This study will concentrate initially on the last quarter of the 18th century and the first quarter of the 19th. This is the period of the American War of Independence, the French Revolution and the dawn of the industrial era. Here we have Boulton and Watt in Birmingham developing steam engines, Josiah Wedgwood inventing new processes for pottery production and Richard Arkwright introducing mechanised cotton spinning to build an industrial empire. Alongside them we have Joseph Priestley, Unitarian minister and pioneering chemist. In Manchester there was John Dalton, the Quaker from Cumberland, who became a school master and developed the Atomic Theory of matter, which underpins today's chemistry and atomic physics. Then there were the physicians and surgeons such as Thomas Percival in Manchester, the founder of modern medical ethics and Charles White, a farsighted obstetrician and one of the founders of the Manchester Royal Infirmary. In the Midlands there was Erasmus Darwin, whose early ideas on evolution were subsequently brought to fruition by his grandson, Charles. In addition there was William Withering, who developed the use of foxglove in the treatment of heart failure in a pioneering clinical trial. This period sees many other changes such as the rise of Methodism, and Thomas Paine's views on the rights of man. These will be explored briefly in examining the intellectual climate of the period.

Why did so many of the leading thinkers and entrepreneurs of the age come from Manchester and Birmingham rather than the more populous London? Why were so many of them from the old dissenting movements - the Quakers and Unitarians? England's only two universities, Oxford and Cambridge, did not admit people who were not Anglicans and this situation pertained at Oxford until the late 19th century. What was happening there in the late 18th century? These are some of the fascinating questions that I am addressing in an essay. This project is at an early stage but I plan to cover the following topics.


The Cross Street Chapel in Manchester
The Dissenting Academies, particularly at Warrington and Manchester
The Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society: early members and papers
The Lunar Society
The Portico Library in Manchester

Potted Biographies

Manchester Lit. & Phil. and Portico Library Men The Lunar Society Other Entrepreneurs
John Dalton Matthew Boulton Richard Arkwright of Cromford
Thomas Henry and his son William Henry Erasmus Darwin Samuel Gregg of Quarry Bank Mill.
Thomas Percival Joseph Priestley Samuel Need of Nottingham
Charles White James Watt Charles Roe of Macclesfield
John Ferriar William Withering Jedediah Strutt of Derby
Peter Mark Roget Josiah Wedgwood Samuel Oldknow
John Aikin . .


Watt Dalton Priestley
James Watt John Dalton Joseph Priestley


Wedgwood spacer Erasmus Darwin
Josiah Wedgwood   Erasmus Darwin


The statues of James Watt and Joseph Priestley stand in the centre of Birmingham close to the museum. The statue of Josiah Wedgwood is outside the Wedgwood Visitor Centre at Barlaston in Staffordshire. The statue of John Dalton is in Manchester Town Hall and the plaque showing Erasmus Darwin is at Lichfield Cathedral. (Photos by Craig Thornber, September and October 2003, April 2004 and February 2005.)


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