April 2021 Newsletter Historic Person Societies

Robert Hooke (1635-1703) is not the only person from history to have a dedicated society. For this newsletter I have reviewed similar societies to see what might be gleaned.

RHS members may consider it poetic justice that Isaac Newton does not have a society, but Nottingham Trent University has nevertheless established an Isaac Newton Club for those wanting to make donations to the University. The Isaac Newton Academy, Ilford Essex, was founded in 2012. There is also a Newton International Fellowship Scheme. As the longest serving president at his death, Newton may have regarded the Royal Society his.

The (Christopher) Wren Society is a secret society, founded in 1832 as part of the College of William & Mary in Virginia. The Society lapsed during the Civil War but was restored. Unfortunately, it does not publicly promote the memory of Wren.

Robert Boyle has no society, which is a pity as he was a great scientist and support to Hooke.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was not a contemporary of Hooke but was a pioneer of the scientific method. The Francis Bacon Society was established in 1886 and since that time ‘has engaged in a collective effort to understand the unique power and resonance of Elizabethan literature and life. In particular it has concentrated on the Shakespeare writings, and Bacon’s philosophy and public work’. ‘The Society continues to present original research and foster new Baconian approaches through its meetings. Baconians have also produced a wide range of books, some of which contain gems of amateur scholarship that need to be rescued and disseminated beyond their unorthodox context. Above all, the Society is itself a remarkable information resource, a repository of expertise, enthusiasm and initiative which welcomes the active participation of its members. Membership of the society is £25 a year’.

Pepys was well known to Hooke. The Samuel Pepys Club was founded in 1903.

‘We welcome those with a genuine interest in Samuel Pepys and his world to apply for membership. We are a sociable Club with members drawn from all walks of life and backgrounds; our activities include a broad range of events from formal dinners and lectures to ad hoc outings, guided visits and lunch meetings.

Membership is by election and applicants are required to complete a form stating their background and their areas of interest in Pepys. A Proposer and Seconder from within the Club are normally required but if this is not possible, we ask applicants to be available for interview either in person or by phone or Skype. All applications are submitted to the Committee for consideration.

Membership incurs a modest subscription of £40 per annum payable each January. Members receive a Newsletter, invitations to the various events organised by the Club, regular information about items of interest and access to fellow Club members in order to share thoughts, views and reflections on Samuel and his life.

Our main annual event is our formal Dinner held at a historic City of London venue where we are addressed by our President, the Rt Hon Earl of Sandwich, and by a distinguished guest speaker and enjoy good food and wine, live music and the company of fellow members and their guests. Other annual events include the Lecture given by a celebrated Pepysian and the Commemoration Service held at St Olave’s, Hart St (where Pepys worshiped and his buried) to mark the anniversary of Pepys’s death. Please note that the Samuel Pepys Club is restricted to a maximum of 140 members, plus a maximum of twenty overseas members, so there may be a waiting list for approved applicants’.

Society of King Charles the Martyr was founded in 1894 as an Anglican devotional society. King Charles II might well regard the Royal Society as his, but he was no scientist. Charles II was interested in the arts but his friend Nell Gwyn also does not have a society.

The Cromwell Association was formed in 1937.The purpose of the Association is to advance the education of the public in both the life and legacy of Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), politician, soldier and statesman, and the wider history of the seventeenth century. The Association carries out the following activities for the benefit of the public:

  • campaigns for the preservation and conservation of buildings and sites relevant to Cromwell,
  • commissions, on behalf of the association, or in collaboration with others, plaques, panels and monuments at sites associated with Cromwell,
  • supports and encourages the Cromwell Museum and Cromwell Collection in Huntingdon, provides, within the competence of the Association, advice to the media on all matters relating to the period,
  • encourages interest in the period in all phases of formal education by the publication of reading lists, information and web based resources,
  • publishes news and information about the period, including an annual journal and regular newsletters,
  • organises an annual service, day schools, conferences, lectures, and other educational events,
  • provides a web-based resource for researchers in the period including students, genealogists and interested parties,
  • offers from time-to-time grants, awards and prizes to individuals and organisations working towards the objectives stated above.


I feel the RHS should be proud of what it has achieved. Historic Person Societies are not that prolific and not always open to the public. Some, for example the Francis Bacon Society have a long heritage and accumulated resources. Other societies are perhaps on the exclusive side. The RHS could always consider restricting its membership to 100 on Island with no more than 20 overseas (mainland) members (we currently have 50 members). However, the RHS best not consider vetting.


Author:  Paul Bingham