Spitalfields Mathematical Society

I was invited this afternoon to meet the new Executive Director of the Royal Astronomical Society, one of our neighbours in the courtyard, and to see some of the books in their library.   I was most struck by the fact that they have inherited books and manuscripts from the library of the Spitalfields Mathematical Society, a group which was established in Spitalfields in 1717 by Joseph Middleton to teach maths to sailors.   It met in a pub, the Monmouth’s Head, until 1725, when it moved to the White Horse in Wheeler Street.   Apparently about half its members were weavers – presumably Huguenot – and the rest were a motley crew of ‘brewers, braziers, bakers, bricklayers’. The Society existed until 1845 when its membership lapsed and was absorbed into that of the Royal Astronomical Society, founded in 1820.


4 thoughts on “Spitalfields Mathematical Society

  1. pbmum says:

    Not surprised about the weavers. When I did my first degree in Textile Technology I recall many an hour calculating all sorts of things and that anyone without A Level Maths had to do extra classes. While I can’t remember much that is useful and important (I struggle sometimes with my children’s birth dates) I can, for some reason, still half remember the equation for the velocity of propagation of a wave in a string. Knowing this was regarded as necessary to properly understand beaming the warp for a loom. The Spitalfields Mathematical Society sounds fascinating.


  2. I remember, though not much about its content, that Gwen Williams once wrote about the Spitalfields Mathematical Society and its politically radical aspect. Mathematics was indeed a fascinating subject for radical artisans on that time.

  3. It was of course Gwyn Williams rather than Gwen. He gave a talk on the subject in a rather small workshop held on the theme of artisans and politics in London, other speaker being Gordon Fyfe on engravers. Gwyn talked about Spitalfields silk weavers and their role in creating the Society.

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