Photo courtesy of The Bank of England
Three early Boulton and Watt rotative steam engines still exist, and all are held by museums: Boulton’s own Lap engine in the London Science Museum, the Barclay Perkins engine in the National Museum of Scotland, and our very own Whitbread engine.
Which one has the Bank of England selected to depict on its next 50 pound banknote?
The winner is the Powerhouse Museum!
On 29 May, the Governor of the Bank of England announced that an image of the Whitbread engine will feature on the banknote, along with portraits of Matthew Boulton and James Watt and an image of Boulton’s Soho (Birmingham) Manufactory. Planned for release in 2010, the banknote recognises the importance of these men in the industrial revolution.
Although Mervyn King did not emulate Juan Antonio Samaranch and announce ‘the winner is – Sydney’, the feeling at the Powerhouse is a bit like the buzz when Sydney won the right to host the 2000 Olympics.
The decision was perhaps prompted by the existence of a nicely detailed drawing of our engine, a drawing suitable for reproduction on a modern security-conscious banknote. But we like to think it recognises the pleasing aesthetics of our engine and its significance in both engineering and economic history. The oldest existing rotative engine, it was erected in 1785 at Whitbread’s London brewery and worked there for 102 years before being donated to this museum. Maintained in steaming order and run occasionally, it brings visitors in contact with the amazing men who created it and with a very important era in history.