Farming and the Boultons
For both Matthew Boulton and Matthew Robinson Boulton farming became an important part of their business. The extensive lands that they owned were either managed at Soho House or rented out if further away. In 1793 Matthew Boulton bought land at Money Bag Hill, near Soho House, and grew potatoes. These were valuable as they had only recently been grown in the UK. Matthew Boulton’s House Bills for Money Bag Hill include payments for manure, cutting potatoes, planting potatoes, and weeding and watching potatoes. [Bills and Receipts 1794. MS 3782/6/10] Matthew Boulton even kept in one of his notebooks a map of the farmland surrounding Soho, which can be seen above. [Matthew Boulton’s Notebook 1793 to 1799. MS 3782/12/108/68]
Yet it was his son Matthew Robinson Boulton who used the Soho Manufactory to build new farming machinery. In 1816 he bought the Great Tew estate in Oxfordshire, growing wheat, barley, oats, peas, turnips and beans, as well as keeping animals. Machines were designed to grind bones for the manure. In 1837 Charles Hampden Turner wrote to Matthew Robinson Boulton:
“I am so thoroughly satisfied at the Result of the Bone Dust you were good enough to help me to, that, I feel disposed to erect a Small Mill for similar purpose…” [Letter. Charles Hampden Turner to Matthew Robinson Boulton 25 Oct 1837. MS 3782/13/31/33]
This idea was expanded upon with an 1841 design for machinery to sow bone dust and turnip seed [MS 3147/5/1442] The Boulton family had again turned their hand to a traditional industry, but used the latest technologies to improve on what had gone before.