In the late eighteenth century, the meetings of a few fertile minds changed an age. The original Lunar Men gathered together for lively dinner conversations, the journey back from their Birmingham meeting place lit by the full moon.
They were led by the larger-than-life physician Erasmus Darwin, a man of extraordinary intellectual insight with his own pioneering ideas on evolution. Others included the flamboyant entrepreneur Matthew Boulton, the brilliantly perceptive engineer James Watt whose inventions harnessed the power of steam, the radical polymath Joseph Priestley who, among his wide-ranging achievements discovered oxygen, and the innovative potter and social reformer Josiah Wedgwood. Their debates brought together philosophy, arts, science and commerce, and as well as debating and discovering, the ‘Lunarticks’ also built canals and factories, managed world-class businesses — and changed the face of Birmingham.
The principal Lunar Men listed in order of age.
John Whitehurst (10 April 1713 – 18 February 1788)
Matthew Boulton (3 September 1728 – 17 August 1809)
Josiah Wedgwood (12 July 1730 – 3 January 1795)
Erasmus Darwin (12 December 1731 – 18 April 1802)
Joseph Priestley (24 March 1733 – 6 February 1804)
William Small (13 October 1734 – 25 February 1775)
James Watt (19 January 1736 – 25 August 1819)
William Withering (17 March 1741 – 6 October 1799)
James Keir (20 September 1735 – 11 October 1820)
Richard Lovell Edgeworth (May 31, 1744 – June 13, 1817)
Thomas Day (22 June 1748 – 28 September 1789)
Samuel John Galton, Jr. (18 June 1753 – 19 June 1832)
There is more information about the original Society on these sites:
- Revolutionary Players – http://www.revolutionaryplayers.org.uk/
- BBC Radio 4 In our Time – Melvyn Bragg – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00548z8
- Soho House – http://www.birminghammuseums.org.uk/soho
- Engines of our Ingenuity – http://www.uh.edu/engines/
- Soho Mint – http://www.sohomint.info/
Researchers might also find useful information by visiting Birmingham City Archives http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/archives and the Centre for West Midlands History http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/activity/cwmh/index.aspx and West Midlands History. http://historywm.com/
Jenny Uglow is author of The Lunar Men: the friends who made the future, published by Faber & Faber in 2002, a widely acclaimed book about the lives of these remarkable men.