On the cusp of a new Lunar society for Manchester
By Nigel Barlow, on 28 September 2009
We hosted our Boardroom event last week at which Sir Richard Leese,leader of Manchester city council, opening the event, invoked the spirit of the Lunar society.
Quoting from the book The Lunar men by Jenny Uglow, he said that they
“nudged their whole society and culture over the threshold of the modern irrevocably tilting it away from old ways of life and towards the new. They opened the door to the industrial revolution and helped to make it happen.”
But what exactly was the Lunar society and how can their 18th century movement be translated into a 21st one for Manchester?
Matthew Boulton Founder of the original Lunar Society
In 1765 a group of eminent men first met in the City of Birmingham on the night of the full moon.
They initially called themselves the Lunar circle, a name which soon was to the Lunar society.
Their meetings which ran until 1813 and the group became one of the most important gathering places for scientists, inventors and natural philosophers in the late 18th century.
It became the embodiment of all that was new and exciting about the times. They were interested in science, but also how it could be applied to manufacturing, mining, transportation, education and medicine.
They believed that science should be channelled into raising productive capacity and that by the raising of capacity material decency should be available for all.
Many clubs and societies sprang up during this time but somehow these were different. Writing in 2002 in her book the Lunar men the author Jenny Uglow said that:
They built factories,planned canals and made steam engines thunder.They discovered new gases,new minerals and new medicines and proposed new unsettling ideas.
Many of the members are familiar to many of us today.
Matthew Boulton whose house was often used as a meeting place was has often been described as the father of Birmingham.His steam engine developments along with fellow member James Watt laid the foundations of the 19th century industrial revolution .
He was an early investor in the canal network and his establishment of the city’s Assay Office was a vital factor in the expansion of its jewellery and silver trades.
Josiah Wedgwood was an innovative designer, a manufacturer of high-quality pottery and a campaigner for social reform.
Erasmus Darwin was a respected physician, a well-known poet, philosopher, botanist, and naturalist as well as being the grandfather of Charles.
Richard Lovell Edgeworth investigated telegraph communications agricultural machinery, and improved means of transportation.
Joseph Priestley, foremost a writer, and argued that writing a history of science was important since it could show how human intelligence discovers and directs the forces of nature. His paper on Different Kinds of Air,” established his reputation as a chemist.
James Keir established his reputation as a chemist, in the manufacture of glass, chemicals and soap. William Murdock is credited with the invention of gas lighting.
They came together at the start of the industrial revolution and by the time that the society was wound up the world was very different. Now steam drove the factories, the cotton mills of Lancashire and the metal bashing of the Midlands.
As Sir Richard concluded:
“Think of the Lunar Society – and now think of yourselves, and all the other people out there in our great city: the entrepreneurs, inventors, designers, scholars, community activists, young people and non-conformists. Think of the potential that the right groups could have to nudge our society forward into the future, in the same way the Lunar Society did. – but we do need the 21st Century equivalent, tailored to our current innovation performance and our ambitions.“