This ruined outbuilding may look nothing ,but is arguably one of the most important locations in the world’s industrial history.
Back in May 1765, James Watt repaired a working model of a Newcomen steam engine for Glasgow University. The Newcomen engine worked, but was hugely inefficient. Watt came up with an idea that would vastly improve the efficiency of the engine, by condensing the steam in a separate chamber from the piston. He made a working model, but needed funding to develop the idea.
Meanwhile the owner of the Carron Iron Works, Dr John Roebuck, needed an efficient engine to pump water out of the coal pits at Kinneil, near Bo’ness. He hired Watt, and built this tiny cottage (4.5m x 3.5m by my reckoning) for Watt to do his work. On 06-Jan-1769 – 250 years ago today – Watt filed a patent for the work he had been doing in this very cottage.
The first examples of the engine were not good, and the Carron company later went out of business. But Watt continued to refine his ideas, to produce ever more powerful, reliable and efficient engines.
But the critical step – taking the concept to a recognisable, defensible invention – was done here. The world took a decisive step on a journey towards a world based on energy and power, rather than back-breaking manual labour. Here, in Bo’ness.