William Murdoch

William Murdoch was born in 1754 at Bello Mill Farm, near Cumnock in Ayrshire. He was said to have carried out early experiments in a cave on the banks of the River Lugar. In his mid twenties he walked from Ayrshire to Birmingham to find work at famous Soho works of James Watt and Matthew Boulton.

In September 1779 Murdoch was sent to Redruth in Cornwall as a senior engine erector, responsible for the erection, maintenance & repair of Boulton & Watt engines. These were used for pumping water out of the Cornish Tin mines, and therefore the efficiency and efficacy of the engines was an important factor in the amount of tin, and money, which could be extracted from a mine. At that time steam engines were not simply sold to customers but operated, and maintained by the builders for groups or individuals known as 'adventurers' (shareholders). The engine manufacturers were paid not for a completed engine but through a complex formula calculated on the basis of that engine's performance, as Watt described: Our profits arise not from making the engine, but from a certain proportion of the savings in fuel which we make over any common engine, that raises the same quantity of water to the same height.

Therefore, Murdoch's skill in getting the most out of his engines directly impacted upon Boulton and Watts profits. This he did so successfully that by 1782 Boulton was writing: We want more Murdocks, for of all others he is the most active man and best engine erector I ever saw...When I look at the work done it astonishes me & is entirely owing to the spirit and activity of Murdoch who hath not gone to bed 3 of the nights. Due to the frequent problems which could occur with steam engines Murdoch was kept busy travelling around the area repairing and attempting to improve the performance of the engines under his care.

In 1779 Watt and Boulton sent Murdoch to Cornwall, where he made his home in Cross Street, Redruth from 1782 to 1798. All his spare time was spent in design and innovation and he is believed to have been the first in Britain to construct and use a steam-powered road going vehicle. This was in 1785.

In 1792 William Murdoch was the first person in the world to light his house and office by piped coal gas. This laid the foundation for the gas industry of today. Murdoch House in Cross Street, Redruth has been fully restored and now houses various local bodies as well as a coffee moring every Friday.

Among the other successes of William Murdoch include a working model of a low pressure steam locomotive. He also invented a process for clearing beer. Murdoch returned to Birmingham in 1799 to continue his work with Boulton and Watt. He died there in 1839.

A Few of Murdoch's Inventions

Marine engine

Marine Engine

Light and will1

Gas Light

300px Steam Engine In Action

Oscillating Steam Engine


Sun and Planet Gear

Long D Slide Valve

Long D Slide Valve


Murdoch Flyer

About us

Redruth 2000 is a charity organization that is responsible for the maintenance, rental and upkeep of Murdoch House located in the heart of Redruth, Cornwall.

Murdoch House is a community gathering place for groups and organizations to conduct meetings, provide information or to have a small social gathering. Redruth 2000 has morning cofee, tea and biscuits each Friday of the week. The house is in use regularly so please contact us to schedule an event.

CGMP, the Corninsh Global Migration Project is located upstairs of the house and is a source of the Cornish Diaspora and history of Cornish Miners who travelled the world.

Our Murdoch Day Celebration

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A few of our user groups and what they do.

Contact us

To book use of the house, to schedule a visit or to get involved with Redruth 2000 please contact us.

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