Hidden Gem: Soho House
Soho House unlike the other heritage sites in Birmingham is a priceless gem that is very understated. This small, grand Georgian house not only gives us an insight into one of Britain’s great industrialist, businessmen and leaders of the Industrial Revolution. It gives us a rich history lesson on some of the countries most prominent, intelligent and creative minds whom worked and collaborated with each other to discuss,explore and develop engineering, astrology, manufacturing, literature and art. Individuals who were the fore fathers of 18th century culture and innovation,men like Josiah Mason, James Watt, Josiah Wedgwood, Joseph Preistley and Erasmus Darwin.
Matthew Boulton came to Soho in 1761 and went into business with John Fothergill and within a few years transformed the small water mill he acquired into Birmingham’s largest manufacturing companies. On documented maps it shows how his estate started from Turnpike Road Birmingham to the West Bromwich passing at the west front of Soho Road. The Soho Manufactory had workshops, show rooms, stores, design offices, workers accommodation and he had skilled and trained craftsmen who made the goods and parts for equipment that were exported around the country and the world.They produced toys, silverware, steel jewellery, Sheffield plate which were highly desirable objects and also produced ormolu and experimented in the mass production of clocks.He developed a business relationship with James Watt who helped Boulton develop their steam engines ,which improved the water pump system that powered the mill and mines. The pumping engine house helped with the expansion of the Manufactory. Their partnership made them explore and developed the steam engines specialised parts and power. His other collaboration with his friend Josiah Wedgwood produced exquisite ornamental and luxury goods. In 1788 The Soho Mint was opened Boulton he recruited the finest engravers from Germany and France, the power used to operate the machinery in the plant was from the steam technology Boulton and Watts had worked on. The factory supplied countries such as Revolutionary France and Sierra Leon with coins and equipped the mints of Spain, Denmark and Russia.
Boulton moved into Soho House to be closer to his businesses , he had maids, servants, butlers, house keeper, valet, gardeners and liveried coachmen. They looked after and maintained the house where his wife and two children lived, he commissioned architect Samuel Wyatt to design the house. It originally had glided furniture in the drawing room and imposing gilt framed mirrors above carved marble chimneys. Accessorised with Wedgwood china on the dinner table and silverware produced from Boutons own workshops. The wall paper was hand painted in small sheets and the carpets were hand woven in small panels that would then be sewn together on site at the house. On my visit I saw miniaturised furniture in the reception, music and bedrooms to make the small appear larger, the house was dressed with beautiful, opulent items that had impressed his guests and visitors. The wooden stairs had holes in them to allow the heat to raise through and heat the house, one of the first central heating systems and the original house also had the first flushing toilet system. The insipring, and grand room where the free thinkers and non conformists of The Lunar Society would meet was intriguing, to think that the countries inventors, poets, doctors, engineers who were placed outside of the establishment because of their views would meet in this wonderful house. You are taken on a tour which also shows the kitchen and wine cellars, the building is well maintained and the guide was very friendly and fun.
Soho House is a treasure chest you walk into intrigued and leave feeling very enriched with history, knowledge, creativity, happy, empowered and wanting to go back and inform others of this jewel in the crown of heritage buildings.
Soho Avenue, Birmingham, West Midlands B18 5JU