In Birmingham, several of its members have been Lord Mayor of England's second city. They worshipped at the Church of the Messiah, where they mingled with other dynastic families of that denomination, such as the Kenricks and the Chamberlains, with much intermarriage occurring between them. Several of the Martineaus are buried in Key Hill Cemetery, either in the family grave or separately.
The Martineaus came from a Huguenot immigrant background, and were noted in the medical, intellectual and business fields. Gaston Martineau, a surgeon in Dieppe, moved to Norwich after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes of 1685. Initially Calvinist dissenters, they raised their children to be bilingual in French and English.
Gaston's grandson David Martineau II (1726–1768) was the third generation of surgeons, and had five sons who made up the male line of Martineaus. By the fourth generation the family was divided into Anglicans and Unitarians.
The eldest of the five sons was Philip Meadows Martineau (1752–1829). A surgeon, Martineau was "one of the most distinguished lithotomists of his day". Apprenticed to the surgeon William Donne, who was noted for skill in lithotomy, he became a medical student at a number of universities, then returned in 1777 to become Donne's partner, and carried on his speciality. Henry Southey was his student. He had one daughter. In 1793 he purchased the Bracondale Woods on the outskirts of Norwich and in 1811 the adjacent property of Carrow Abbey. He built Bracondale Hall, described in 1847 as a "handsome mansion with pleasure grounds delightfully laid out". From the ruins of Carrow Abbey, Martineau also constructed on his estate a "small gothic priory with windows of ancient stained glass". By 1879, this estate, including the Manor of Carrow, had been sold following the death (in 1877) of Martineau's daughter - Miss Frances Anne Martineau.
The second son, David Martineau, had four sons and six daughters and the third, Peter Finch Martineau, had four sons and two daughters. The fourth son, John Martineau of Stamford Hill, had 14 children, including John Martineau the engineer. The three brothers conducted business together in London. The fifth son, Thomas, is mentioned below.