Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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Society of Arts

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1753 The drawing master and social activist William Shipley published a proposal for a fund to support improvements in the liberal arts, sciences and manufactures, with revenues to be raised through subscription. The initiative derived from the Dublin Society for improving Husbandry, Manufactory and other Useful Arts.

1754 The resulting organisation, the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, first met at Rawthmell's coffee house in Covent Garden.

Shipley believed that the creativity of ideas could enrich social progress - this was effected through a range of awards offered; for the first 100 years the Society encouraged innovation and excellence through this scheme in six areas - Agriculture, Manufacture, Chemistry, Mechanics, Polite Arts, Colonies and Trade.

Awards were offered for drawing, and for the production of cobalt and madder (dye). The Society's first medals were awarded in 1756. Early members included Benjamin Franklin, William Hogarth and Samuel Johnson

1757 the Society conferred awards for spinning in workhouses and for carpet manufacture and - in response to severe deforestation over the previous century and to boost the availability of timber for shipbuilding and industry - began to offer prizes for tree-planting.

1758 Its awards were divided into classes: Agriculture, Chemistry, Colonies & Trade, Manufactures, Mechanics and Polite Arts (painting and the plastic arts).

The Society soon became informally known as the Society of Arts.

1760 It held London's first exhibition of the works of living artists.

Offered awards for the reduction of smoke emissions as early as 1770

After a period in temporary premises, the Society moved in 1774 to premises in the Adelphi (just behind the Strand) designed by Robert Adam, its Great Room decorated with allegorical paintings (1777-1801) by James Barry, where it remains.

1783 First publication of the Transactions

1847 Granted a Royal Charter.

1850 contributed to the organisation of the 1851 Great Exhibition

1850 Discontinued the programme of awards; instituted a programme of lectures on contemporary subjects.

1857 The Council of the Society of Arts had learned that a memorial had been presented to Lord Palmerston by the Royal Society, embodying several suggestions as to the most effective means of promote the study of science, and to advance the general intelligence of the people. The Council presented its own memorial which supported that of the Royal Society in many ways. The deputation is listed under: 1857 Society of Arts.[1]

At some point, certainly by 1863, the lecture series presented to members of the Society and others were referred to as Cantor Lectures[2][3]

1866 Instituted the "Blue Plaque" scheme marking significant buildings in London

1908 Gained the right to use the name Royal Society of Arts

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The Engineer 1857/03/13
  2. The Times, Dec 14, 1863
  3. The Times, Nov 07, 1878