Founded in 1710, the Spalding Gentlemen’s Society is Britain’s oldest surviving provincial learned society. Since 1955, its charitable purpose has been: ‘To promote and foster among the public knowledge, appreciation and the study of …’ what we now call the Arts, Sciences and Humanities. It is a membership society that welcomes women, notwithstanding its history and name. Membership is open to anyone aged eighteen or over.
Early in the eighteenth century, lawyer Maurice Johnson came back to Spalding having completed his training in London. Coffeehouses flourished in London, meeting places where a vibrant social circle eagerly discussed the news, new discoveries and inventions, new publications. Johnson wanted to replicate this stimulating circle in his home town and gathered a group of men to meet in a newly opened coffeehouse. Over the ensuing decades, the Society attracted eminent locals and also men of national stature (as corresponding members) such as Sir Isaac Newton. Johnson and his friend William Stukeley were instrumental in re-founding the Antiquarian Society in London, and Stukeley was a member of the Royal Society’s governing body.
From its early days, the Society has collected ‘curious’ things, established an important library and an archive holding. It was donations by members and also specific purchases that made possible the accumulation of many items, some of national and international importance. There is also much that relates to the rich local heritage. As a museum collection in Britain, only the Ashmolean’s in Oxford has a longer history.