Thornhill House, to the north west of Soho, was built in 1773 by John Scale. Mr Scale was a partner with Matthew Boulton in the button trade and the principle manager of Soho Manufactory from 1770. John Scale died in 1793. In 1799 Mr Scale’s son, John, made the decision to move, offering Matthew Boulton the opportunity to buy the house for £2,200. A debate on the valuation of the property ensued, and on 26 July Boulton wrote to John Scale to try to settle the matter:
“I assure you I never wished to offer one Farthing less than the full Value of the House & Land, taking all Circumstances into Consideration—& particularly to your Mother;—but I cannot reconcile it to myself to do a Thing that is foolish in my own Mind & in the Opinion of my Friends.” [Letter. Matthew Boulton to John Scale 26 July 1799. MS 3782/12/72/104]
Boulton eventually bought the house, presumably for less than was originally asked, but the property was to cause him yet more grief.
The letter in the image above details Boulton’s involvement with Thornhill house, also referred to as Scale’s House. In the letter to Ann Watt, Boulton relates his children’s rejection of the house, asking for pity rather than blame. He writes with exasperation of his daughter’s refusal to take the house on the account of the local pubs and dust:
“My daughter now complains of the publick Houses being so near but I did not build them nor should I have increased the Dust but on the Contrary I should have blockd it out by Building Walls & Stables & planting Trees that would soon be talle ones… as to the 2 Trees I cut down they kept out the Air & light from ye Dining room but not the Dust for they were Scotch firs without any branches below the Chamber Windows.” [Letter. Matthew Boulton to Ann Watt 26 July 1799. MS 3782/12/72/104]
James Watt Jr. rented the house for £150 per year from 1808 until Ann Boulton occupied the house toward the end of 1818 and he moved to Aston Hall. [MS 3219/6/153] She lived at Thornhill until her death on 13 November 1829, and during this time had many of the rooms altered by the designs of architects Rickman & Hutchinson and Richard Bridgens. [MS 3782/13/142] Thornhill house had finally found an occupant to give the building work the attention it needed.