Welcome to the Lit & Phil.
The Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society was established in 1781, with the object of promoting the advancement of education and public interest in any form of literature, science, arts or public affairs. It is the first and oldest Literary and Philosophical Society in the World, and the second oldest Learned Society in the United Kingdom. Its past members have included Roget, Dalton, Joule, Fairbairn, Kilburn and Rutherford; it now has about 400 members, mainly in the Manchester area.
The Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, founded on 28 February 1781, is the second oldest learned society in Britain. Many of the founding members were medical men, resident in the King St-Piccadilly area of the city; the earliest meetings took place in a room in the original Cross St Chapel, but in 1799 the Society moved to 36 George Street, which remained its home until the Blitz of 1940. From 1960-1980 the Society enjoyed the facilities of its rebuilt home, but since 1981 has not had its own premises; today it operates from an office and small library within Manchester Metropolitan University.
By the 1860s, membership had expanded to over 200, and included prominent merchants, engineers and manufacturers. Women were not admitted to membership until the beginning of the 20th century. Many famous scientists, engineers, physicists and mathematicians have been members of the Society, the most famous being John Dalton, the ‘father of modern chemistry’, a member from 1794 until his death in 1844. Much of his original research was done in a laboratory at the Society’s George Street House. Other notable past members include Dalton’s gifted pupil James Prescott Joule, Peter Mark Roget, the originator of the Thesaurus; William Fairbairn the engineer; Henry Roscoe the chemist; Ernest Rutherford the nuclear physicist; Joseph Whitworth the precision engineer as well as Professor Tom Kilburn and Alan Turing, computing pioneers. However, the membership has never been exclusively scientific or academic. Today, a wide range of professional as well as academic backgrounds are represented in the membership and there is a good male-female balance.
Because of the Blitz, lack of permanent large premises, changing methods of publishing and availability of information, the Library is much smaller than in its 19th century hey-day, but it still contains a complete set of the Society’s Memoirs and Proceedings from vol I, 1785 as well as various drawings and other material. Most of the surviving artefacts, Dalton manuscripts, and similar are available for consultation at either the University of Manchester John Rylands Library, the Science Museum or MOSI. The Hon Curator & Librarian is always pleased to help with historical inquiries about the Society or its membership.
The Society was established for promoting the advancement of education and the widening of public interest in and appreciation of any form of literature, science, the arts and public affairs provided that no activity involving unbalanced discussion either of party politics or of theology likely to provoke division or controversy shall be included in the pursuit of these objects.
In pursuing these objectives during the last 200 years, the Society has set high standards in subject choice and audience participation in its programme. This reputation is an important factor in attracting prominent speakers who are active in significant contemporary issues.
The Lit and Phil is an outward looking organisation and has never been an exclusive club for intellectuals; rather it is for people with lively minds and a common interest in learning about and discussing a range of topics. Among the Lit and Phil’s continuing strengths is the wide and varied range of occupations and interests of its members. Membership of the Society now numbers some 400, and is spread throughout Greater Manchester and the North West of England.
As a charitable society the members play an important part in promoting education to the wider public of all ages including students of school age. This important remit is carried out using lectures, symposia, seminars, demonstrations and public interviews.
The Manchester Lit and Phil is not a private or Government Body, but a Membership based Charity which depends upon its members to continue to support the cause and of course, enjoy participating in the organised events.
The Lit and Phil positively welcomes new members, many of whom join after attending events as guests of the Society.
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If you cannot find what you are looking for on this website then you can get in touch with the Lit and Phil Office on 0161 247 6774. We are usually open Monday-Thursday between 9am and 5pm. Outside of office hours, please email admin[at]manlitphil.ac.uk using this link.
Our office address is:
Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society
Mabel Tylecote Building