Smethwick west of Birmingham was the cradle of the Industrial Revolution: the home of Matthew Boulton and James Watt’s Soho Foundry where they made the steam engines that powered the Industrial Revolution not far from Soho House in Handsworth where Boulton’s Lunar Society met…..
These great men, Midlands men the ‘Friends that Made the Future’ as Jenny Uglow dubbed these influential men of the Midlands in her estimable book, required reading for Brummies: ‘The Lunar Men’:…..Matthew Boulton was the founder of Birmingham’s Lunar Society, so called as they met by the light of the full moon as it lit their way to places like Boulton’s home Soho House and Great Barr Hall where Samuel Galton lived and among the places where these ‘men of moment’ met’by the light of the full moon’.
James Watt, the Scottish engineering genius was the other Lunar Society founder who walked from his home in Greenock in Scotland to work with the businessman and entrepreneur Boulton in faraway Birmingham in the English West Midlands.
Watt modified Newcomen’s steam engine of 1712, adding a condenser to increase efficiency and these steam engines like Thinktank’s ‘Smethwick Engine’ powered Lancashire’s looms……don’t let the Manks tell you that the Industrial Revolution began in Manchester’s cotton mills…..those mills were powered by the steam engines that were made in Birmingham…..without Birmingham’s Boulton and Watt built steam engines there would be no industrial metropolis of Manchester!
The steam engines pumped the water from the coal mines of Staffordshire and Lancashire and Yorkshire and the tin mines of Cornwall, which enabled them to be exploited for industry and commerce.
Joseph Priestley was the chemist who first isolated the element oxygen.
He came from Birmingham via West Yorkshire. Priestley was driven from his home in Birmingham in 1791’s ‘Priestley Riots’ for his support of the American and French Revolutions.
Priestley’s home in Sparkbrook in Birmingham was burned down in ‘The Priestley Riots’ and he fled to London and then onto exile in America….a true genius as a chemist and ‘Natural Philosopher’ whose friendship with Benjamin Franklin, the American inventor, later spread the Lunar Men’s ‘Natural Philosphy’ and its influence and fame to the Americas.
Erasmus Darwin, Charles Darwin’s grandfather from Lichfield was also a Lunar Society member as was Stoke’s Josiah Wedgwood, the potter and industrialist, possibly the Lunar Man who made the greatest mark on the Midlands, creating ‘The Potteries’ in the ‘Six Towns’.
William Galton, the gun and map maker from Birmingham, after whom Galton Road in Bearwood near Smethwick is named. Galton Road bisects Lightwoods Park in Bearwood. Lightwoods Park’s Lightwoods House, built by Smethwick soap magnate William Adkins (after whom nearby Adkins Lane, running behind Lightwoods House and forming a boundary of Lightwoods Park) is undergoing a full refurbishment and regeneration thanks to Sandwell Council and £5.3 million Heritage Lottery Funding.
Samauel Galton was a famed cartographer and made a fortune from making guns in Birmingham’s Gun Quarter. He was also the father of the controversial science of Eugenics and lived at Great Barr Hall to the north of Birmingham.
William Small and Physician William Withering were also members of the Lunar Society. Withering was the man who discovered the heart drug Digitalis in Medicine, whose portrait hangs in Birmingham University Medical School where I work.
Withering made his discovery of the heart drug digitalis on a visit to a family in Henley-in-Arden near Birmingham and who at the end of his life lived in Edgbaston Hall, now the clubhouse of Edgbaston Golf Club on Birmingham’s Calthorpe Estate…..
For more on The Lunar Men please have a look at my Facebook page: ‘Birmingham: The City of Enlightenment’
It is a great pity that Birmingham City Council my former employer does not value the City of Birmingham’s history and heritage as much as Smethwick Museum does with the recently announced cuts of £750,000 to Birmingham Museums Trust, which could lead to the closure of some of Birmingham’s great museums.
Birmingham’s Museums celebrate the past of our great city, once the ‘City of a Thousand Trades’, the ‘Workshop of the World’ and ‘The First City of the Empire’ under Joseph Chamberlain, founder of my Alma Mater: The University of Birmingham…….Shame on you Birmingham City Council!