Grid Reference: SP053891
Matthew Boulton's home in Handsworth, Birmingham, England, is now a museum celebrating his life, his partnership with James Watt and his membership of the Lunar Society. Boulton worked with architects James and Samuel Wyatt along with the furniture maker James Newton to create this fashionable and comfortable home in the Georgian style.
Boulton acquired the lease of the five-year-old Soho Mill in 1761 and developed it into Soho Manufactory, completed in 1766. In the same year he moved into the cottage nearby, changing it several times to become the present day Soho House, work on the current building began in 1789. It is faced with sheets of painted slate to give the appearance of large stone blocks. Work on extending the building was completed in 1796 following the submission of designs by James Wyatt, Samuel's brother, for the additions of a main entrance front.
The house and its contents celebrates Matthew Boulton's life, this being the place where he met with the greatest scientists and thinkers of the time, James Watt, Erasmus Darwin and Benjamin Franklin amongst them. Displays also tell the story of the Soho Mint and the stunning silver and ormolu that was produced in his nearby Manufactory.
It was in the dining room of this elegant house between 1765 and 1813 that Matthew Boulton entertained the leading scientists and inventors of the industrial age. The Lunar Society, as these gatherings became known, was a dinner club and informal learned society of prominent industrialists, natural philosophers and intellectuals. At first called the Lunar Circle, "Lunar Society" became the formal name by 1775. The name arose because the society would meet during the full moon, as the extra light made the journey home easier and safer (in the absence of street lighting). The members cheerfully referred to themselves as "lunaticks", a pun on lunatics.
The members of the Lunar Society were very influential in Britain. Amongst those who attended meetings more or less regularly were Matthew Boulton himself, Erasmus Darwin, Samuel Galton Junior, James Keir, Joseph Priestley, Jonathan Stokes, Josiah Wedgwood, James Watt, John Whitehurst and William Withering. More peripheral characters and correspondents included Sir Richard Arkwright, John Baskerville, Thomas Beddoes, Thomas Day, Richard Lovell Edgeworth, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Michell, William Murdoch, Anna Seward, William Small, John Smeaton, William Strutt, Thomas Wedgwood, John Wilkinson, Joseph Wright, James Wyatt, Samuel Wyatt, and Staffordshire member of parliament and investor John Levett. Antoine Lavoisier frequently corresponded with various members of the group, as did Benjamin Franklin, who also visited them in Birmingham on several occasions.
As the members grew older and died, the Lunar Society ceased to be very active and was closed in 1813. Most former members had died by 1820.
In the years between Boulton's leaving and the house becoming a museum, it had several uses, more recently as a residential hostel for police officers. The Soho Manufactory was demolished in 1863.
Soho House - http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/sohohouse