Inventor James Watt was one of the original members of The Lunar Society – a dinner club and informal society of prominent figures in the late 18th century.
In recent years, the Society has been re-established to provide a lively forum for people to influence change by sharing stimulating ideas and debate – and “catalysing action”.
A spokesman said: “Today’s Society includes leading practitioners from all walks of life in Birmingham and the wider region. Those that join are prepared to help shape the scientific, political and social agenda not just in Birmingham and the West Midlands, but nationally and internationally. The Society actively works with other like-minded organisations to provide a dynamic programme of activities for its membership to influence change through focusing and informing debate, linking social, economic, scientific and cultural thinking, and catalysing action on issues critical to the common good.”
Although Watt was born in Greenock in the west of Scotland, he spent much of his later life in the Birmingham area.
The engineer moved to the city in 1775 to enter into a partnership with Matthew Boulton (1728-1809) to manufacture an improved steam engine. Watt also developed the concept of horsepower and invented the ‘sun and planet’ mechanism to enable rotary power.
The firm of Boulton & Watt was highly successful and Watt became a wealthy man. He built himself a new house, Heathfield Hall in Handsworth (demolished in 1927), and also acquired Doldowlod, a country estate in Radnorshire in Wales. Following his retirement in 1800 he continued to develop new inventions in his workshop at Heathfield. These included a machine that could produce three dimensional copies of sculpture.
Watt died at Heathfield in 1819 aged 83.
Birmingham is home to a wealth of heritage related to James Watt. The Library of Birmingham holds the ‘Archives of Soho’ (four major collections relating to the business activities and personal lives of James Watt and his partner Matthew Boulton), whilst Birmingham Museums Trust’s collections include a large quantity of material acquired at Sotheby’s James Watt Sale in 2003 and Sir Thomas Lawrence’s fine three quarter length portrait of Watt painted in 1812. All of this material was acquired with the support of local charitable trusts, the Art Fund, the ACE/V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Watt-related historic sites in Birmingham include:
- Handsworth Parish Church, where Watt is buried;
- Aston Hall, home to James Watt Junior;
- Soho House the former home of Matthew Boulton;
- the Jewellery Quarter, where Watt lived for a time;
- Thinktank, home to the Smethwick Engine (the oldest working steam engine in the world); and
- The Assay Office Birmingham, which holds a variety of material linked to Watt (and who was one of its Guardians).
With thanks to The Lunar Society in Birmingham.