Friday, April 3, 2009

Celebrating Matthew Boulton in 2009

2009 is not just the bicentenary of the births of Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln and the death of Thomas Paine, but also the 200th anniversary of the death of Matthew Boulton, the English manufacturer, Lunar Society member, Fellow of the Royal Society and close friend of Charles Darwin's grandfathers, Erasmus Darwin and Josiah Wedgwood. 

Boulton was one of Birmingham's most famous sons. He established a foundry in Soho, to the north of the city centre (now in Handsworth), where he pioneered the manufacture of metal artwork. Through his collaboration with, and financial support for, James Watt, Boulton played a pivotal role in turning the "Boulton and Watt" steam engine into a commercial success and thus ushering in Britain's emergence as the first industrialised nation.

It was my great pleasure last year to accompany Emma Darwin, the novelist, during a visit to Boulton's home, Soho House, which is now a museum, which re-creates vividly his life and that of his fellow "lunaticks", who often met during the nights of the full moon at Boulton's home--the moonlight ensured a safe ride home (to Stoke on Trent for Wedgwood or to Lichfield for Erasmus Darwin).

A range of Boulton celebratory activities are underway this year (see, including a conference organised by my own university, The University of Birmingham. Unfortunately, it occurs at precisely the same time as the Cambridge Darwin Festival (to which I have already paid my subscription). But if you are sick and tired of Darwin and instead want to celebrate Matthew Boulton, contact Professor Peter Jones in the Department of Modern History on

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