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Archives of Soho Document of the Month - December 2009

This year there is a year-long festival celebrating the life, work and legacy of Matthew Boulton (1728-1809), a world famous Birmingham businessman. For further information visit: www.matthewboulton2009.org

Each month in 2009 Birmingham Archives & Heritage  will feature a document from the substantial archive of the papers of Matthew Boulton and Family which is held here.

Robbery before Christmas - Soho Manufactory 1800

The robbery before Christmas

Just before Christmas 1800, a group of men devised a plan to rob the accounting house at Soho Manufactory. They attempted to persuade Joseph Phillips, the watchman at Soho, to join them. He met them and learned of their plans and warned Matthew Boulton.

The five robbers entered the accounting house about midnight and loaded their bags with gold coin, silver ingots and mouldings, plated metal, rolled silver etc. They had chosen 23rd December because it was just before wages were paid for the Christmas holidays, so there would be a bigger haul. When they tried to escape, however, they were ambushed by Matthew Boulton, his son M.R. Boulton, James Watt jr. and Gregory Watt when they got to the middle yard.

One of the robbers, William Fowlds, nicknamed ‘The Little Devil’, escaped over the roof (though he was later caught). The robbers John Eginton, Walter Eginton, Thomas Gibbons, John Fowlds were indicted at the Lent Assizes, 1801, at Stafford court where the charge was that they ‘feloniously and burglariously did break and enter with intent the monies , goods and chattels of Matthew Boulton Esq.’.

Boulton himself told his daughter ‘the best news I can send you is that we are still alive; but I have lost my voice and found a troublesome cough by the agreeable employment of thief watching.’

The image shows a plan of the Manufactory with the route taken by the robbers marked with a dotted line.

Ref: MS 3069 (part)

[previous ref: B&W 529]