Adventures in Time and Space

moon

Matthew Boulton was a founding member of the Lunar Society. The group were made up of 14 members who would meet once a month during a full moon. These meetings would often take place at Boulton’s home, Soho House, in the dining room, now known as The Lunar Room. The group was comprised of some of the greatest minds of the period and contributed to scientific understanding.

Original table that the Lunar Society sat at.

The Lunar Room at Soho House with the original table that the Lunar Society sat at.

The other founding member was Doctor Erasmus Darwin. Physician, botanist, zoologist and grandfather of Charles Darwin. An enormous man in both personality and stature, Darwin had an enormous appetite for ‘natural philosophy’ and scientific discovery. In his most famous work ‘Zoonomia’ Darwin anticipated natural selection. He is also credited with inventing a steering device for his carriage that would be adopted for cars more than 130 years later.

Erasmus Darwin's portrait

Erasmus Darwin’s portrait displayed in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Darwin's study at Erasmus Darwin Museum, Lichfield

Darwin’s study at Erasmus Darwin Museum, Lichfield

Like Darwin, Boulton was also fascinated by the beauty that occurred in the natural world and kept a fossilry at Soho House. This room has specially commissioned cabinets which hold forty specimens drawers for Boulton’s vast collection of fossils and minerals.

Drawer with shells

Drawer with shells in the fossilry at Soho House

Variety of minerals

Variety of minerals from Soho House

Other members of the Lunar society included Josiah Wedgewood, best known for his beautiful pottery and skill as a chemist; Joseph Priestley who discovered several ‘airs’ including oxygen and invented soda water; James Watt, Boulton’s business partner at Soho and engineer who improved the efficiency of the steam engine.

Statue of James Watt

Statue of James Watt in Chamberlain square, Birmingham

Statues of Joseph Priestley

Statue of Joseph Priestley in Chamberlain square, Birmingham

The collection at Soho House reflects the interests and contributions Boulton and the Lunar Society made to 18th century Britain.

Some of the Wedgewood collection at Soho House

Some of the Wedgewood collection at Soho House

The collection at Soho also includes several time pieces. The pendulum clock was invented in 1656, only a century before Soho House was built. The longcase clock (also known as the grandfather clock) was first created to house the pendulum and works by the English clockmaker William Clement in 1670 or 1671.

Grandfather clock at Soho House

Grandfather clock at Soho House

The most famous clock in the collection is the Ormolu Clock. A popular style in France, ormolu is the process of grinding gold, mixing it with mercury and gilding it to bronze and other metals at high temperature. There are two ormolu time pieces at Soho, the most famous being the Sidereal Clock in the Drawing Room. Sidereal time uses the position of a star to measure the days, hours and minutes. The star will be found in nearly the same location on another night at the same sidereal time. However, unlike solar time which relies upon the sun, sidereal is much more exact. A sidereal day is about 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4.0916 seconds. It does not account for longer days depending on the earths position, nor leap years. The exactness of sidereal time is most probably is reason it never gained in popularity.

Gold ormolu sidereal clock

Gold ormolu sidereal clock at Soho House

As well as treasures from the land, Boulton looked to the skies for answers to the world around him. Astronomy and meteorology were two of his passions. The earliest recorded working telescopes were the refracting telescopes developed by Lippershey, Janssen and Metius in 1608 in the Netherlands and soon after improved by Galileo.

Originally Boulton intended to have an observatory built in the grounds of Soho House, but for what ever reason this was never fully realised. He did however have a telescope positioned on the roof of the house. He was so obsessed with keeping weather records that when away on business his daughter Anne would observe changes for him. In his twilight years he still insisted on viewing the stars from the roof, even on bitterly cold nights.

Boulton's study

Boulton’s study at Soho House, with lunar globe on desk. Boulton kept meticulous lists of his scientific equipment

The land around Soho House was slowly sold acre at a time by Bouton’s grandson. A inner city built up area today, the views enjoyed by Boulton in the 18th century would have been very rural. You can experience a taste of this on the  Heritage Open Weekend (13th and 14th of September) when we will be offering free rooftop tours.

View from the roof of Soho House

View from the roof of Soho House

Another view from the roof of Soho House

Another view from the roof of Soho House

We will also be celebrating the achievements and inventions of the Lunar Society on 6th September with a free family event ‘Crazy Science‘.

crazy science

A frame advertising the free ‘Crazy Science’ event at Soho House on Saturday 6th Sept

For more information on all upcoming events at Soho House visit: www.bmag.org.uk/events

Louise Deakin,
Visitor Services Assistant,
Soho House

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