Lunar Society

The Lunar Society was an informal group of prominent industrialists, natural philosophers and intellectuals who met regularly in the late 18th and early 19th centuries at Matthew Boulton's home in Birmingham, Soho House. The Society was first formed in 1765 with 14 members. They met once a month, on or near the full moon to ensure sufficient light for their homeward journeys over rough, unlit roads. No minutes were kept, nor proceedings published, and the gatherings were seemingly unsystematic and unstructured. A wide variety of discussions and practical demonstrations, to which suitable visitors might be invited, were the focus of the event, and the results of their debates had a significant impact on the arts and sciences of the day.

The Lunar Society included many of the great names of pioneering British research and industry that we associate with the region’s industry, like James Watt, Matthew Boulton, William Murdoch, Josiah Wedgwood, Erasmus Darwin, Joseph Priestley and others, and regularly attracted visitors from outside the West Midlands, like the textile manufacturers Arkwright and Strutt, the artist Joseph Wright from Derby, and even Benjamin Franklin was an occasional visitor.

Not all of these founding fathers of the workshop of the world came from the West Midlands. James Watt and William Murdoch, for example, were both Scottish. In Scotland, James Watt had struggled to raise capital to pursue his inventions and had been forced to work as a surveyor for eight years before Matthew Boulton, owner of the Soho Works acquired the patent rights and so began the hugely successful partnership of Boulton and Watt. William Murdoch, on the other hand - later the inventor of Britain’s first steam-powered vehicle – in 1777 at the age of just 23 walked to Birmingham, almost 300 miles from his home in Ayrshire, to ask James Watt for a job.

The Lunar Society was a crucible of creative thinking, pioneering research, venture capital, innovation and entrepreneurship, and from this melting pot of ideas the region’s industrial base was conceived, nurtured, tendered and developed to become the workshop of the world.

Images

Josiah's note of attendees at a Lunar Socity meeting, © Wedgwood Museum

Josiah's note of attendees at a Lunar Socity meeting
© Wedgwood Museum