Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society

The Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, popularly known as the Lit & Phil, is a learned society in Manchester, England.

Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society
Formation28 February 1781
TypeLearned society
Registration no.235313
Legal statusCharity
PurposePromoting the advancement of education and the widening of public interest in the appreciation of any form of literature, science, the arts, and public affairs.
HeadquartersManchester, United Kingdom
Region served
Manchester and Greater Manchester
Official language
Research & Publications, Lectures & Events
Library, Archives
Dr Susan R. Hilton


Established in 1781 as the Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester,[1] by Thomas Percival, Thomas Barnes and Thomas Henry,[2] other prominent members have included Robert Owen,[3] John Dalton, James Prescott Joule, Tom Kilburn, Peter Mark Roget, Ernest Rutherford and Joseph Whitworth.[4] The first formal meeting of the society took place on 14 March 1781. Meetings were held in a back room of the Cross Street Chapel until December 1799, after which the society moved into its own premises in George Street.[5] From the outset it was an exclusive organisation, with membership being costly and determined by ballot. Its influence was considerable despite, for example, having only 178 members in 1842. Around that time, the membership included around a dozen people who were also involved with running the Anti-Corn Law League.[6]

The Society's original premises were destroyed during the Manchester Blitz around January 1941, at which time its library comprised over 50,000 volumes as well as historic artefacts and portraits.[7][8] Its replacement, built in the 1960s, was constructed using high alumina cement (referred to as having "concrete cancer") and was demolished in the 1980s. The Lit & Phil now usually meets in one of three hired lecture theatres: the Royal Northern College of Music, the Manchester Conference Centre, or MANDEC (Manchester Dental Education Centre), all of which are within a short distance of each other. The society operates from an office situated in Church House, on Deansgate, Manchester, and has two permanent staff.[citation needed]

The Lit & Phil offers over 30 lectures or similar events each year, one every week of the academic term. It became a registered charity (No. 235313) in 1964, and is a private members' society (three or four events each year are restricted to members and their guests only), and has more than 400 members. As a charitable institution the society encourages members of the public to attend most of its lectures to improve the further and higher education of those living in Greater Manchester. The most prestigious lectures are the Percival and Manchester Lectures, and in some years the most distinguished speakers are presented with the Dalton Medal. The Society also holds three lectures annually specifically for Young People. Since the local universities ceased offering extra-curricular courses the Lit & Phil has seen an increase in both membership and in the attendance of non-members at lectures.[citation needed]

The society's Memoirs and Proceedings, first published in 1783, was at the time of its launch the only regular scientific journal in the United Kingdom except for the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.[9] The Manchester Memoirs has been published continuously since the first edition. It contains the transactions of the society (most notably the text of many recent lectures) and is distributed to members and to similar institutions and libraries throughout the world by subscription. Copies are also available for purchase by non-members.[citation needed]

Dalton MedalEdit

The Dalton Medal of the Society is a distinction rarely bestowed and is the Society’s highest award. It is given to those who have made a distinguished contribution to science. Since 1898 the medal has only been awarded on 15 occasions. All recipients have been Fellows of the Royal Society and many have been Nobel Prize winners. Several have Manchester and University of Manchester/Owens College connections with the Departments of Physics and Astronomy, Chemistry and Engineering. Only one woman, so far, has been awarded this medal.[10]


  • 1898 Henry Edward Schunck (1820-1903) was an English chemist and expert on natural dyestuffs. He was born in Manchester and lived in Kersal, Salford where he died. He started his studies in Manchester with William Henry. He bequeathed his laboratory to Owens College and it was moved in 1906 to Burlington Street where it is still known as the Schunck Building. The Schunck Library is in the Chemistry Department.
  • 1900 Henry Enfield Roscoe (1833-1915) was an English chemist noted for his work on the element vanadium and for photochemical studies. He was the grandson of the famous William Roscoe of Liverpool, cousin of Stanley Jevons and uncle to Beatrix Potter. Educated at the Liverpool Institute for Boys and with Robert Bunsen in Heidelberg. Appointed 2nd Professor of Chemistry at Owens College, Manchester and held post from 1857 to 1886. MP for Manchester South 1885 to 1895.
  • 1903 Osborne Reynolds (1842-1912) was a British engineer, physicist and educator. He was Professor of Civil and Mechanical Engineering at Owens College, Manchester from 1868 to 1904.
  • 1919 Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937) was a New Zealand physicist and is consider to be the father of nuclear physics. He was the Professor of Physics at the University of Manchester from 1907-1919 where he split the atom in a building on Coupland Street. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1908.
  • 1931 Joseph J Thomson (1856-1940) was an English experimental physicist born in Cheetham Hill in Manchester who enrolled at Owens College in 1870. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1906. His son, Professor Sir George Paget Thomson, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1937.
  • 1942 William Lawrence Bragg (1890-1971) was an Australian-born British physicist and X-ray crystallographer. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1915 with his father and became its youngest ever recipient. He was the Langworthy Professor of Physics at the University of Manchester from 1919 to 1937.
  • 1948 Patrick Blackett (1897-1974) was an English experimental physicist and cosmologist. He was the Langworthy Professor of Physics at the University of Manchester from 1937 to 1953. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1948.
  • 1966 Cyril Norman Hinshelwood (1897-1967) was an English physical chemist. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1956.
  • 1981 Dorothy Hodgkin (1910-1994) was a British biochemist who developed protein crystallography. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1964.
  • 1997 Harold Kroto (1939-2016) was an English chemist famous for his discovery of fullerenes and is most famously associated with buckminsterfullerene C60 (buckyballs). Educated at the University of Sheffield. He was a great promoter of science education, particularly for young people and a huge ambassador for the public engagement of science. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1996.
  • 2002 Walter Fred Bodmer (born 1936) is a German-born British human geneticist who was educated at Manchester Grammar School.
  • 2005 Roger Penrose (born 1931) is an English mathematical physicist, mathematician and philosopher of science.
  • 2009 Bernard Lovell (1913-2012) was an English physicist and radio astronomer. He established and was the first Director of the Jodrell Bank Observatory at the University of Manchester.
  • 2012 Martin Rees (born 1942) is a British cosmologist and astrophysicist. Born in Shropshire he has the title The Lord Rees of Ludlow. He has been the Astronomer Royal since 1995.
  • 2016 Konstantin Novoselov (born 1974) is a Russian-British physicist, and Langworthy Professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Manchester.

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ Makepeace 1984, p. 19
  2. ^ The making of a social reformer at OpenLearn
  3. ^ Manchester 1786–1799, Robert Owen Museum, retrieved 26 August 2011
  4. ^ About us, Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, archived from the original on 28 April 2009, retrieved 10 January 2010
  5. ^ Makepeace 1984, p. 75
  6. ^ Pickering & Tyrell 2000, p. 226
  7. ^ Sheehan 1941
  8. ^ "Scientific Treasures Destroyed: Manchester's Raid Losses". The Observer. 19 January 1941. p. 7.
  9. ^ Makepeace 1984, p. 20
  10. ^ Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, retrieved 17 July 2016


  • Makepeace, Chris E. (1984), Science and Technology in Manchester: Two Hundred Years of the Lit. and Phil., Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society Publications, ISBN 0-902428-04-7
  • Pickering, Paul; Tyrell, Alex (2000), The People's Bread: A History of the Anti-Corn Law League, Bloomsbury Publishing, ISBN 978-0-56720-497-4
  • Sheehan, Donal (December 1941), "The Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society", Isis, 33 (4): 519–523, JSTOR 330627

External linksEdit