Soho FoundryJames Watt (1736-1819) - Steam Engines from Soho, Birmingham.


The primary metal masters in The Cheshire Partnership, Baptist Mills & Coalbrookdale and Swansea supplied the raw materials to the burgeoning secondary metal industries in The Black Country. Birmingham became specialised in metal fabrication and famous for the Soho Foundry and the production of James Watts' steam engines ... many say Birmingham rivaled Liverpool & Manchester as the focus of the Industrial Revolution?

Birmingham had a lot going for it; it was old, for sure, all roads led there, it was central in the kingdom, it was high & healthy, the dry red sand drained well, coal & iron ore were in great plenty ... and there was always a lot of fabrication going on ... for war, husbandry, cultivation & homestead kitchens.

Birmingham's remarkable folk of freedom were strongly parliamentarian and very different from the metropolis and industrial history started rather late on  ... as the town just grew, unrestricted, northwards towards the coal. William Hutton, historian of Birmingham in 1785, was succinct -

 'Birmingham's amazing increase, which began about the restoration depended upon her manufactures; her manufactures depended on national commerce, which depended upon superiority at sea' ... but Birmingham had no ocean port ...

and then there was education and enterprise ... something attracted young James Watt from the hotbed of ideas at Glasgow University to urban Birmingham, the place for a man to make a fortune -

 'Perhaps there is not by nature so much difference in the capacities of men, as by education. The efforts of nature will produce a ten fold crop in the field, but those of art, fifty. The seeds of every virtue, vice, inclination & habit, are sown in the breast of every human being, though not in an equal degree. Some lie dormant, no hand inviting their cultivation ... others flourish. It is easy to give instances of people whose distinguishing characteristic is idleness, but when they breathe the air of Birmingham, diligence becomes the predominant feature. The view of profit, like the view of corn to a hungry horse, excites to action. The commercial spirit of Birmingham has penetrated beyond the confines of Britain, and the whole of Europe, West Indies and America are acquainted with the Birmingham merchant. The town is full of inhabitants and the inhabitants full of industry and though industry is the ruling passion, relaxation must follow, in the tavern, in the coffee house, in the music theatre & on the game field. Genius seems to increase with multitude. Man seems formed for variety, a sameness of temper, habit, diet, pursuit, or pleasure is no part of his character, and different ages of his life produce different sentiments ' ... differences which were at the root of profitable exchange ...

After the restoration every city town & village in England had a separate independent commercial jurisdiction of its own, influencing specialisation, scale & exchange. Birmingham did not specialise in wool, linen, silk nor cotton but with abundant coal, iron ore and excellent foundry sand the town became the leading centre in England for casting, stamping and metal manufacturing. Buttons, buckles, bridles, swords, scythes, guns, nails, locks, bellows, boxes, printing cylinders, novelties & trinkets, metalwork ... anything in brass & iron ... cheaper & better than anywhere ... they called them 'toys' ... then came Hackney Carriages ... then steam engines and the banks ...

Around 1700 the doubling of the population was caused by immigration from the surrounding towns and villages. Dissenters came in droves as they were banned elsewhere ... The Clarendon Code 1661/5 was ameliorated a bit by The Toleration Act 1689 but on they came, determined and infused with energy. Birmingham was gaining a reputation as a town where things were progressing in trade and manufacturing ... industrialisation had taken hold. Corn mills were being converted to the production of metal rolling & fabrication, brass & ironwork in a multitude of small work shops and new mills sprang up all around the town.

Birmingham developed its own innovative culture, as, of course, did London, Bristol, Liverpool & Manchester ... those that followed attempted to imitate the 'emergent whole' of the industrial revolution, ignorant of the reality of the intense local interactions which produced the emergent phenomena ... no wonder so many copiers failed to industrialise ... no wonder, even today, the many parasites & predators, who tried to feed off resurgent cities failed miserably to reinvent themselves ...

Birmingham did not have any pompous municipal corporation orchestrating & taxing its industrialisation, it was a vigorously commercial town unfettered by restrictions of charters & the guilds, a truly free city ... taxes were low and trade drove prosperity ... but freedom came with a caveat, the ancient tort laws of England protected all folk from injuries ... the town was law abiding and civil, manners were polished and encouraged trade ... hard work at the anvil, honesty & thrift delivered profits ... deception & theft didn't seem to work ... such was the innovative, diverse, small workshops, specialised skills, atmosphere in Birmingham ... by 1750, as discovery followed discovery, Birmingham was filing 3 times as many patents as any other town or city in the land ... five sixths of output went for export as silk, coffee, tobacco & tea were imported ... as the French made luxuries for the kings, Birmingham was manufacturing for the masses.

Inevitably there were riots over 'fair shares' of the spoils ... crowd trouble rumbled ... but in the end it proved foolish to bite to the hand that fed you when the alternative was penury back on the land ... this was no 'them & us' this was mass production in factories for everyone ... inclusive cooperation ... and James Watt knew well what his mentor in Glasgow, Adam the Smith had sussed out -

'the division of labour was limited by the extent of the market' ...  

Birmingham was supplying quality but cheap goodies to the masses ... and exports were booming. Birmingham did well with it's small metal works and it's liberal independence; it cashed in on coal. ironstone, foundry sand, science ... and access to finance in London ...

But Birmingham's greatest entrepreneurs, Matthew Boulton & James Watt, were remembered for the dramatic impact the steam engine had on the industrial revolution.

Newcomen Engine In 1712 Thomas Newcomen had done well with his atmospheric engine. Watt's task was to improve existing technology.

Of course this was what always happened, this was evolution, not the myth of the  'romantic' inspiration of an inventor, but rather painstaking experimentation and trial & error.

 James Wheeler described the process in 1836. James Watt worked hard. His improvement on the Newcomen engine involved a separate condenser cooled in a water bath, where the steam was sucked from the expansion cylinder and condensed with a water jet. The warm condensate was then returned to the boiler as preheated water. This greatly increased the thermal efficiency by ensuring that the main cylinder was kept hot. Watt also sealed the top of the expansion cylinder so that it was not open to the atmosphere and introduced steam at a pressure that could act on top of the piston against the vacuum created beneath it.

After obtaining his patent in 1769, Watt with his partner Dr John Roebuck did little with the engine and moved onto other work. In 1772 Roebuck was in debt and bankrupt, he sold his shares in the Watt partnership to Matthew Boulton of Birmingham to retrieve the situation. Boulton was a successful marketer of 'toys' and he managed to extend the Watt patent for 17 years which gave the new partnership a flying start. The firm eventually installed hundreds of Boulton & Watt steam engines making possible the mechanisation of mines, factories and mills in Britain and abroad.

In 1775 with his new partner Matthew Boulton the problems of finance were now in a safe pair of hands.

Born in Greenock James was a smart instrument maker at our alter mater, The University of Glasgow ... a contemporary of Adam the Smith. The life lessons of James Watt merit a summary -

engineering curiosity, take things to bits to find out what makes them tick

experiment, to discover & accumulate 'know how'

start early, 10,000 hours are needed

understand Calvin's hard work, honesty & thrift, to provide crumbs for the family table 

specialise, scientific instrument makers were scarce & expensive

make friends, Adam the Smith, Duke of Argyll

bankruptcy, Roebuck failed because of flooding not blame & incompetence 

synergies, John Wilkinson's accurate boring technology was essential for efficient steam engines

capital investment & risk, was essential for production success ... always capital/know how partnerships

search, get on your bike and go South to Birmingham to find partner Mathew Boulton who took big risks to become 'filthy rich' 

patent good ideas, intellectual property requires protection from parasites & predators

customers will always want a better mouse trap, rich tin mines in coal deprived Cornwall were rampant for a Newcomen improvement

continuous innovation, improvement never stops, rotary & parallel motion

business incentives, profits essential for future innovation came from a 1/3rd share of the after sale savings

education, beware of the radical 'mob' and Thomas Payne and The Priestley Riots

diversify, paper copying ...gages ...

 We were never to regret our fortuitous meet up with James Watt in 1958!

Watt Steam EngineMatthew Boulton (1728-1809) was a Brummie and born into his fathers business of small metal manufacturing. When his dad died in 1759 he expanded the business considerably an established himself at The Soho Manufactory making his 'toys'.

... but Matthew Boulton also manufactured money!

Matthew Boulton may well be remembered for his partnership with James Watt but, perhaps, his greater legacy was the production of money?

The Production of Money -

One of Mathew Boulton's successful forays was into the minting of coins. This project was similar to many other small metal products which he already manufactured. He held shares in several Cornish copper mines, and set up The Cornish Metal Company in 1785. He had a large personal stock of copper looking for an opportunity, and Boulton spotted a gap in the market.

In 1786 two thirds of the coins in circulation in Britain were counterfeit, and the Royal Mint responded by shutting itself down, worsening the situation. Few of the silver coins being passed were genuine. Even the copper coins were melted down and replaced with lightweight fakes. The Royal Mint struck no copper coins for 48 years, from 1773 until after the Great Recoinage of 1816.

What was going on?

Money ProductionThe shortage of specie was a great restraint on trade and led enterprising merchants to a partial solution when they started to use copper 'tokens' to lubricate exchange. These tokens were struck on their behalf by manufacturers like Boulton, they were of similar to the size of the circulating halfpenny and used in the same whenever folk were confident in the trustworthiness of the issuer.

If Matthew Boulton could make his metal buttons he could easily make tokens. He struck millions of these 'merchant' pieces. Stamping them out with steam power, there were no archaic screw presses of The Royal Mint at The Soho Mint!

He produced for The East India Company, for America, for Sierra Leone, Bermuda, Madras ... and John Wilkinson Iron Master of Bersham ... in 1790 he obtained a patent ... did he save the forgers from the gallows? were his 'tokens' counterfeit?

In 1797 the Pitt Government eventually made a decision on coinage and Boulton was awarded an official contract. The requirement was that the coins weigh one and two ounces respectively, making the intrinsic value of the coins close to their face value. At the same time Boulton made efforts to frustrate counterfeiters by adding a raised rim sunken letters & numbers, which were difficult for counterfeiters to match. Matthew industrialised the minting process applying steam pressure to drive his press. Output soared these were the first coins mass produced in a factory made from blanks which were exported all over the world.

Specie was wonderfully convenient to lubricate the flow of barter exchange. But what happened when trade transactions exploded and there weren't enough coins around to use? More and more folk joined the money economy and earned wages. But how did the entrepreneurs pay wages if there was a shortage of coins? Will folk begin to use 'anything' for indirect exchange if it is convenient and has marketable value? Why were folk in Flintshire happy to use bits of paper signed by John Freame as money in the early 18th century? Money was strange stuff to be sure.

Do we need a license to print money ... or do we need 'know how' in exactly the same way as Abraham Darby required 'know how' for production at Coalbrookdale?

Much has been written about the production of Coalbrookdale iron ... very little has been written about the production of money.

The Value of Money -

Coin clipping was ubiquitous and a must for understanding. Private coin clipping was sometimes punishable by death, but when the king debased the currency it was 'monetary policy' ... what was going on? Both practices increased the quantity of specie in relation to marketable goods ...
Did morality come into this?
Was value destroyed?

Private property rights were a must otherwise there would be nothing to exchange. All rights must involve a reciprocal obligation otherwise the 'right' would have no value. The synergies of specialisation & scale could not exist without the rights & obligations of property, nobody would exchange anything. Individuals working in isolation produce less physical goods & services than if they cooperate and exchange specialisations.
Did the violation of property rights by coercive legal tender laws invalidate the 'value of money'?

Knowledge & 'know how' were out comes of the laws of nature; the outcome of hard work, honesty & thrift. Faith & reason, biology & imagination were two sides of the same coin. In this way economics had always been a science.
Was it the exchange of 'know how' that gave money value?

Credit was money production based on expected future returns so it carried a risk and was less valuable than specie.
Was credit money?

Paper money had low production costs but parasites & predators could more easily steal it and bad debts always seemed to pile up.
Did the quantity of money have to change to match the volume of trade if the value of money was to be stable?

What were the social benefits derived from 'monetary policy' and inflation to justify interference in the production of money?

Why did Matthew Boulton need a licence?

The only economists that predicted beneficial outcomes were those that were paid to predict ... for as Xenophanes said, 'it was all but a woven web of guesses' ...

It seemed Matthew Boulton was a considerable entrepreneur ... and he was not alone, he had lots of deep friends ... and he was a member of a considerable club ...

The Clubs of Edinburgh.

Adam the Smith was into production; he wrote about the pin factory where artisans, mechanics & mill wrights all made improvements to industrial processes. Understanding the giant leaps of the industrial revolution required detailed observation over the walls that separated specialisations in skilled manual and intellectual labour. Some folk like Adam had academic trades, contemplation ... not doing any thing but observing every thing, and then making hitherto unconnected connections -

'It was a real philosopher who could invent the fire engine, and first form the idea of producing so great an effect by a power in nature which had never before been thought of'.

Adam Smith tried Oxford & France but the teaching there was stiflingly elitist & conventional. He settled in Glasgow & Edinburgh and prospered. Nicholas Pillipson suggests today Adam the Smith may have ended up at Caltech!

James Watt, a young instrument maker, tried to learn his trade under stiflingly elitist guild rules in London. He also returned to Glasgow and prospered.

Adam Smith (1723-90) was a purveyor of ideas and along with his mentor & mate David Hume (1711-76) were key members of The Philosophical Club and The Select Society of Edinburgh; 'Humanists', 'Empiricists & 'Sceptics' of the Scottish Enlightenment. Empirical behaviour, not revelation, led to understanding but not to knowledge -

Theory of Moral Sentiments was not theological morality

Wealth of Nations was not selfish mercantilism

The clubbers of the Scottish Enlightenment in the lowlands of Glasgow & Edinburgh were full of the angst of the times at the antics of the highland Jacobites & religious wars and they understood & explained before the English themselves that there was an extraordinary revolution underway down south which exposed the myth of Mercantilism.

The atmosphere of the Scottish Enlightenment was different, Glasgow & Edinburgh University were open to Dissenters unlike Oxford & Cambridge ... in Scotland they sold learning, they were open for business.

The clubs were legion; important exchanges for ideas, and the clubs led to all sorts of hitherto unconnected connections. Interested folk formed these urban clubs for spontaneous social interaction; folk groups for the exchange of ideas where the like minded drank, laughed & argued on the pretext of food & drink, coffee & beer ...

There were many dissenting folks and many dissenting clubs all independent of Bishops, Princes, Generals and bureaucrats ...  and some created unsettling tsunamis of change ...

The Anderson Club, a discussion club in Glasgow boasted Adam Smith & James Watt as members.

At The University of Glasgow there was a model of Thomas Newcomen's atmospheric engine which in 1764 inspired James Watt now a brilliant young instrument maker to improve efficiency and stop the waste of steam heat.

But Smith's young colleague James Watt soon moved down to the action in Birmingham where there was another club ...

The Lunar Society BirminghamThe Lunar Society.

The Lunar Society was a gathering of like minded folk who displayed their collections and played with experiments but where serious issues were discussed, and where scientific method settled arguments. The club had habits which maintained a high value & quality of competitive output. Pontificating and tittle tattle got short shrift especially when the idle gossip turned to folk who weren't there to defend themselves ... they didn't play the blame game, hard life was too short and too complicated for that, they searched for understanding ... as for the regurgitation of hysterical political or religious dogma, they 'agreed to differ' and there other alternative clubs which were recruiting ... The Lunar Club was a club of science.

There was certainly an air of respect for the Edinburgh enlightenment; it was natural moral sentiments, excitement & fear and mutual understanding that led to excellence in science and the arts ... and reason was not all it was cracked up to be ... Rousseau's romantic idealism was OK and the revolution was OK but The Terror followed ...

Independence from the metropolis, party politics, the church & conventional wisdom was a boon, the many scientific clubs & academies like The Lunar Society enjoyed honest debate based on the evidence of observation, mathematical theory, testable hypothesis, experimental validation & peer review. With cooperative effort the laws of nature could be understood ... folk could begin to understand themselves!?

So who were these guys who called themselves 'lunaticks', with newfangled contrivances and excitedly chattering about freedom, change & crowd trouble? Guys who travelled miles just to be there and contribute to the excitement?

The Lunar Society comprised an extraordinary wealth of talent, all of them were into collections, experiments, science, agriculture, manufacturing, mining and transport ... they did much of the spade work of the Industrial Revolution -

Erasmus DarwinErasmus Darwin (1731-1802), of Nottingham, Chesterfield, Edinburgh, Lichfield & Derby, a man of gross intellect, a poet, an inventor, a botanist, a evolutionary perceptive ... a doctor who studied medicine at Edinburgh ... curious & confident about the big imponderables of constellations, minerals, plants, fossils, time, reactions, electricity, heat & light and the soul ... science affords us not a single argument for 'a designer', it was not magic but natural mechanics ... 'everything from shells'... from consilience emerged the first coherent theory of evolution, of competition and survival ... all the evidence seemed to collide with religious belief ...
Minerals were important as the earth was explored not by sweeping argument but by minute analysis, The Mosaic stories of John Whitehurst didn't work, all was the process of nature. Patterns were emerging, experiments that worked were repeatable, machines that work had to be copied & improved, replication and variation was everywhere.
Linnaeus was a hero for classification and hierarchy of organic life. Darwin suggested some species had vanished over time and new ones had appeared, how had families come about? Not only botany but apes & man were from the same family! Darwin was into everything, he could not keep subjects separate, each became a 'springboard to the whole face of nature' ... can the physiology of plants be compared to animals?
Darwin (and Watt) tried copying machines, learning was copying. But what pattern should the children follow? Education first, socially adept & immune from inevitable treachery, then happiness & fun in one's contribution rather than a higher or a lower 'measurement'.
Then 'The Botanic Garden', full of questions & curiosity, firing off in a myriad directions. And finally posthumously in 1803 'The Temple of Nature' ... whole person, physical, social & psychological with irritations, sensations, violations & associations ... the ability to sympathise, as imprinted patterns of experience were passed on to each new generation, free from the guiding hand of the Creator ...
'One great slaughterhouse the warring world', this was the inevitable cost of development and equally true of the competitive world of trade or of politics.
Darwin was close to Malthus of 1798 but he replaced gloom with the optimism of the Lunar Project!
At some stage Darwin, an academic doctor, met Matthew Boulton, his patient; a manufacturer of toys.

Matthew BoultonMatthew Boulton (1728-1809), of Lichfield, & Birmingham, a 'nice' man of manners, a man on the make, an entrepreneur, his dad made 'toys', Matt produced steam engines and money. He also had a great friend, the old & experienced Derby clock making sage John Whitehouse. In 1758 Benjamin Franklin visited. A year later in 1759 as the elder Pitt had his annus mirabilis Matt Boulton was intent on expanding his successful 'toy' production and looked for a water mill and in 1761 purchased Soho Mill and Soho House with barren commons ... was this robbing the poor of their miserable rights to existence, or providing a thousand men, women & children with jobs in his manufactory for 30 years?
John Fothergill, a Merchant was a partner but finance was a typical problem. How to fill the impossible gap from ideas to purchases to sales? Matt had married landed money, Mary Robinson, a distant cousin, daughter of a mercer and loaded!

Matt's small specialised linked workshops became a factory ... and soon all was under one roof for better trust, supervision & organisation of the book keeping ... and all clustered round one energy source, first a water wheel then a steam engine.
Matt's business was going the same way as his mate Josiah Wedgwood, the market was in London and overseas. Their promise was innovation; experimenting with new ideas for new products that excited the world ... like 'Blue John' vases & 'ormolu' gilded vases. But recruiting skilled craftsmen and trusted assistants was a continual problem ... this was at the time of unemployment riots?
The French sold toys to the rich and did well, Boulton & Wedgwood sold their fashions to the rich at high prices and then sold their toy and plates to the masses at low prices cashing in on specialised know how and economies of scale ... and they diversified ... silver was assayed in London or Chester which was intolerable and Boulton lobbied and won an assay office for Birmingham. Fashionable new beauty, affordable quality from a reputable name you could trust! Inevitably there were failures but Boulton drove on ... into steam power. There were other projects, copying machines, meteorology, copper alloys, balloons, oil lamps, but nothing beat steam.
Then came 'The Soho Mint'.

James WattJames Watt (1736-1819), of Greenock, a brilliant engineer, his dad was a merchant into ships & carpentry. James became an instrument maker. The  voyages of discovery required navigation instruments & clocks and the scientists of the scientific revolution required measuring instruments & telescopes & microscopes and the industrialists required such skills for their machines ... things were propitious, everybody needed instruments.
Scotland had 5 universities to England's 2, James worked at Glasgow University, and his mates were James Keir (1735-1820) of chemistry, glass, alkali & soap ... and Joseph Black (1728-99) of latent heat & carbon dioxide ... and William Small (1734-75) of 'good manners' & tutor to Thomas Jefferson ... and James Hutton (1726-97) of geological 'natural forces'.
Aggravated by failed experiments James was keen the make Newcomen's engine better ... and he did ... eventually. But he needed finance and his partner John Roebuck was in debt to Matthew Boulton ... things were slow.
The interregnum saw James Watt into canals in Scotland and he visited the Grand Turk folk in the midlands. It was Matt Boulton who lured him to Soho with a partnership in 1774. Watt's patent was from 1769 but there were other priorities, James had a family to feed.
Small died in 1775 and there was no glue anymore. but the dead man was at peace so better plunge back into work.
There was tax trouble in America but in 1775 the patent was extended, all systems go there were problems to solve. Stuffing boxes and accurately bored cylinders from 'Iron mad Jack' in Bersham and strong boiler plates from Nathaniel Ryder in Marston ... more power for less fuel. The orders flooded in and the ball game had changed. The mines of Cornwall were turned dry as the engine beasts clattered but skilled labour was still a problem, the locals were boorish. Richard Trevithick hadn't learned the refined manners of The lunaticks. Cash flow was a problem; original contracts were for royalties to be paid from fuel savings calculated by an counter on the engine. Image was a bankable asset, so it paid to be generous.
Overwork required a reliable assistant and William Murdock (-) was the man. A Scot thoroughly trained in the Soho workshops, a man of initiative and reliability, Watt trusted him. But Watt was a depressive, 'I am plagued with the blues' so Matt Boulton 'jollied him on', that's what friends were for. Matt also sorted out the finance.
39 engines were installed in 10 years. And then came double action, parallel action & rotary motion. By 1783 there was profit and by 1788 centrifugal governors.
Orders from millers, brewers, and all sorts followed. In 1786 there was a free trade treaty with France. But things were simmering in France.

Josiah WedgwoodJosiah Wedgwood (1730-1795), of Burslem & Etruria, an innovative potter, from a family of potters ... pots & pans had been around for ever, everybody needed the every day. In coalbrookdale they cast iron pots but Wedgwood's pots were different ... and beautiful. Porcelain and tin glaze came from China & Dresden, and kaolin from Cornwall, so Wedgwood copied. Experiments & bankruptcies followed. Salt glazed stoneware and transfer printing. Affordable but high quality and fashionable design. Economies of scale and specialised division of labour. Matthew Turner & Thomas Bentley were artistic inspirations, Dissenting soul mates from the Warrington Academy & Liverpool. But Josiah also met up with a practical man in Matt Boulton.
Interestingly Josiah's Royal patronage attracted his business to London. Birmingham didn't have an ocean port, and Liverpool and Hull were not reached by the Trent & Mersey canal until 1777 ... all was happening in London and road improvement was slow slow ... and Wedgwood, particularly needed reliable transport ... canals!
Sankey 1755-61, Bridgewater 1759-61, Trent & Mersey 1766-77) with a Staffs / Worcs link to Bristol. Wedgwood active in building 'The Grand Trunk' coalition of iron masters, potters, landowners, Bridgewater, Cheshire salt men, Baltic merchants, Darwin at Lichfield, the Weaver Navigation at one end the Trent Navigation at the other end. So many different interests had to be tied up. But wot a project! Lime for fields, coal for steam, flour for bread, timber for building, pots for every one ... transports was needed.
Wedgwood continued to drive on with cost effectiveness, solving practical production problems; simplification, standardisation, customisation, mechanisation, recycling, specialisation, production lines, chasers, piece work, cash flow, batch sizes, working conditions, whitewashing, good wages, insurance clubs, showrooms, salesmen, advertising, catalogues, exports ... and all the time, competition at home & abroad ... but the riots were most costly of all ... pamphlets were ineffective, Wedgwood published 'An Address to the young Inhabitants of the Pottery' but the businessmen had no voice in Parliament, party political ties never helped businessmen.
William Pitt had big debts and inevitably thought tax was the answer? Wedgwood was appalled by petty ignorant interference in business and the timidity of businessmen ... Westminster ran scared of riots & hatred, the mob were restless.
The solution for business, as The Lunaticks had learned, was to 'agree to differ' on politics & religion and get on with the job. But commerce faced too many intractable problems without an additional imposition of taxes. 
Then 'The Portland Vase'.

Joseph PriestleyJoseph Priestley (1733-1804), born in Yorkshire, raised by his Presbyterian aunt, a natural scholar, studied at Daventry Academy, a dissenting preacher at the warrington academy ... a materialist, not manacled by chains to any conventional wisdom of tyrannical authority. Warrington was lively & progressive and full of Merseyside merchants ...
He married Mary Wilkinson sister of Iron Mad Jack of Bersham.
The discoveries of nature were linked to social progress, moral sentiments was the foundation which led to science & the arts, self interest was synonymous with benevolence; Joseph was on the same kick as Adam Smith up in Glasgow.
And Benjamin Franklin had a club in London - 'The Club of Honest Whigs' - Priestley started to motor and wrote a book, 'The History & present State of Electricity' and declared 'no special genius was required for experiments' ... But was special genius required to discover oxygen? or was it just observing events arising from unknown causes? The discovery of oxygen was not designed, when Priestly heated the ash of mercury globules of mercury appeared and a colourless air rose from it which made a candle burn vigorously ... there was good air & bad air and this must be dephlogisticated air! Everybody knew that ...
Priestly also made soda water from fixed air which tasted good and he discovered photosynthesis ... without understanding it.
Priestly had a battle with the French, they suggested combustion was not the release of phlogiston it was oxidation. It seemed regularly that the British discovered but French explained. Darwin was the first to defect to French chemistry, 'chemical faith is not propagated by fire and sword' ...
Then Priestley moved into preaching Dissent, big time. It was a mistake, science suffered. In 1785 'The Importance & Extent of Free Enquiry' then abolition but above all the 1789 French Revolution gave hope to the Dissenters.
But party politics became involved, Burke argued that we had had our Glorious Revolution in 1688, the Established Church was free from King & Pope ... but the Dissenters, it seemed, were not free from the mob and their representatives in Parliament.
Dissenters were trouble for the mob and many Dissenters were businessmen so business was a whole brew of trouble.  A jumble of issues became 'a Presbyterian conspiracy to control the town'. Riots raged, Priestley's house was ransacked, forcing him to escape to America.

The mob turned not only on 'outspoken' Priestley but on the 'dangerous 'philosophers' and wealthy manufacturers of The Lunar Society' as they burnt the books of science. Burke got the wrong end of the stick, 'science was smeared with blood, its practitioners arrogant & uncaring' ... how could the Enlightenment Science of Adam Smith and Erasmus Darwin be described as arrogant & uncaring, but it seemed from now on it was dangerous to have letters after your name, the mob didn't understand ... science became dangerous, demonic and revolutionary ... science went underground ... although nothing could stop the industrial revolution ... although The Luddites tried ...
The libertarian mood had been lost but, perhaps, Burke was right to be concerned, The Terror follow The Revolution ... and anti Jacobin sentiment was cemented with yet more war with France ... but politics was the problem not science, politics led to war, it was science that was to lead to betterment.

Darwin, Boulton, Watt, Wedgwood & Priestley may have been the big guns but there were many others ... a host of visitors, correspondents and interested friends ... businessmen applying science to solve problems -

John Whitehurst (1713-88), of Derby, a clock maker.

William Small (1734-75), a Scottish doctor, in 1765 joined the group and William had taught Thomas Jefferson whilst in Virginia!

William Whithering (1741-99), took over when Small died.

Richard Lovell Edgeworth (1744-1817), of Dublin & Berkshire, inventor, progressive teacher and fan of Rousseau. But how could Rousseau, who questioned authority, championed simplicity, was against materialism, be reconciled with science & industry? Perhaps by education and 'rural innocence'? In 1780 Britain started importing wheat! Both Edgeworth & Day went into farming ...

Thomas Day (1748–89), follower of Edgeworth, abolitionist, who wrote 'The History of Sandford and Merton (1783-1789)', a bestselling children's book! And farmed for charity. The problems must be solved ... but there would always be thistles amongst the corn.

Samuel Galton (1753-1832), son of a Quaker gun maker, a Warrington student, tying The lunaticks to the Quakers.

Joseph Wright (1734-97), of Derby, John Whitehurst's home territory, and another of Darwin's patients, one of the Lichfield Circle of amateur scientists, who promoted the new science through nostalgic paintings of light ... and the old forges the iron forge 1772. Birmingham had long rung with the sound of anvils ...

... a massively fertile network of synergistic friends ... a flexible web of commerce & education as 'manners maketh man' ... upsetting the parasitic rich who used to get fat on the hard work of the poor who provided the true wealth of nations through hard work, honesty & thrift ... and, of course, all these men married girls who a essential part of the social intercourse and were more influential than they or anyone else ever knew ... as the girls always were!

It was, of course, Erasmus Darwin & Mary Howard (1740-70) who contrived to produce Robert Darwin (1766-1848) who was educated at Edinburgh & Leyden and doctored at Shrewsbury before marrying Susan Wedgwood (1765-1817) the lovely daughter of Josiah Wedgewood & his 3rd cousin, Sarah Wedgwood (1734–1815) ... and in Shrewsbury in 1809 Charles Darwin was born ... Charles was to go on to greater things ... he married Emma, his cousin, a Wedgwood!

And up in Glasgow James Watt was revered and clutched an Honorary Degree and he inspired a young engineer of promise - Thomas Telford ...

Some clubs that worked -

The Lunar Society, The Warrington Academy, The Club of Honest Whigs, The Royal Society, The Royal Institution, Freemasons, The Linnean Society, The Royal Astronomical Society, The Royal Academy for Arts, The Royal Institution, The Marylebone Cricket Club, The Cavern Club, Manchester United Football Club, The Pitt Club, The Diners Club, The Society of Friends ... informal clubs for Shakespeare, Mozart, Monet, Levis,  ...


'The Lunar Men: The Friends Who Made the Future 1730-1810' by Jenny Uglow, 2003.

'Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life' by Nicholas Phillipson, 2011.

1740 Brass introduced by the Taylor family drawing supplies from Bristol (1702), Cheadle (1717) & Macclesfield (1758)

1761 Matthew Boulton Soho Manufactory with funds for steam engines ...

1765 The Lunar Society brought geologists, chemists, scientists, engineers and theorists together to discuss new inventions and new ideas

1767 Canal to the coal depths of Wednesbury

1776 James Watt & Mathew Boulton and steam engines ...


back to Thomas Ryder