Watt’s Orbit1

Bringing History To Life through Sound

An installation and performance by Bobby Bird

Advance booking recommended –tickets available from

Handsworth born sound artist Bobby Bird, whose interest in Watts’s engines was first sparked when visiting the legendary former  Museum of Science and Industry  in Birmingham, will be using detailed recordings of Watt’s huge steam powered engines as source material for the multi-speaker performance.

Built to pump water – often out of mines or into canals, at  Crofton Beam Engines  in Wiltshire, home to the worlds oldest working  Boulton and Watt engine (built 1812), the engines  pumped water from the river Avon into the canal transportation system linking Bristol to London. At Papplewick Pumping Station , Britain’s finest Victorian Water Works, water was pumped from a vast underground reservoir to provide the nearby city of Nottingham with fresh water.

“It’s typical of Brum that the modern world was invented in Handsworth and nobody knows about it” Steven Knight

Scottish engineer and instrument maker James Watt first conceived the idea for the separate condenser for the steam engine in  1765. His idea finally came to fruition after being invited to Birmingham by manufacturer & entrepreneur Mathew Bolton in 1774. In addition to financial backing, Bolton was able to offer access to the precision boring and instrument making that Watt’s vision required, at his Soho Manufactory in Handsworth.
“The separate condenser changed the steam engine from a crude and inefficient machine into one that became the mainstay of the industrial revolution”. (article )

james watt

“A commander of the elements …a magician, whose cloudy machinery has produced a change in the world. The effects are extraordinary and are only now beginning to be felt” Sir Walter Scott, on James Watt 1820


The project will be further developed in the years leading up to Watt’s Bicentenary in 2019, including  possible touring of the installation to selected locations around  the country. Organisations / venues interested in partnering with us on this, please get in touch