We asked Helen Smailes, Senior Curator of British Art (Paintings and Sculpture), at NGS to pick out some of her highlights. THE BUST She started by talking about a marble bust of Watt by Sir Francis Chantrey, which is on display in the entrance hall of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh’s Queen Street. This bust dates from around 1815 and was used by Chantrey as the basis of much larger statues. (Several of these were made – with one currently on loan to the National Museum of Scotland in the city’s Chambers Street.) THE PAINTING Helen went on to discuss a half-length oil portrait by John Partridge, inspired by an original painting by Sir William Beechey. (The Beechey original, initially retained by the artist, was shown at the Royal Academy in London in 1802, just under two years after Watt retired formally from participation in the partnership with Boulton. The Partridge copy is said to have been given by Watt’s son to his father’s medical attendant during the final illness of the great engineer – so it is particularly special. THE DRAWING Helen went on to pick out her third choice – a large chalk drawing in profile by the Paisley modeller John Henning, created in 1809. It was commissioned by the Scots judge and litterateur Francis, Lord Jeffrey (who also penned the 1819 obituary of Watt for the newly-founded Scotsman newspaper). A version of this drawing was used by Henning as the basis of cameos. Helen also mentioned Watt’s appearance in the stunning frieze which surrounds the entrance hall of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. THE MASTERPIECE  Her last choice was an imposing painting by James Eckford Lauder. Entitled “James Watt and the Steam Engine: the Dawn of the Nineteenth Century (1855)” – this huge oil painting is the ultimate incarnation of the kettle legend surrounding James Watt.  According to Helen it is “strongly reminiscent” of Joseph Wright of Derby’s celebrations of 18th century technical and scientific innovations (the best known are “A Philosopher Giving That Lecture on the Orrery in Which a Lamp Is Put in Place of the Sun” (Derby Art Gallery) and “An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump” (National Gallery, London). 
January 19, 2020
James Watt and Heriot-Watt University
James Watt’s innovations in energy and engineering have inspired students since the origin the Edinburgh School of Arts, the world’s first mechanics institute, in 1821. The School is now known as Heriot-Watt University. In 2018, we caught up with Angela Edgar, the then curator at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. She talked about the foundation of the institution – and what visitors can see at the University’s Riccarton campus, on the outskirts of Edinburgh. The site includes a free museum which is open to the public.  Angela also spoke in more detail about the statue which dominates the entrance to the  University’s Riccarton site – and the foundation of the University’s Alumni Association, The Watt Club.  The University staged an exhibition as part of the James Watt 2019 celebrations which took place across the UK. --- The University’s longstanding connections with James Watt have a special place in its museum and archive collections. Highlights include: Portrait in oils of James Watt by Sir William Beechey, 1801 Watt’s favourite portrait is on display in the University Museum and Archive, Mary Burton Centre, Acquired by the University in 2002, with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the National Fund for Acquisitions and the Watt Club. Watt’s Patent Roller copying press. Maker: James Watt and Company, 1780s. This was the world’s first successful letter copying machine, which he patented in 1780. It enabled him to keep copies of his outgoing letters without having to rewrite each one. A model showing Watt’s improvements to Newcomen’s steam engine, made by one of the first students of Edinburgh School of Arts, James Nasmyth, inventor of the steam hammer. A sandstone statue of James Watt by Peter Slater, teacher of ornamental modelling at the Watt Institution and School of Arts, unveiled on 12 May 1854. Students celebrated the event by forming the Watt Club. Today the Watt Club is the oldest UK HEI alumni association and fosters lifelong links with alumni throughout the world. The statue sits at the entrance to the University’s James Watt Centre at the Edinburgh campus. Chantrey’s Watt Statue. Peter Slater’s statue is a copy of one of the iconic memorial sculptures of Watt by Sir Frances Chantrey. In 1996, the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral gave Heriot-Watt University a fine Carrara marble statue of Watt by Chantrey. Commissioned as a national monument to Watt, the statue originally sat in Westminster Abbey. It is currently on loan to National Museums Scotland for display in the Grand Gallery. A chair belonging to Watt, used in his Soho Foundry. Donated by the daughter of James Watt Junior’s accountant in 1924. A portrait of James Watt by W Bright Morris after the original by Charles F Von Breda, displayed in the James Watt Centre A portrait of James Watt in oils by Robert Harvey. Once owned by descendants of Watt’s mother, Agnes Muirhead. Framed proposal for James Watt memorial (Greenock)
January 19, 2020
Dundee’s Boulton and Watt Engine
A Boulton and Watt engine is one of the star attractions at the Verdant Works museum in Dundee. The engine is located in the High Mill section of the works. The engine dates from 1801-1802. It’s one of only five of its kind surviving in the UK and is on loan from Dundee City Council via a partnership with Leisure and Culture Dundee. The engine is typical of the type used in textile mills in the 1800s – and was originally used to drive the machinery at Douglasfield Bleachworks in Dundee. Here’s Gill Poulter of Dundee Heritage Trust talking about the engine and the wider museum. Podcast produced by The PR Store
January 19, 2020
James Watt at the National Mining Museum Scotland
Inventor James Watt worked on developing the steam engine to support the mining industry. Watt gained early support from industrialist Dr John Roebuck, who was leasing pits around Bo’ness in central Scotland in the 18th century. Roebuck hoped Watt could improve the steam engine to reduce flooding in his pits. Sadly Watt’s breakthrough improvements came too late for Roebuck. The pits kept flooding and Dr Roebuck went bankrupt. But it also led Watt to one of Roebuck’s creditors, Matthew Boulton of Birmingham. The story of Roebuck and Watt – and that connection with mining – is told in displays at the National Mining Museum Scotland at Newtongrange, a short drive from Edinburgh. The displays also reveal that although Scottish-born Watt was at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution, the country of his birth was slow to adapt. “At the start of the 19th century,” says one display, “colliery mechanisation in Scotland lagged almost 30 years behind Northumberland and Durham.” The museum, which is open throughout the year, features extensive displays on the social and cultural history of mining in Scotland. Visitors can also see inside parts of an old mine, the Lady Victoria Colliery, and even visit a re-created coal face. Visit the Museum’s website or Facebook page. Assistant Curator David Bell told us more about the museum and James Watt. Podcast produced by The PR Store
January 19, 2020
Watt's final workshop - now at London's Science Museum
London’s Science Museum features a number of Boulton and Watt engines – as well as Watt’s Birmingham workshop (rebuilt in London). The Museum’s curator of mechanical engineering, Ben Russell, told us about what visitors can expect. He also reflected on how the museum celebrated the 100th anniversary of Watt’s death (in 1919). “We’ve got four of his engines. We’ve got Watt’s personal library,” said Ben. “And we have Watt’s workshop. James Watt died in 1819. For 104 years the workshop was left pretty much left untouched in Birmingham – in Watt’s house – until 1924 when we acquired it for the Science Museum. And it’s completely unique. We even acquired the floorboards and all the contents. It’s a treasure trove.” Podcast produced by The PR Store
January 16, 2020
Watt’s letter copier gets a modern twist
James Watt is famed for his work improving steam engines. But did you know he also invented a letter copier? Watt came up with the device to relive him of the tedium of making copies of his plans and drawings. The copier was patented back in 1780 – and the principle remained in use until the arrival of modern photocopiers. As part of the 2019 Glasgow Science Festival, printmaker Roger Farnham helped set up “The James Watt Print Show” – an exhibition showcasing modern fine art prints created using Watt’s 18th century system. At a recent Watt conference at the University of Birmingham, Roger spoke about the exhibition and Watt’s innovative copier. Podcast by The PR Store
January 16, 2020
James Watt: Hero? Superhero?
Was James Watt a hero or superhero? We hear from two Professors who give their view on the Scottish inventor. David Miller is emeritus professor of the history of science at the University of New South Wales, Sydney. He is a fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities and a member of the International Academy of the History of Science. In 2019 he published a new book,“The Life and Legend of James Watt: Collaboration, Natural Philosophy, and the Improvement of the Steam Engine”  (University of Pittsburgh Press, hardcover, $50, ISBN 978-0-8229-4558-1). John Hume is Honorary Professor at the Universities of Glasgow and St. Andrews. He lectured in Economic and Industrial History at the University of Strathclyde, and was also a Principal Inspector of Ancient Monuments, then of Historic Buildings, with Historic Scotland – retiring as Chief Inspector of Historic Buildings in 1999. He said: “I’ve been involved with history of technology for many, many, years. I’ve become very interested in Watt and his connections. I grew up with the idea of Watt was a superhero. As I get older and know more, I’m more convinced he’s a hero – but not a superhero. “The reason I say that it’s as if the steam engine sprung from his head, ready-made – and it wasn’t quite like that. He had to rely on a large amount of other people.” Podcast produced by The PR Store
January 16, 2020
The women behind James Watt
Historian Dr Kate Croft has been talking about the women behind Watt – his two wives. The inventor and engineer was married to Margaret (“Peggy”) Miller from 1764 until her death in 1773. In 1776 he married Ann MacGregor. Ann’s relationship with Watt continued until his death in 1819. While much has been written about Watt’s partnerships with men, his domestic life and his marital partnerships have received less attention. Both wives were hugely supportive of Watt and his work. Kate says: “I think putting women back into the picture is certainly something that is long overdue.” Podcast by The PR Store
January 16, 2020
James Watt's life in Birmingham
Dr Malcolm Dick from the University of Birmingham talks about the life and legacy of James Watt and his later life in Birmingham . . . . Malcolm also talked about some of the Watt objects which remain in the city - and the sites you can visit to find out more about the Scottish-born inventor. Podcast produced by The PR Store
January 16, 2020
The first working Watt engine in the world
James Watt built an experimental steam engine at Kinneil, Bo’ness (in central Scotland) – as part of a partnership with Dr John Roebuck. But did you know that this engine eventually went to work in Birmingham at the famous Soho Manufactory? The Manufactory was set up by businessman Matthew Boulton. Boulton teamed up with Watt after Watt’s partnership with Roebuck foundered. Honorary Research Fellow George Demidowicz from the University of Birmingham says the Kinneil engine was the first working James Watt steam engine in the world.  It was installed in the works to support a water wheel – the only source of power at the Manufactory until the 1780s. George spoke to us after a presentation at a recent Watt conference at the University of Birmingham. Podcast produced by The PR Store
January 16, 2020
James Watt, Carron and Kinneil
In this episode we explore James Watt's partnership with Dr John Roebuck, one of the founders of Carron Iron Works in Falkirk - and the cottage workshop Roebuck built for Watt at Kinneil House, Bo'ness. Podcast produced by The PR Store.
January 16, 2020
James Watt's musical side
James Watt is well known as an inventor and engineer. But did you know that he made musical instruments? Engineering historian Dr Nina Baker  told us more. Podcast produced by The PR Store 
January 16, 2020
James Watt at the University of Glasgow
Engineer and inventor James Watt spent his early working career at the University of Glasgow. Professor Colin McInnes takes up the story. You can see the model Newcomen engine, which inspired Watt, in the Hunterian Museum within the University. The Museum is open to the public.
January 16, 2020
James Watt's early life in Greenock
We hear from Valeria Boa about the early life of Scottish inventor James Watt. At the time of recording (2018), Val was the curator of the McLean Museum and Art Gallery in Watt's hometown of Greenock. Val officially retired from her role at the Museum early in 2020.
January 09, 2020
The James Watt Podcast - Introduction
Introduction to the James Watt podcast, highlighting the story of the Scottish inventor James Watt - who developed the steam engine and became one of the fathers of the industrial revolution. The podcast uses audio material originally recorded/curated for the website, supported by Historic Environment Scotland. Podcast series produced by The PR Store
January 09, 2020