Preparing the contents of an 18th century workshop for display is a complicated and fascinating thing to do. And when it belongs to the engineering icon, James Watt, it’s even more challenging.
Watt was a Scottish engineer, born in 1736. His fame stems from a stupendously clever improvement to the steam engine, the separate condenser. He and his other contemporaries kick-started what we now sometimes call the Industrial Revolution.
We’ve got the garret workshop from his retirement home at Heathfield near Birmingham. It contains over 2400 items – tools, machines, instruments, bits and pieces he worked on, pots containing chemicals and all sorts of wonderful stuff from various times in his life.
One of the chests of drawers contained a saw that looked a bit odd.
No teeth! Now, this was in fact the standard bit of kit for cutting stone – you chiselled a groove where you wanted to cut, poured emery dust or some other abrasive material into the crack, and then used the saw to make the final cut.
As one of James Watt’s final inventions was a method of copying sculpture, which involved cutting the copies out of blanks, the saw must have been used for producing the little ingots to go in his copying machines.
So the saw makes sense of some other mysteries - like the presence of lots of powdered emery and those rather impressive busts.