New James Watt banknote launched

Chris Salmon of The Bank of England with the new £50 note. Copyright: The Bank of EnglandA NEW £50 note featuring inventor James Watt – who did early work at Kinneil Estate in Bo’ness – has gone into circulation.

The new Bank of England note portrays the Scottish engineer alongside business associate Matthew Boulton.

Watt went into partnership with Boulton in the late 18th century – after an earlier partnership with local industrialist Dr John Roebuck hit financial problems.

Dr. Roebuck, who lived at Kinneil House, had invested in Watt to improve the steam engine to help pump water out of local coal mines.

Sadly, Roebuck’s leased pits continued to flood, he went bankrupt and had to pass his share of Watt’s patent to Boulton, in lieu of a debt he couldn’t pay.

And so the partnership of Watt and Boulton was born.

James Watt worked in a small outhouse at Kinneil Estate. The cottage survives to this day. (For more see www.kinneil.org.uk/jameswatt)

Mervyn King said, the Governor of the Bank of England, said: “The Bank is delighted to acknowledge the invaluable contribution that Boulton and Watt made to the advancement of engineering by featuring them on the new £50 banknote.

“Boulton and Watt’s steam engines and their many other innovations were essential factors in the nation’s Industrial Revolution. The partnership of an innovator and an entrepreneur created exactly the kind of commercial success that we will need in this country as we rebalance our economy over the years ahead.”

The Boulton and Watt £50 banknote has a number of notable firsts.

The new note is the first time two portraits have appeared together on the back of a Bank of England banknote.

It is also the first note to be signed by Chris Salmon (pictured above), who was appointed as the Bank’s Executive Director for Banking Services and Chief Cashier in April 2011. He said: “The Boulton and Watt £50 banknote has new and enhanced security features which demonstrate the Bank’s commitment to its role of maintaining public confidence in the currency. The motion thread security feature is one of the new measures which should help members of the public to identify genuine £50 banknotes.”

Boulton and Watt – a brief background

Matthew Boulton and James Watt were responsible for accelerating the progress of manufacturing steam engines during the 18th and 19th century. Their inventions and improvements to this technology helped make a huge contribution to the progress of the Industrial Revolution.

James Watt (1736-1819) Engineer and Scientist

  • James Watt was the great improver, not the inventor, of the steam engine. While repairing a Newcomen steam engine he was struck by the considerable steam wastage inherent in its design and realised that it could be made more efficiently.
  • Progress in this development was slow until he entered into partnership with Matthew Boulton in 1775, with Boulton providing many suggestions for improving Watt’s engines.
  • Encouraged by Boulton, Watt developed an engine for the textile industry in 1774, patenting the invention in 1781.
  • Watt introduced the term ‘horsepower’ and the metric unit of power is named after him.
  • Watt was involved in several civil engineering projects during his life, the most significant of which was a survey and estimate in 1773 for a canal between Fort William and Inverness. The canal was constructed in the early 19th century and named the Caledonian Canal.

The new £50 note

The new £50 note - copyright of The Bank of England

The separate portraits of Boulton and Watt are developed from images held by the Bank of England (Bank of England copyright). The image of the Soho Manufactory, where Boulton produced small metalware and which became the first steam-powered mint and another, of the Whitbread steam engine designed by Boulton and Watt and installed by Samuel Whitbread in his London brewery, are worked from images owned by Birmingham City Council. Permission to use these two images was kindly given by the Council.

Find out more about James Watt and his connections with Kinneil Estate. Visit Kinneil Museum, usually open throughout the year from Monday to Saturday (12.30 p.m.  to 4 p.m.) Admission free. www.kinneil.org.uk/attractions

* This is the second banknote to have Kinneil connections. In 2009, the Clydesdale Bank issued its own £50 note featuring an illustration of the Kinneil Roman fortlet, as part of a series on Scottish World Heritage Sites. See our story here.

(Images and some text courtesy of – and copyright of  – the Bank of England.)