Birmingham’s Commonwealth Heritage – the Lunar Legacy

In April (2022) the Lunar Society received National Lottery Heritage Funding for a 2-year project to explore and celebrate what the original Lunar Society of Birmingham gave to the world, and what the world – and citizens of the Commonwealth in particular – has given to Birmingham.

Using the 18th century as a starting point, the project looked at the Lunar Society’s positive contribution to global issues like the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, scientific and medical advances and the advancement of religious and political liberty. However, we also took a more critical look at some of the Society’s more ambiguous activities, not least how some of its members benefited from their links to international trade and slavery and the growth of the British Empire.

However, the project went beyond these early, often negative, colonial relationships and shows how a more positive history has been created by the contribution of people from all over the Commonwealth to the development of Birmingham as a modern multicultural city.

A key objective was to involve and engage more people from a wider range of backgrounds (including those not usually interested in ‘heritage’) by working in partnership with a number of community-based organisations. The project delivered a wide range of events including guided tours, archive workshops at the Library of Birmingham, talks on Commonwealth and Lunar Society related topics and family events at Soho House.

The programme produced a film ‘Birmingham in Common’, showing how primary school children engaged with the subject, and a second film is in its final stages of production. The programme also created a new Lunar Society Birmingham Heritage Trail in the city centre, while Black History Walks Networks developed three new walks based on past and present of the Commonwealth: Equiano and the Enlightenment, The Jewel in the Crown Hockley (Jewellery Quarter) and Lock Stock and Barrel (gun quarter). A temporary exhibition – Lunar Legacies – was on display in the foyer of the Library of Birmingham for three months and will travel to local venues in 2024. The project finishes in spring 2024 and the final element is a community heritage art project, a group of local women are working on a large textile art piece at Soho House. The work will culminate in a final display on international women’s day.

Birmingham in Common

Handover of Birmingham in Common resource box to Museum in a Box, BMT schools' loans service.

As part of the National Lottery Heritage Fund supported project 'Birmingham's Commonwealth Heritage - the Lunar Legacy', the Lunar Society initiated a schools' project called 'Birmingham in Common'. Interactive, hands-on workshops were delivered in local primary schools using archive documents, old photographs & images and objects. Handling these materials in small groups, pupils explored the history of Empire and links to the Commonwealth. This short film summarises the project and shows the children engaging in controversial subjects that impact all people living in Birmingham today. The long term legacy of the schools' project is a resource box, consisting of objects and a teaching resources, available to schools from the Birmingham Museums Trust’s ‘Museum in a Box’ (BMT School Loan Service).

A key objective is to involve and engage more people from a wider range of backgrounds (including those not usually interested in ‘heritage’) by working in partnership with a number of community-based organisations.”

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