The first Soho Foundry opened in Birmingham, England on Jan 30, 1796 to manufacture steam engines. Partners were Mathew Boulton and James Watt.
James Watt was given the distinction of being the man who invented the steam engine.
The Soho Foundry in Ballarat was established around about 1856 by Robinson, Thomas & Co. and stood on the southeast corner of Eyre and Errand Streets. This catered for the mining and general engineering demands until about 1864 when Joseph Bishop and Co. took over. Their advertisement in the 1865 directory states, “Soho works, hither to conducted the style of Robinson Thomas & Co”. Later the Soho Foundry was transferred from its Eyre Street site to Dana Street, opposite the famous cordial factory of Rowlands & Lewis.
On the 14th of May, 1864 the Soho turned out two locomotives built to the same design as the “Lady Barkly” (made by Hunt & Opie in 1860). These were delivered to the Southlands line in New Zealand.
Joseph Bishop's foundry made the first steam powered boat to be launched on Lake Wendouree in 1865. Unfortunately, by the 1800’s they were out of business.
A large part of Ballarat’s history is owed to such foundries. Without them the manufacture and repair of steam powered plants used by mining companies for the extraction of gold from deep below the surface would never have happened.
In 1972 Perc and Charlie Bilney opened the ‘Soho Foundry’ at Sovereign Hill.
Their dream was to metal spin and cast quality brass, copper and steel products from yersteryear for a growing tourist market.
Unfortunately their brass casting operations were not to last. A a change in regulations forced the furnace to be shut down for the last time in the early 1980’s.
They then concentrated all of their efforts into metal spinning. The machinery they aquired back then makes ‘Soho Foundry’ the only fully operational workshop of its type in Australia.
After many years, Charlie left the workshop, and today Perc, Neville and Daryl Bilney continue to run and work the Soho.
We don’t know of any other Australian business producing housewares of this type in Australia.
All lathes, drill presses and other machinery are operated by an intricate belt and pully system, operating off a central shaft. All this is driven by an original “Watt” steam engine. (Made at the Soho Foundry in Burmingham, England)
We believe that if we continue in this line of work that we will be amongst the few craftsmen keeping these skills alive. Skills that are fast disappearing as the world becomes overwhelmed with modern technology.
Clarke Bros Tinsmiths
Built in Humphrey Street North, Ballarat around the 1880’s. It was owned and operated by two generations of the Clarke family up until the early 1970’s when “Tinker” Clarke passed away and the Clarke family donated the building to the Sovereign Hill Historical Park. It now stands in Main Street Sovereign Hill and is one of the few remaining working Tinsmith shops in Australia.
Sovereign Hill Historical Park is a fully activated outdoor museum, which depicts life on the Ballarat goldfields in the 1850’s.