Happy Bo’ness birthday for the invention that changed the world

The statue of James Watt on Glasgow Green - where he is said to have thought of the steam engine.
The statue of James Watt on Glasgow Green - where he is said to have thought of the steam engine.

The patent for a device which paved the way for the industrial revolution and ensured immortal fame for inventor James Watt was filed on this day in 1769 in Bo’ness.

Today is the 250th anniversary of the day he effectively declared his steam condenser project well and truly live, beginning a technological revolution which fuelled massive economic and social change across the world.

The remains of the humble cottage at Kinneil where Watt perfected the Newcomen engine.  The invention had to be built in secret  to avoid the risk of industrial espionage.

The remains of the humble cottage at Kinneil where Watt perfected the Newcomen engine. The invention had to be built in secret to avoid the risk of industrial espionage.

There will be no major Scottish festival to celebrate the heritage of one of the country’s most illustrious scientists, but Watt - steam engine pioneer - will be remembered in special events to be staged throughout 2019, starting this month in Bo’ness.

Watt had been invited to Kinneil Estate in Bo’ness by John Roebuck, the owner of Falkirk’s Carron Iron Works, with the specific objective of finding a powerful engine to pump water out of flooded mine works in the nearby coalfield.

In a profit-sharing deal, Roebuck - who had leased Kinneil House along with the mine - offered Watt the funds he needed to bring his game-changing invention to fruition.

Today is could be argued that the cottage behind Kinneil House where Watt toiled on his invention should be as famous as Burns’ Cottage in Alloway - but 200 years after Watt passed away the incredible local connection to possibly Scotland’s most impressive invention is still relatively little known.

However that could change, with one Friends of Kinneil member commenting on social media: “Historic Environment Scotland are getting much more interest in Kinneil - stay tuned”.

As this year also marks the bicentenary of Watt’s death Historic Environment Scoitland, Falkirk’s Great Place project and the Friends of Kinneil will be celebrating both the historic achievement and its unique local connection.

Dr Miles Oglethorpe, Head of Industrial Heritage at Historic Environment Scotland, said: “James Watt is one of Scotland’s greatest engineers and innovators, and is greatly revered across the world.

“It’s amazing to think that his greatest invention was perfected in Bo’ness, and that the building in which he did so can still be seen, adjacent to Kinneil House.

“The focus of Falkirk’s Great Place Scheme on ‘landscape, industry and work’ provides a great opportunity to celebrate Watt’s achievements, and those of other historic industries in Falkirk, such as the iconic Carron Company, with whom he did business”. Falkirk: Landscape, Industry and Work is a project of the Great Place Scheme supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

James Watt’s cottage and the exterior of Kinneil House can be viewed all year round, while Kinneil Museum is normally open six days a week and access to Kinneil House is offered through a limited number of open days.

For information on Kinneil estate visit www.kinneil.org.

Meanwhile Friends of Kinneil is holding its annual James Watt Supper on Friday, January 18, an event open to both members and non-members - details are available at https://jameswatt.scot/2018/12/31/wattsupper2019/