As an ardent teenage Trekkie, I became obsessed with Spock’s planet, Vulcan. In the 4th century AD, while the Roman Empire fragmented, the Vulcans had subordinated their competitive impulses to cooperative ones, and built a reason-based communitarian society where humanoids’ basic needs were universally fulfilled.
|Vulcan Collaborates (Dirck van Baburen)|
Yet Vulcan always had his fans amongst smiths and metalworkers, as a dapper Roman bronze Vulcan found in North Yorkshire implies. And exactly coincidental with the industrial revolution, a heroic, un-comic, non-lame, non-cowardly and inspirational Vulcan suddenly emerged. At first he was adopted by the owners of foundries, as in this cheque issued by Dowlais Ironworks in South Wales in 1813. On the right stands Britannia, but on the left, a near-naked, muscular Vulcan stands with his anvil and hammer in front of the works, leaning on one foot and modelled on the ‘Farnese Hercules’.
Vulcan was soon adopted by the organised working class, appearing by 1825 on the membership tokens of Mechanics Institutes alongside Minerva (representing education) and Mercury (trade & communications). Vulcan also revealed his progressive face in the campaign to stop small children being forced up chimneys by lighted coals when Lemuel Wellman Wright’s mechanical brushes were marketed as instruments in the campaign against the use of children by adult sweeps: ‘Wright's Patent Vulcan Chimney Sweeping Machines: the only efficient supporters of the law against climbing boys’. Plural Vulcans appeared on Godfrey Sykes’ class-conscious adaptation of the Parthenon frieze for the Sheffield Mechanics Institute in 1854.
|The Parthenon Frieze re-imagined for Sheffield Steel Workers|