The Douglasfield Boulton and Watt Engine - IMechE Engineering Heritage Award Presentation

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Technical visit
25 August 2019 13:30 - 15:30
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This is the 128th Engineering Heritage Award being awarded by the IMechE. 

Verdant Works and the Engineering Heritage Awards Committee would like to invite the local IMechE membership and the general public to this prestigious celebration at Verdant on Sunday 25 August 2019.

About the recipient

The internationally significant Douglasfield Engine is one of only four surviving rotative engines by Messrs. Boulton and Watt in the UK and one of only five ‘sun and planet’ types in the world. The early important example in the Science Museum, known as the Lap Engine, is largely original and came from Boulton and Watt’s Soho Works. The second Science Museum example is known as Atkinson’s Engine while the engine in the National Museum of Scotland came from the Barclay Perkins Brewery in London. The latter has been significantly reconstructed with a re-cast flywheel, new parallel motion, timbers and a number of bearings.

The Douglasfield Engine matches the Lap Engine in its completeness and is a fine (and probably unique) example of a ‘standard’ 15 horsepower engine sent out from the factory. It is the only surviving Watt engine that worked in Scotland, the only one that remains close to its original place of working and the only one to be now placed in an environment akin to its original purpose. 

The engine was used to turn machinery at William Sandeman’s Douglasfield Bleachworks, located on the River Dighty just outside Dundee. At the beginning of the 19th century Douglasfield had the lion’s share of Dundee’s bleaching trade, an important element of the thriving local linen industry.

Costing £517, the engine was ordered from Boulton and Watt in Birmingham in February 1801 and installed at the beginning of March 1802 – well within James Watt’s lifetime. William Sandeman soon sent word back to the makers that ‘his engine gave perfect satisfaction’. On 20 April a visiting Boulton and Watt employee, James Lawson, wrote that the engine was capable of providing twice the power required to turn the machinery.

Little is known of the engine’s working history after this but it is believed it continued to work for most of the century. In 1898 the engine was purchased and gifted to the Free Library Committee, responsible for Dundee’s museum at the time, “through the munificent generosity of a few citizens’’. At 26ft long, 16ft wide and 16ft high it was too large to be displayed in the Albert Institute (now The McManus: Dundee’s Art Gallery and Museum), so a separate Technical Museum was established in the barracks of Dudhope Park. Opening in 1900, the engine continued to be displayed there until 1939 when the barracks were requisitioned for war work and the museum closed, never to re-open.

Press comment in the late 1940s illustrated some negative opinions about the industrial museum and the engine; "a lot of old stuff that no-one cared about" and "the engine took up a good deal of space and should be scrapped". Fortunately this never happened and interest in the engine was revived. In the 1960s the engine was dismantled and moved to Edinburgh where the Royal Scottish Museum planned to showcase it in their new ‘Hall of Physical Science and Power’. This never came to fruition however, and the engine returned to Dundee in 1975 where, still in pieces, it was placed back in store.

In 2012 Dundee Heritage Trust began working in partnership with the engine’s owner Dundee City Council and Leisure & Culture Dundee, who care for it on their behalf, on an ambitious and complex scheme to conserve the engine. The Trust’s High Mill Open Gallery Project at its Verdant Works textile museum offered for the first time in decades a realistic opportunity to re-assemble and interpret this internationally important object. An expert professional team of historians, curators, conservators, architects and structural engineers worked together to see this magnificent engine finally restored to working order (driven by an electric motor) and put on public display within the stunning High Mill at Verdant Works.  The conservation was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Museums Galleries Scotland and the Association for Industrial Archaeology.

Since September 2015, the engine has been on display within the 1833 ‘A’ listed High Mill at Verdant Works. The engine is on a 25 year loan from Dundee City Council via a partnership with Leisure & Culture Dundee who care for the Council’s collections.

Visitors can walk all the way around the engine and view associated interpretation about James Watt, the partnership of Boulton and Watt, the history of the Douglasfield engine and how a steam engine works. A touch screen shows a film of the engine working along with an animation of the principles of steam power and information about James Watt’s various innovations in steam power technology.

Around the engine there is additional interpretation about Scottish and Dundee engineering history and on the first floor balcony there are graphics tracing the development of power through water, steam to electricity as well as an AV film about Scottish engineering.

Putting the engine on display has allowed the museum to expand its interpretation into these new themes and also create new schools resources and workshops on engineering and power.

The engine is operated by an electric motor with an inverter drive and museum staff and volunteers have been trained in its operation. Visitors are given a brief introduction to the engine by a guide before it is switched on. There are viewing platforms at first and second floor levels so people can go upstairs to get closer to the rocking beam in operation and also look down on the flywheel.

Dundee Heritage Trust commissioned John Crompton (ex-National Museums of Scotland, Keeper of Technology) to undertake research on the engine in the Boulton & Watt archives in Birmingham. His comprehensive report on the history of the engine along with a number of appendices including transcriptions of all relevant correspondence can be made available if required.

Programme of Events






Welcome by Dundee Heritage Trust


William Edgar CBE, IMechE Past President - Background to the Heritage Awards


Gill Poulter, Heritage Director of Dundee Heritage Trust (Host) and

Ian Borthwick, Lord Provost of Dundee – The Douglasfield Boulton & Watt Engine


William Edgar CBE, IMechE Past President - Unveiling of plaque, photos etc.


Steam and mill-themed musical performance by QUIRE, c. 10-15 minutes, in front of the working Boulton & Watt engine.


This will be live streamed on Facebook as our contribution to making some noise for Go Industrial Day 2019.


Followed by refreshments (tea and cake) and networking time for guests in the Weavers Room.


Guests will be free to visit the whole Verdant Works museum at their leisure

Keynote Speaker: William Edgar CBE FREng CEng HonFIMechE, Past President of IMechE

William Edgar was born in 1938. He started work with Colvilles Steel Makers, as an office boy at their Hallside Steel Works near Glasgow.  In 1955 he started work as an apprentice fitter/turner/draftsman at Hallside Steel Works. Colvilles supported him as he attended five years of evening classes, culminating in an HNC in Mechanical Engineering and an HNC Endorsement in Electrical Engineering.  They also sponsored him through university, enabling him to study Mechanical Engineering at the Royal College of Science and Technology. 

After gaining an MSc in Thermodynamics and Fluid Mechanics at the University of Birmingham, Edgar went to work as a Development Engineer at Ravenscraig Strip Mill in Lancashire, then a state of the art steel mill designed and constructed by Davy United. 

The following year, in 1963, Edgar went to British Aircraft Corporation at Warton, Lancashire, as an Aeromechanical Engineer.  He remained with the company for four years, working on high altitude military aircraft design.  

He moved to Weir Pumps, Glasgow in 1967, initially as Chief Development Engineer and then as General Manufacturing Manager at the Cathcart Plant.  After seven years he joined Vickers Marine Engineering Division, and two years later was appointed Executive Chairman of Cochrane Shipbuilders.

In 1990 he became Chief Executive of the National Engineering Laboratory.  At the time, this was an Executive Agency of the Department of Trade and Industry.  Edgar's remit was to prepare the establishment for privatization, which was successfully completed with the sale of NEL in 1995.

Following the sale of the NEL, he joined the John Wood Group as Group Director responsible for Engineering and Production Facilities Division.  He retired from this position in 2004, just prior to becoming President of the IMechE.

Edgar was elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 1999, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2003.


Verdant Works
West Henderson’s Wynd
United Kingdom

Contact Details

Alex Boardman

1 Birdcage Walk
London, United Kingdom
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