Exploring Local Heritage with Young People
Soho House, and the Strange Case of "Benjamin" Buckley - the Unknown Member of the Lunar Society
Report by the Local History Research Team at George Dixon Academy. Researcher: Annabelle Conley
Documents uncovered at Soho House, Birmingham, suggest that there may have been a dark secret in the history of the Lunar Society. It's all about a previously unknown member called Benjamin Buckley.
It appears that Benjamin Buckley might actually have been a woman, disguising herself as a man!
We discovered an unmarked box in the dusty cellars of Soho House, which has evidently not been opened for over two hundred years. In it, we found a letter, written to James Watt and signed by Matthew Boulton, which says: "I think Benjamin isn't who we think he is. Benjamin is actually Bertha Buckley, Benjamin's wife."
There is also a threatening letter from Watt to Benjamin, telling him/her: "Get out of town, do not share anything you have learnt with anyone about the society or the ideas in the society or something bad happens. ... I will go to extreme measures if you leak anything about the steam engine or any product I've made."
And there is also a desperate letter from Bertha to her husband, warning him that Watt "has found out" about her, and promising: "We will figure out how to get their secrets out on a later day."
Why did Bertha disguise herself as "Benjamin Buckley"? Was she spying on Watt, and trying to steal his designs? Or was she disguising herself as a man because it was the only way she could gain access to the all-male world of the Lunar Society? Did Watt actually steal HER ideas?
What happened to Benjamin/Bertha Buckley?
Why has her name been erased from the history books?
We may never know!
We are here publishing these mysterious letters - together with what might be the only portrait of Bertha in existence; and silhouette portraits of Bertha and Benjamin.
DISCLAIMER: The events and characters on this page have been made up. Everything else, of course, is true.
You can find out more about the real history of Soho House here: https://www.birminghammuseums.org.uk/soho