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Lunar Society of Birmingham

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Soho House in Handsworth, Birmingham, a regular venue for meetings of the Lunar Society

The Lunar Society was an important club in the Midlands of 18th century England. It was a dinner club, and a learned society. Its members were industrialists and inventors, natural philosophers (scientists), and other intellectuals. They met regularly in Birmingham and elsewhere from 1765 to 1813.

The name arose because the society met during the full moon. The extra light made the journey home easier and safer in the absence of street lighting. The members cheerfully referred to themselves as "lunarticks", a pun on lunatics. Venues included Erasmus Darwin's home in Lichfield, Matthew Boulton's home, Soho House, and Great Barr Hall.

It leading members were Matthew Boulton, Erasmus Darwin, Thomas Day, Richard Lovell Edgeworth, Samuel Galton, Jr., James Keir, Joseph Priestley, William Small, Jonathan Stokes, James Watt, Josiah Wedgwood, John Whitehurst and William Withering.[1][2] Other great men of the day visited, or corresponded with, the Society. It had no formal membership list, and was flexible in its arrangements. Anyone could be invited.

The club was seriously affected by the Priestly Riots of July 1791, which started in Birmingham, and spread. Some of the Society were personally attacked; Priestley's house was burned to the ground. The causes of the riots are not entirely clear, but for sure the rioters were against "freethinkers and dissenters". They were stirred up by being told that the dissenters were in favour of the French Revolution.[3][4]


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  1. Robinson, Eric 1962. The Lunar Society: its membership and organisation. Transactions of the Newcomen Society 35: 153–178, ISSN 0372-0187
  2. Schofield, Robert E. 1963. The Lunar Society of Birmingham: a social history of provincial science and industry in eighteenth-century England. Oxford University Press.
  3. Hutton, William 1816. A narrative of the riots in Birmingham, July 1791. The Life of William Hutton. London: Printed for Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, Paternoster Row; and Beilby and Knotts, Birmingham, 1816. Google Books. Retrieved on 28 February 2008.
  4. Sheps, Arthur 1989. Public perception of Joseph Priestley, the Birmingham dissenters, and the Church-and-King riots of 1791. Eighteenth-Century Life 13.2): 46–64.