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Labour Party (UK)
by Wikipedia
Accessed: 4/10/20

Thomas Davidson was the occasion rather than the cause of the founding of the Fabian Society. His socialism was ethical and individual rather than economic and political. He was spiritually a descendant of the Utopians of Brook Farm and the Phalanstery, and what he yearned for was something in the nature of a community of superior people withdrawn from the world because of its wickedness, and showing by example how a higher life might be led. Probably his Scotch common sense recoiled from definitely taking the plunge: I am not aware that he ever actually proposed that his disciples should form a self-contained community. In a lecture to the New York Fellowship of the New Life, he said, "I shall set out with two assumptions, first, that human life does not consist in material possession; and second, that it does consist in free spiritual activity, of which in this life at least material possession is an essential condition." There is nothing new in this: it is the common basis of all religions and ethical systems. But it needs to be re-stated for each generation, and so stated as to suit each environment. At the time that I am describing Davidson's re-statement appealed to the small circle of his adherents, though the movement which he started had results that he neither expected nor approved....

In the autumn of 1883 Thomas Davidson paid a short visit to London and held several little meetings of young people, to whom he expounded his ideas of a Vita Nuova, a Fellowship of the New Life. I attended the last of these meetings held in a bare room somewhere in Chelsea, on the invitation of Frank Podmore, whose acquaintance I had made a short time previously. We had become friends through a common interest first in Spiritualism and subsequently in Psychical Research, and it was whilst vainly watching for a ghost in a haunted house at Notting Hill—the house was unoccupied: we had obtained the key from the agent, left the door unlatched, and returned late at night in the foolish hope that we might perceive something abnormal—that he first discussed with me the teachings of Henry George in "Progress and Poverty," and we found a common interest in social as well as psychical progress.

The English organiser or secretary of the still unformed Davidsonian Fellowship was Percival Chubb, then a young clerk in the Local Government Board, and subsequently a lecturer and head of an Ethical Church in New York and St. Louis. Thomas Davidson was about to leave London; and the company he had gathered round him, desirous of further discussing his suggestions, decided to hold another meeting at my rooms. I was at that time a member of the Stock Exchange and lived in lodgings furnished by myself.

Here then on October 24th, 1883, was held the first of the fortnightly meetings, which have been continued with scarcely a break, through nine months of every year, up to the present time. The company that assembled consisted in part of the Davidsonian circle and in part of friends of my own....

A few words may be devoted to the Fellowship of the New Life, which continued to exist for fifteen years. Its chief achievement was the publication of a quarterly paper called "Seedtime," issued from July, 1889, to February, 1898. The paper contains articles on Ethical Socialism, the Simple Life, Humanitarianism, the Education of Children, and similar subjects. The Society was conducted much on the same lines as the Fabian Society: fortnightly lectures were given in London and reported in "Seedtime."

In 1893 we find in "Seedtime" an Annual Report recording 12 public meetings, 4 social gatherings, a membership of 95, and receipts £73. During this year, 1892-3, [url]J. Ramsay Macdonald[/url], subsequently M.P. and Secretary and Chairman of the Labour Party, was Honorary Secretary, and for some years he was on the Executive....

The future success of the Society was dependent in the main on two factors then already in existence. The first was its foundation before there was any other definitely Socialist body in England. The Social Democratic Federation did not adopt that name until August, 1884; the Fabian Society can therefore claim technical priority, and consequently it has never had to seek acceptance by the rest of the Socialist movement. At any later date it would have been impossible for a relatively small middle-class society to obtain recognition as an acknowledged member of the Socialist confraternity. We were thus in a position to welcome the formation of working-class Socialist societies, but it is certain that in the early days they would never have welcomed us....

The Social Democrats of those days asserted that unquestioning belief in every dogma attributed to Marx was essential to social salvation, and that its only way was revolution, by which they meant, not the complete transformation of society, but its transformation by means of rifles and barricades; they were convinced that a successful repetition of the Commune of Paris was the only method by which their policy could prevail. The Fabians realised from the first that no such revolution was likely to take place, and that constant talk about it was the worst possible way to commend Socialism to the British working class. And indeed a few years later it was necessary to establish a new working-class Socialist Society, the Independent Labour Party, in order to get clear both of the tradition of revolutionary violence and of the vain repetition of Marxian formulas. If the smaller society had merged itself in the popular movement, its criticism, necessary as it proved to be to the success of Socialism in England, would have been voted down, and its critics either silenced or expelled....

A fortnight later the "Lancashire campaign" was planned. It was thoroughly organised. An advanced agent was sent down, and abstracts of lectures were prepared and printed to facilitate accurate reports in the press. Complete lists of the forthcoming lectures—dates, places, subjects, and lecturers—were printed. All the Essayists except Olivier took part, and in addition Robert E. Dell, W.S. De Mattos, and the Rev. Stewart Headlam. An account of the Society written by Bernard Shaw was reprinted from the "Scottish Leader" for September 4th, 1890, for the use of the audience and the Press....

The lectures were given chiefly in sets of four in consecutive weeks, mostly at Liberal and Radical Clubs: others were arranged by Co-operative Societies, and by branches of the S.D.F. and the Socialist League. The subjects were "Socialism," "Where Liberalism Fails," "Co-operation and Labour," "The Future of Women," "The Eight Hours Bill," "The Politics of Labour," and so on. Those arranged by Co-operative Societies were, we are told, the least successful, but it is hoped "that they will bring about a better feeling between Socialists and Co-operators," a state of things which on the side of the Socialists was, as we have previously indicated, badly wanted. It should be noted that much of the success of the campaign was due to friendly assistance from the head-quarters of the Co-operative Union and the National Reform Union.

There is no doubt that this campaign with the series of lectures on the same lines which were continued for several years was an event of some importance, not only in the history of the Fabian Society but also in English politics. Hitherto the Socialism presented to the industrial districts of England, which are the backbone of Trade Unionism and Co-operation, to the men who are meant when we speak of the power and independence of the working classes, was revolutionary and destructive, ill-tempered and ungenerous. It had perhaps alarmed, but it had failed to attract them. It had made no real impression on the opinion of the people. From this point a new movement began. It first took the form of local Fabian Societies. They were succeeded by and merged into branches of the Independent Labour Party, which adopted everything Fabian except its peculiar political tactics. A few years later the Labour Party followed, more than Fabian in its toleration in the matter of opinions, and virtually, though not formally, Fabian in its political policy. No doubt something of the sort would have happened had there never been a Lancashire campaign, but this campaign may be fairly described as the first step in an evolution, the end of which is not yet in sight....

The Independent Labour Party was founded in January, 1893, at a Conference at which the Fabian Society of London and nine local Fabian Societies were represented, and from this time onward our provincial organisation declined until, in 1900, only four local and four University Societies remained.

The attitude of the parent society towards its branches has always been somewhat unusual. In early days it made admission to its own ranks a matter of some difficulty. A candidate resident in London had to secure a proposer and seconder who could personally vouch for him and had to attend two meetings as a visitor. We regarded membership as something of a privilege, and a candidate was required not only to sign the Basis, but also to take some personal trouble as evidence of zeal and good faith. To our provincial organisation the same principle was applied. If the Socialists in any town desired to form a local society we gave them our blessing and received them gladly. But we did not urge the formation of branches on lukewarm adherents, and we always recognised that the peculiar political methods of the London Society, appropriate to a body of highly educated people, nearly all of them speakers, writers, or active political workers, were unsuitable for the groups of earnest workmen in the provinces who were influenced by our teaching.
In fact the local Fabian Societies, with rare exceptions, of which Liverpool was the chief, were from the first "I.L.P." in personnel and policy, and were Fabian only in name.

This somewhat detached attitude, combined with the recognition of the differences between the parent society and its offspring
, led to the adoption of a system of local autonomy. The parent society retained complete control over its own affairs. It was governed by a mass meeting of members, which in those days elected the Executive for the year. It decided that a local Fabian Society might be formed anywhere outside London, by any body of people who accepted the Fabian Basis. The parent society would send them lecturers, supply them with literature and "Fabian News," and report their doings in the "News." But in other respects complete autonomy was accorded. No fees were asked, or subventions granted: no control over, or responsibility for, policy was claimed. Just as the political policy of each Fabian was left to his own judgment, so we declined the impossible task of supervising or harmonising the political activities of our local societies. When the I.L.P. was founded in Bradford and set to work to organise Socialism on Fabian lines, adopting practically everything of our policy, except the particular methods which we had selected because they suited our personal capacities, we recognised that provincial Fabianism had done its work. There was no room, except here and there, for an I.L.P. branch and a local F.S. in the same place. The men who were active in the one were active also in the other. We made no effort to maintain our organisation against that of the I.L.P., and though a few societies survived for some years, and for a while two or three were formed every year at such places as Tunbridge Wells, Maidstone, and Swindon, they were bodies of small importance, and contributed scarcely anything to the sum of Fabian activity. The only local Fabian Society which survived the debacle was Liverpool, which has carried on work similar to that of the London Society down to the present time. Its relations with the I.L.P. have always been harmonious, and, like the I.L.P., it has always maintained an attitude of hostility towards the old political parties. Its work has been lecturing, the publication of tracts, and political organisation....

Since the election of 1886 English Socialism had come into being and Trade Unionism had been transformed by the rise of the Dockers, and the other "new" unions of unskilled labour. But a Labour Party was still in the future, and our Election Manifesto (Tract 40), issued in June, bluntly tells the working classes that until they form a party of their own they will have to choose between the parties belonging to the other classes. The Manifesto, written by Bernard Shaw, is a brilliant essay on labour in politics and a criticism of both the existing parties; it assures the working classes that they could create their own party if they cared as much about politics as they cared for horse-racing (football was not in those days the typical sport); and it concludes by advising them to vote for the better, or against the worse, man, on the ground that progress was made by steps, a step forward was better than a step backward, and the only thing certain is the defeat of a party which sulks and does not vote at all. The Manifesto was widely circulated by the then vigorous local societies, and no doubt had some effect...

[T]he Society, in whose name the Manifesto appeared, called on the working classes to abandon Liberalism, to form a Trade Union party of their own, to raise £30,000 and to finance fifty candidates for Parliament. It is a curious coincidence that thirteen years later, in 1906, the Party formed, as the Manifesto demanded, by the big Trade Unions actually financed precisely fifty candidates and succeeded in electing thirty of them....

In January the article was reprinted with much additional matter drafted by Bernard Shaw. He showed in considerable detail how a Labour Party ought to be formed, and how, in fact, it was formed seven years later. With our numerous and still flourishing local societies, and the newly formed I.L.P., a large circulation for the tract was easily secured. Thousands of working-class politicians read and remembered it, and it cannot be doubted that the "Plan of Campaign for Labour," as it was called, did much to prepare the ground for the Labour Party which was founded so easily and flourished so vigorously in the first years of the twentieth century....

in 1899 the Trade Union Congress passed a resolution directing its Parliamentary Committee, in co-operation with the Socialist Societies, to call a conference in order "to devise ways and means for securing an increased number of Labour members in the next Parliament." In accordance with this resolution the Society was invited to appoint two representatives to meet the delegates of the Parliamentary Committee and of the two other Socialist organisations. Bernard Shaw and myself were appointed, and we took part in the business of arranging for the Conference. This was held on the last two days of February, 1900, and I was appointed the one delegate to which the Society was by its numbers entitled. The "Labour Representation Committee" was duly formed, and it was decided that the Executive Committee of twelve should include one elected by the Fabian Society....

For several years after this the Fabian Society did not greatly concern itself with the Labour Party. I attended the Annual Conferences and took a regular part in the work of the Executive Committee, but my colleagues of the Fabian Society as a whole showed little interest in the new body. In a sense, it was not in our line. Its object was to promote Labour Representation in Parliament, and the Fabian Society had never run, and had never intended to run, candidates for Parliament or for any local authority. We had made appeals for election funds on a good many occasions and had succeeded once or twice in collecting substantial sums, but this was a very different matter from accepting responsibility for a candidate and his election expenses. Therefore, for a good while, we remained in a position of benevolent passivity.

The Labour Representation Committee was founded as a Group, not as a Party, and one of the two members elected under its auspices at the General Election of 1900 ran as a Liberal. In 1903 it transformed itself into a Party, and then began the somewhat strange anomaly that the Fabian Society as a whole was affiliated to the Labour Party, whilst some of its members were Liberal Members of Parliament. It is true that the Trade Unions affiliated to the party were in the same position: their members also were sometimes official Liberals and even Liberal M.P.'s. The Labour Party itself never complained of the anomaly in the position of the Society or questioned its collective loyalty. And the Liberals in our Society never took any action hostile to the Labour Party, or indeed, so far as I know, supported any of the proposals occasionally made that we should disaffiliate from it. These proposals always came from "Fabian reformers," the younger men who wanted to create a revolution in the Society. And so little was their policy matured that in several cases the same member first tried to get the Society to expel all members who worked with any party other than the Labour Party, and a short time later moved that the Society should leave the Labour Party altogether. Or perhaps it was the other way round. Logical consistency is usually incompatible with political success: compromise runs smooth, whilst principle jams.

-- The History of the Fabian Society, by Edward R. Pease

Labour Party
Leader: Keir Starmer
Deputy Leader: Angela Rayner
General Secretary: Jennie Formby
Lords Leader: Lady Smith
Founded: 27 February 1900; 120 years ago[1][2]
Headquarters: Southside, 105 Victoria Street, London, SW1E 6QT[3]
Youth wing: Young Labour
LGBT wing: LGBT+ Labour
Membership (2020): Increase 580,000[4]
Ideology: Social democracy[5]; Democratic socialism[6]
Political position: Centre-left
European affiliation: Party of European Socialists
International affiliation: Progressive Alliance; Socialist International (observer)
Affiliate parties: Co-operative Party (Labour Co-op); Social Democratic and Labour Party
Colours: Red
Anthem: "The Red Flag"
Governing body: National Executive Committee
Constituting instrument: Labour Party Rule Book (Clause IV)
Devolved or semi-autonomous branches: London Labour; Labour in Northern Ireland; Scottish Labour; Welsh Labour
Parliamentary parties: PLP; Labour Lords
House of Commons[a]: 202 / 650
House of Lords: 176 / 785
London Assembly: 12 / 25
Scottish Parliament: 23 / 129
Welsh Assembly: 29 / 60
Local government[7]: 6,238 / 19,787
Directly elected mayors: 16 / 25
Police and crime commissioners: 15 / 40

The Labour Party is a centre-left political party in the United Kingdom that has been described as an alliance of social democrats, democratic socialists and trade unionists.[8] In all general elections since 1922, Labour has been either the governing party or the Official Opposition.

The Labour Party was founded in 1900, having grown out of the trade union movement and socialist parties of the 19th century. It overtook the Liberal Party to become the main opposition to the Conservative Party in the early 1920s, forming two minority governments under Ramsay MacDonald in the 1920s and early 1930s. Labour served in the wartime coalition of 1940–1945, after which Clement Attlee's Labour government established the National Health Service and expanded the welfare state from 1945 to 1951. Under Harold Wilson and James Callaghan, Labour again governed from 1964 to 1970 and 1974 to 1979. In the 1990s, Tony Blair took Labour to the centre as part of his "New Labour" project, which governed the UK under Blair and then Gordon Brown from 1997 to 2010.

The Labour Party currently forms the Official Opposition in the Parliament of the United Kingdom, having won the second-largest number of seats in the 2017 and 2019 general elections. Labour is currently the largest party in the Welsh Assembly, being the main party in the current Welsh government. The party is the third-largest in the Scottish Parliament.

Labour is a member of the Party of European Socialists and Progressive Alliance, and holds observer status in the Socialist International. The party includes semi-autonomous Scottish and Welsh branches, and supports the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) in Northern Ireland, although it still organises there. As of January 2020, Labour has 580,000 registered members, the largest membership of any party in Europe.[4]


Main articles: History of the Labour Party (UK) and History of the socialist movement in the United Kingdom

Founding (1860s–1890s)

The Labour Party originated in the late 19th century, meeting the demand for a new political party to represent the interests and needs of the urban working class, a demographic which had increased in number, and many of whom only gained suffrage with the passage of the Representation of the People Act 1884.[9] Some members of the trades union movement became interested in moving into the political field, and after further extensions of the voting franchise in 1867 and 1885, the Liberal Party endorsed some trade-union sponsored candidates. The first Lib–Lab candidate to stand was George Odger in the Southwark by-election of 1870. In addition, several small socialist groups had formed around this time, with the intention of linking the movement to political policies. Among these were the Independent Labour Party, the intellectual and largely middle-class Fabian Society, the Marxist Social Democratic Federation[10] and the Scottish Labour Party.

At the 1895 general election, the Independent Labour Party put up 28 candidates but won only 44,325 votes. Keir Hardie, the leader of the party, believed that to obtain success in parliamentary elections, it would be necessary to join with other left-wing groups. Hardie's roots as a lay preacher contributed to an ethos in the party which led to the comment by 1950s General Secretary Morgan Phillips that "Socialism in Britain owed more to Methodism than Marx".[11]

Labour Representation Committee (1900–1906)

Main article: Labour Representation Committee (1900)

Keir Hardie, one of the Labour Party's founders and its first leader

In 1899, a Doncaster member of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, Thomas R. Steels, proposed in his union branch that the Trade Union Congress call a special conference to bring together all left-wing organisations and form them into a single body that would sponsor Parliamentary candidates. The motion was passed at all stages by the TUC, and the proposed conference was held at the Congregational Memorial Hall on Farringdon Street, London on 26 and 27 February 1900. The meeting was attended by a broad spectrum of working-class and left-wing organisations—trades unions represented about one third of the membership of the TUC delegates.[12]

After a debate, the 129 delegates passed Hardie's motion to establish "a distinct Labour group in Parliament, who shall have their own whips, and agree upon their policy, which must embrace a readiness to cooperate with any party which for the time being may be engaged in promoting legislation in the direct interests of labour."[13] This created an association called the Labour Representation Committee (LRC), meant to co-ordinate attempts to support MPs sponsored by trade unions and represent the working-class population.[2] It had no single leader, and in the absence of one, the Independent Labour Party nominee Ramsay MacDonald was elected as Secretary. He had the difficult task of keeping the various strands of opinions in the LRC united. The October 1900 "Khaki election" came too soon for the new party to campaign effectively; total expenses for the election only came to £33.[14] Only 15 candidatures were sponsored, but two were successful: Keir Hardie in Merthyr Tydfil and Richard Bell in Derby.[15]

Support for the LRC was boosted by the 1901 Taff Vale Case, a dispute between strikers and a railway company that ended with the union being ordered to pay £23,000 damages for a strike. The judgement effectively made strikes illegal, since employers could recoup the cost of lost business from the unions. The apparent acquiescence of the Conservative Government of Arthur Balfour to industrial and business interests (traditionally the allies of the Liberal Party in opposition to the Conservatives' landed interests) intensified support for the LRC against a government that appeared to have little concern for the industrial proletariat and its problems.[15]

Labour Party Plaque from Caroone House, 14 Farringdon Street

In the 1906 election, the LRC won 29 seats—helped by a secret 1903 pact between Ramsay MacDonald and Liberal Chief Whip Herbert Gladstone that aimed to avoid splitting the opposition vote between Labour and Liberal candidates in the interest of removing the Conservatives from office.[15]

In their first meeting after the election the group's Members of Parliament decided to adopt the name "The Labour Party" formally (15 February 1906). Keir Hardie, who had taken a leading role in getting the party established, was elected as Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party (in effect, the leader), although only by one vote over David Shackleton after several ballots. In the party's early years the Independent Labour Party (ILP) provided much of its activist base as the party did not have individual membership until 1918 but operated as a conglomerate of affiliated bodies. The Fabian Society provided much of the intellectual stimulus for the party. One of the first acts of the new Liberal Government was to reverse the Taff Vale judgement.[15]

The People's History Museum in Manchester holds the minutes of the first Labour Party meeting in 1906 and has them on display in the Main Galleries.[16] Also within the museum is the Labour History Archive and Study Centre, which holds the collection of the Labour Party, with material ranging from 1900 to the present day.[17]

Early years (1906–1923)

The December 1910 election saw 42 Labour MPs elected to the House of Commons, a significant victory since, a year before the election, the House of Lords had passed the Osborne judgment ruling that trade union members would have to 'opt in' to sending contributions to Labour, rather than their consent being presumed. The governing Liberals were unwilling to repeal this judicial decision with primary legislation. The height of Liberal compromise was to introduce a wage for Members of Parliament to remove the need to involve the trade unions. By 1913, faced with the opposition of the largest trade unions, the Liberal government passed the Trade Disputes Act to allow unions to fund Labour MPs once more without seeking the express consent of their members.

During the First World War, the Labour Party split between supporters and opponents of the conflict but opposition to the war grew within the party as time went on. Ramsay MacDonald, a notable anti-war campaigner, resigned as leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party and Arthur Henderson became the main figure of authority within the party. He was soon accepted into Prime Minister Asquith's war cabinet, becoming the first Labour Party member to serve in government.

Despite mainstream Labour Party's support for the coalition the Independent Labour Party was instrumental in opposing conscription through organisations such as the Non-Conscription Fellowship while a Labour Party affiliate, the British Socialist Party, organised a number of unofficial strikes.[18]

Arthur Henderson resigned from the Cabinet in 1917 amid calls for party unity to be replaced by George Barnes. The growth in Labour's local activist base and organisation was reflected in the elections following the war, the co-operative movement now providing its own resources to the Co-operative Party after the armistice. The Co-operative Party later reached an electoral agreement with the Labour Party.

At the end of the First World War, the Government was attempting to provide support for the newly re-established Poland against Soviet Russia. Henderson sent telegrams to all local Labour Party organisations to ask them to organise demonstrations against supporting Poland, later forming the Council of Action, to further organise strikes and protests. Due to the number of demonstrations and the potential industrial impact across the country, Churchill and the Government was forced to end support for the Polish war effort.[19]

Henderson turned his attention to building a strong constituency-based support network for the Labour Party. Previously, it had little national organisation, based largely on branches of unions and socialist societies. Working with Ramsay MacDonald and Sidney Webb, Henderson in 1918 established a national network of constituency organisations. They operated separately from trade unions and the National Executive Committee and were open to everyone sympathetic to the party's policies. Secondly, Henderson secured the adoption of a comprehensive statement of party policies, as drafted by Sidney Webb. Entitled "Labour and the New Social Order," it remained the basic Labour platform until 1950. It proclaimed a socialist party whose principles included a guaranteed minimum standard of living for everyone, nationalisation of industry, and heavy taxation of large incomes and of wealth.[20] It was in 1918 that Clause IV, as drafted by Sidney Webb, was adopted into Labour's constitution, committing the party to work towards "the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange."

With the Representation of the People Act 1918, almost all adult men (excepting only peers, criminals and lunatics) and most women over the age of thirty were given the right to vote, almost tripling the British electorate at a stroke, from 7.7 million in 1912 to 21.4 million in 1918. This set the scene for a surge in Labour representation in parliament.[21] The Communist Party of Great Britain was refused affiliation to the Labour Party between 1921 and 1923.[22]

Meanwhile, the Liberal Party declined rapidly, and the party also suffered a catastrophic split which allowed the Labour Party to gain much of the Liberals' support.[23] With the Liberals thus in disarray, Labour won 142 seats in 1922, making it the second largest political group in the House of Commons and the official opposition to the Conservative government. After the election Ramsay MacDonald was voted the first official leader of the Labour Party.

First Labour government and period in opposition (1923–1929)

Main article: First MacDonald ministry

Ramsay MacDonald, first Labour Prime Minister (1924 and 1929–1931)

The 1923 general election was fought on the Conservatives' protectionist proposals but, although they got the most votes and remained the largest party, they lost their majority in parliament, necessitating the formation of a government supporting free trade. Thus, with the acquiescence of Asquith's Liberals, Ramsay MacDonald became the first ever Labour Prime Minister in January 1924, forming the first Labour government, despite Labour only having 191 MPs (less than a third of the House of Commons).

The most significant achievement of the first Labour government was the Wheatley Housing Act, which began a building programme of 500,000 municipal houses for rental to low paid workers. Legislation on education, unemployment, social insurance and tenant protection was also passed. However, because the government had to rely on the support of the Liberals it was unable to implement many of its more contentious policies such as nationalisation of the coal industry, or a capital levy. Although no radical changes were introduced, Labour demonstrating that they were capable of governing.[24]

While there were no major labour strikes during his term, MacDonald acted swiftly to end those that did erupt. When the Labour Party executive criticised the government, he replied that, "public doles, Poplarism [local defiance of the national government], strikes for increased wages, limitation of output, not only are not Socialism, but may mislead the spirit and policy of the Socialist movement."[25]

The government collapsed after only ten months when the Liberals voted for a Select Committee inquiry into the Campbell Case, a vote which MacDonald had declared to be a vote of confidence. The ensuing 1924 general election saw the publication, four days before polling day, of the forged Zinoviev letter, in which Moscow talked about a Communist revolution in Britain. The letter had little impact on the Labour vote—which held up. It was the collapse of the Liberal party that led to the Conservative landslide. The Conservatives were returned to power although Labour increased its vote from 30.7% to a third of the popular vote, most Conservative gains being at the expense of the Liberals. However, many Labourites blamed for years their defeat on foul play (the Zinoviev letter), thereby according to A. J. P. Taylor misunderstanding the political forces at work and delaying needed reforms in the party.[26][27]

In opposition MacDonald continued his policy of presenting the Labour Party as a moderate force. During the General Strike of 1926 the party opposed the general strike, arguing that the best way to achieve social reforms was through the ballot box. The leaders were also fearful of Communist influence orchestrated from Moscow.[28]

The party had a distinctive and suspicious foreign policy based on pacifism. Its leaders believed that peace was impossible because of capitalism, secret diplomacy, and the trade in armaments. That is it stressed material factors that ignored the psychological memories of the Great War, and the highly emotional tensions regarding nationalism and the boundaries of the countries.[29][30]

Second Labour government (1929–1931)

Main article: Second MacDonald ministry

The original Liberty logo, in use until 1983

In the 1929 general election, the Labour Party became the largest in the House of Commons for the first time, with 287 seats and 37.1% of the popular vote. However MacDonald was still reliant on Liberal support to form a minority government. MacDonald went on to appoint Britain's first woman cabinet minister; Margaret Bondfield, who was appointed Minister of Labour.[31]

MacDonald's second government was in a stronger parliamentary position than his first, and in 1930 Labour was able to pass legislation to raise unemployment pay, improve wages and conditions in the coal industry (i.e. the issues behind the General Strike) and pass a housing act which focused on slum clearances.[32]

The government, however, soon found itself engulfed in crisis: the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and eventual Great Depression occurred soon after the government came to power, and the slump in global trade hit Britain hard. By the end of 1930 unemployment had doubled to over two and a half million.[33] The government had no effective answers to the deteriorating financial situation, and by 1931 there was much fear that the budget was unbalanced, which was born out by the independent May Report which triggered a confidence crisis and a run on the pound. The cabinet deadlocked over its response, with several influential members unwilling to support the budget cuts (in particular a cut in the rate of unemployment benefit) which were pressed by the civil service and opposition parties. Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Snowden refused to consider deficit spending or tariffs as alternative solutions. When a final vote was taken, the Cabinet was split 11–9 with a minority, including many political heavyweights such as Arthur Henderson and George Lansbury, threatening to resign rather than agree to the cuts. The unworkable split, on 24 August 1931, made the government resign. MacDonald was encouraged by King George V to form an all-party National Government to deal with the immediate crisis.[34][35]

The financial crisis grew worse and decisive government action was needed as the leaders of both the Conservative and Liberal Parties met with King George V, and MacDonald, at first to discuss support for the spending cuts but later to discuss the shape of the next government. The king played the central role in demanding a National government be formed. On 24 August, MacDonald agreed to form a National Government composed of men from all parties with the specific aim of balancing the Budget and restoring confidence. The new cabinet had four Labourites (who formed a "National Labour" group) who stood with MacDonald, plus four Conservatives (led by Baldwin, Chamberlain) and two Liberals. MacDonald's moves aroused great anger among a large majority of Labour Party activists who felt betrayed. Labour unions were strongly opposed and the Labour Party officially repudiated the new National government. It expelled MacDonald and his supporters and made Henderson the leader of the main Labour party. Henderson led it into the general election on 27 October against the three-party National coalition. It was a disaster for Labour, which was reduced to a small minority of 52 seats. The Conservative-dominated National Government, led by MacDonald won the largest landslide in British political history.[36]

In 1931, Labour campaigned on opposition to public spending cuts, but found it difficult to defend the record of the party's former government and the fact that most of the cuts had been agreed before it fell. Historian Andrew Thorpe argues that Labour lost credibility by 1931 as unemployment soared, especially in coal, textiles, shipbuilding, and steel. The working class increasingly lost confidence in the ability of Labour to solve the most pressing problem.[37]

The 2.5 million Irish Catholics in England and Scotland were a major factor in the Labour base in many industrial areas. The Catholic Church had previously tolerated the Labour Party, and denied that it represented true socialism. However, the bishops by 1930 had grown increasingly alarmed at Labour's policies toward Communist Russia, toward birth control and especially toward funding Catholic schools. They warned its members. The Catholic shift against Labour and in favour of the National government played a major role in Labour's losses.[38]

Labour in opposition (1931–1940)

Arthur Henderson, elected in 1931 to succeed MacDonald, lost his seat in the 1931 general election. The only former Labour cabinet member who had retained his seat, the pacifist George Lansbury, accordingly became party leader.

The party experienced another split in 1932 when the Independent Labour Party, which for some years had been increasingly at odds with the Labour leadership, opted to disaffiliate from the Labour Party and embarked on a long, drawn-out decline.

Lansbury resigned as leader in 1935 after public disagreements over foreign policy. He was promptly replaced as leader by his deputy, Clement Attlee, who would lead the party for two decades. The party experienced a revival in the 1935 general election, winning 154 seats and 38% of the popular vote, the highest that Labour had achieved.[39]

As the threat from Nazi Germany increased, in the late 1930s the Labour Party gradually abandoned its pacifist stance and came to support re-armament, largely due to the efforts of Ernest Bevin and Hugh Dalton who by 1937 had also persuaded the party to oppose Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement.[33]

Wartime coalition (1940–1945)

See also: Churchill war ministry

The party returned to government in 1940 as part of the wartime coalition. When Neville Chamberlain resigned in the spring of 1940, incoming Prime Minister Winston Churchill decided to bring the other main parties into a coalition similar to that of the First World War. Clement Attlee was appointed Lord Privy Seal and a member of the war cabinet, eventually becoming the United Kingdom's first Deputy Prime Minister.

A number of other senior Labour figures also took up senior positions: the trade union leader Ernest Bevin, as Minister of Labour, directed Britain's wartime economy and allocation of manpower, the veteran Labour statesman Herbert Morrison became Home Secretary, Hugh Dalton was Minister of Economic Warfare and later President of the Board of Trade, while A. V. Alexander resumed the role he had held in the previous Labour Government as First Lord of the Admiralty.

Attlee government (1945–1951)

Main article: Attlee ministry

Clement Attlee, Prime Minister (1945–1951)

At the end of the war in Europe, in May 1945, Labour resolved not to repeat the Liberals' error of 1918, and promptly withdrew from government, on trade union insistence, to contest the 1945 general election in opposition to Churchill's Conservatives. Surprising many observers,[40] Labour won a landslide victory, winning just under 50% of the vote with a majority of 159 seats.[41]

Although Clement Attlee was no great radical himself,[citation needed] Attlee's government proved one of the most radical British governments of the 20th century, enacting Keynesian economic policies, presiding over a policy of nationalising major industries and utilities including the Bank of England, coal mining, the steel industry, electricity, gas, and inland transport (including railways, road haulage and canals). It developed and implemented the "cradle to grave" welfare state conceived by the economist William Beveridge.[42][43][44] To this day, most people in the United Kingdom see the 1948 creation of Britain's National Health Service (NHS) under health minister Aneurin Bevan, which gave publicly funded medical treatment for all, as Labour's proudest achievement.[45] Attlee's government also began the process of dismantling the British Empire when it granted independence to India and Pakistan in 1947, followed by Burma (Myanmar) and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) the following year. At a secret meeting in January 1947, Attlee and six cabinet ministers, including Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, decided to proceed with the development of Britain's nuclear weapons programme,[33] in opposition to the pacifist and anti-nuclear stances of a large element inside the Labour Party.

Aneurin Bevan speaking in October 1952

Labour went on to win the 1950 general election, but with a much-reduced majority of five seats. Soon afterwards, defence became a divisive issue within the party, especially defence spending (which reached a peak of 14% of GDP in 1951 during the Korean War),[46] straining public finances and forcing savings elsewhere. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Hugh Gaitskell, introduced charges for NHS dentures and spectacles, causing Bevan, along with Harold Wilson (then President of the Board of Trade), to resign over the dilution of the principle of free treatment on which the NHS had been established.

In the 1951 general election, Labour narrowly lost to Churchill's Conservatives, despite receiving the larger share of the popular vote – its highest ever vote numerically. Most of the changes introduced by the 1945–51 Labour government were accepted by the Conservatives and became part of the "post-war consensus" that lasted until the late 1970s. Food and clothing rationing, however, still in place since the war, were swiftly relaxed, then abandoned from about 1953.[47]

Post-war consensus (1951–1964)

Following the defeat of 1951, the party spent 13 years in opposition. The party suffered an ideological split, between the party's left-wing followers of Aneurin Bevan (known as Bevanites), and the right-wing of the party following Hugh Gaitskell (known as Gaitskellites) while the postwar economic recovery and the social effects of Attlee's reforms made the public broadly content with the Conservative governments of the time. The ageing Attlee contested his final general election in 1955, which saw Labour lose ground, and he retired shortly after.

Under his replacement, Hugh Gaitskell, Labour appeared more united than before and had been widely expected to win the 1959 general election, but did not. Following this internal party infighting resumed, particularly over the issues of nuclear disarmament, Britain's entry into the European Economic Community (EEC) and Clause IV of the Labour Party Constitution, which was viewed as Labour's commitment to nationalisation which Gaitskell wanted scrapped. These issues would continue to divide the party for decades to come.[48][49]

Gaitskell died suddenly in 1963, and this made way for Harold Wilson to lead the party.

Wilson government (1964–1970)

Main article: First Wilson ministry

Harold Wilson, Prime Minister (1964–1970 and 1974–1976)

A downturn in the economy and a series of scandals in the early 1960s (the most notorious being the Profumo affair) had engulfed the Conservative government by 1963. The Labour Party returned to government with a 4-seat majority under Wilson in the 1964 general election but increased its majority to 96 in the 1966 general election.

Wilson's government was responsible for a number of sweeping social and educational reforms under the leadership of Home Secretary Roy Jenkins such as the abolishment of the death penalty in 1964, the legalisation of abortion and homosexuality (initially only for men aged 21 or over, and only in England and Wales) in 1967 and the abolition of theatre censorship in 1968. Wilson's government also put heavy emphasis on expanding opportunities through education, and as such, comprehensive education was expanded and the Open University created.

Wilson's first period as Prime Minister coincided with a period of relatively low unemployment and economic prosperity, it was however hindered by significant problems with a large trade deficit which it had inherited from the previous government. The first three years of the government were spent in an ultimately doomed attempt to stave off devaluation of the pound. Labour went on to unexpectedly lose the 1970 general election to the Conservatives under Edward Heath.

Spell in opposition (1970–1974)

After losing the 1970 general election, Labour returned to opposition, but retained Harold Wilson as Leader. Heath's government soon ran into trouble over Northern Ireland and a dispute with miners in 1973 which led to the "three-day week". The 1970s proved a difficult time to be in government for both the Conservatives and Labour due to the 1973 oil crisis which caused high inflation and a global recession.

The Labour Party was returned to power again under Wilson a few weeks after the February 1974 general election, forming a minority government with the support of the Ulster Unionists. The Conservatives were unable to form a government alone as they had fewer seats despite receiving more votes numerically. It was the first general election since 1924 in which both main parties had received less than 40% of the popular vote and the first of six successive general elections in which Labour failed to reach 40% of the popular vote. In a bid to gain a majority, a second election was soon called for October 1974 in which Labour, still with Harold Wilson as leader, won a slim majority of three, gaining just 18 seats taking its total to 319.

Majority to minority (1974–1979)

Main article: Labour Government 1974–79

For much of its time in office the Labour government struggled with serious economic problems and a precarious majority in the Commons, while the party's internal dissent over Britain's membership of the European Economic Community, which Britain had entered under Edward Heath in 1972, led in 1975 to a national referendum on the issue in which two thirds of the public supported continued membership.

Harold Wilson's personal popularity remained reasonably high but he unexpectedly resigned as Prime Minister in 1976 citing health reasons, and was replaced by James Callaghan. The Wilson and Callaghan governments of the 1970s tried to control inflation (which reached 23.7% in 1975[50]) by a policy of wage restraint. This was fairly successful, reducing inflation to 7.4% by 1978.[15][50] However it led to increasingly strained relations between the government and the trade unions.

James Callaghan, Prime Minister (1976–1979)

Fear of advances by the nationalist parties, particularly in Scotland, led to the suppression of a report from Scottish Office economist Gavin McCrone that suggested that an independent Scotland would be "chronically in surplus".[51] By 1977 by-election losses and defections to the breakaway Scottish Labour Party left Callaghan heading a minority government, forced to do deals with smaller parties in order to govern. An arrangement negotiated in 1977 with Liberal leader David Steel, known as the Lib–Lab pact, ended after one year. Deals were then forged with various small parties including the Scottish National Party (SNP) and the Welsh nationalist Plaid Cymru, prolonging the life of the government.

The nationalist parties, in turn, demanded devolution to their respective constituent countries in return for their supporting the government. When referendums for Scottish and Welsh devolution were held in March 1979 the Welsh devolution referendum saw a large majority vote against, while the Scottish referendum returned a narrow majority in favour without reaching the required threshold of 40% support. When the Labour government duly refused to push ahead with setting up the proposed Scottish Assembly, the SNP withdrew its support for the government: this finally brought the government down as the Conservatives triggered a vote of confidence in Callaghan's government that was lost by a single vote on 28 March 1979, necessitating a general election.

By 1978, the economy had started to show signs of recovery, with inflation falling to single digits, unemployment falling, and living standards starting to rise during the year.[52] Labour's opinion poll ratings also improved, with most showing the party to be in the lead.[15] Callaghan had been widely expected to call a general election in the autumn of 1978 to take advantage of the improving situation. In the event, he decided to gamble that extending the wage restraint policy for another year would allow the economy to be in better shape for a 1979 election. However this proved unpopular with the trade unions, and during the winter of 1978–79 there were widespread strikes among lorry drivers, railway workers, car workers and local government and hospital workers in favour of higher pay-rises that caused significant disruption to everyday life. These events came to be dubbed the "Winter of Discontent".

These industrial disputes sent the Conservatives now led by Margaret Thatcher into the lead in the polls, which led to Labour's defeat in the 1979 general election. The Labour vote held up in the election, with the party receiving nearly the same number of votes than in 1974. However, the Conservative Party achieved big increases in support in the Midlands and South of England, benefiting from both a surge in turnout and votes lost by the ailing Liberals.
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Part 2 of 3

Opposition and internal conflict (1979–1994)

See also: Shadow Cabinet of Michael Foot, Shadow Cabinet of Neil Kinnock, and Shadow Cabinet of John Smith

Michael Foot, Leader of the Opposition (1980–1983)

After its defeat in the 1979 general election the Labour Party underwent a period of internal rivalry between the left represented by Tony Benn, and the right represented by Denis Healey. The election of Michael Foot as leader in 1980, and the leftist policies he espoused, such as unilateral nuclear disarmament, leaving the European Economic Community and NATO, closer governmental influence in the banking system, the creation of a national minimum wage and a ban on fox hunting[53] led in 1981 to four former cabinet ministers from the right of the Labour Party (Shirley Williams, William Rodgers, Roy Jenkins and David Owen) forming the Social Democratic Party.[54] Benn was only narrowly defeated by Healey in a bitterly fought deputy leadership election in 1981 after the introduction of an electoral college intended to widen the voting franchise to elect the leader and their deputy. By 1982, the National Executive Committee had concluded that the entryist Militant tendency group were in contravention of the party's constitution. The Militant newspaper's five member editorial board were expelled on 22 February 1983.[citation needed]

The Labour Party was defeated heavily in the 1983 general election, winning only 27.6% of the vote, its lowest share since 1918, and receiving only half a million votes more than the SDP-Liberal Alliance who leader Michael Foot condemned for "siphoning" Labour support and enabling the Conservatives to greatly increase their majority of parliamentary seats.[55] The party manifesto for this election was termed by critics as "the longest suicide note in history".[53]

Neil Kinnock, Leader of the Opposition (1983–1992)

Foot resigned and was replaced as leader by Neil Kinnock, with Roy Hattersley as his deputy. The new leadership progressively dropped unpopular policies. The miners' strike of 1984–85 over coal mine closures, which divided the NUM as well as the Labour Party, and the Wapping dispute led to clashes with the left of the party, and negative coverage in most of the press. Tabloid vilification of the so-called loony left continued to taint the parliamentary party by association from the activities of "extra-parliamentary" militants in local government.[citation needed]

The alliances which campaigns such as Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners forged between lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) and labour groups, as well as the Labour Party itself, also proved to be an important turning point in the progression of LGBT issues in the UK.[56] At the 1985 Labour Party conference in Bournemouth, a resolution committing the party to support LGBT equality rights passed for the first time[57] due to block voting support from the National Union of Mineworkers.

Labour improved its performance in 1987, gaining 20 seats and so reducing the Conservative majority from 143 to 102. They were now firmly re-established as the second political party in Britain as the Alliance had once again failed to make a breakthrough with seats. A merger of the SDP and Liberals formed the Liberal Democrats. Following the 1987 election, the National Executive Committee resumed disciplinary action against members of Militant, who remained in the party, leading to further expulsions of their activists and the two MPs who supported the group. During the 1980s radically socialist members of the party were often described as the "loony left", particularly in the print media.[58] The print media in the 1980s also began using the pejorative "hard left" to sometimes describe Trotskyist groups such as the Militant tendency, Socialist Organiser and Socialist Action.[59]

In 1988, Kinnock was challenged by Tony Benn for the party leadership. Based on the percentages, 183 members of parliament supported Kinnock, while Benn was backed by 37. With a clear majority, Kinnock remained leader of the Labour Party.[60]

Labour Party logo under Kinnock, Smith and Blair's leaderships

In November 1990 following a contested leadership election, Margaret Thatcher resigned as leader of the Conservative Party and was succeeded as leader and Prime Minister by John Major. Most opinion polls had shown Labour comfortably ahead of the Tories for more than a year before Thatcher's resignation, with the fall in Tory support blamed largely on her introduction of the unpopular poll tax, combined with the fact that the economy was sliding into recession at the time. The change of leader in the Tory government saw a turnaround in support for the Tories, who regularly topped the opinion polls throughout 1991 although Labour regained the lead more than once.

The "yo-yo" in the opinion polls continued into 1992, though after November 1990 any Labour lead in the polls was rarely sufficient for a majority. Major resisted Kinnock's calls for a general election throughout 1991. Kinnock campaigned on the theme "It's Time for a Change", urging voters to elect a new government after more than a decade of unbroken Conservative rule. However, the Conservatives themselves had undergone a change of leader from Thatcher to Major, and replaced the Community Charge. From the outset, it was clearly a well-received change, as Labour's 14-point lead in the November 1990 "Poll of Polls" was replaced by an 8% Tory lead a month later.

The 1992 general election was widely tipped to result in a hung parliament or a narrow Labour majority, but in the event the Conservatives were returned to power, though with a much reduced majority of 21.[61] Despite the increased number of seats and votes, it was still an incredibly disappointing result for supporters of the Labour party. For the first time in over 30 years there was serious doubt among the public and the media as to whether Labour could ever return to government.

Kinnock then resigned as leader and was succeeded by John Smith. Once again the battle erupted between the old guard on the party's left and those identified as "modernisers". The old guard argued that trends showed they were regaining strength under Smith's strong leadership. Meanwhile, the breakaway SDP merged with the Liberal Party. The new Liberal Democrats seemed to pose a major threat to the Labour base. Tony Blair (the Shadow Home Secretary) had a different vision to traditional Labour politics. Blair, the leader of the "modernising" faction, argued that the long-term trends had to be reversed, arguing that the party was too locked into a base that was shrinking, since it was based on the working-class, on trade unions, and on residents of subsidised council housing. Blair argued that the rapidly growing middle class was largely ignored, as well as more ambitious working-class families. Blair said that they aspired to become middle-class and accepted the Conservative argument that traditional Labour was holding ambitious people back to some extent with higher tax policies. To present a fresh face and new policies to the electorate, New Labour needed more than fresh leaders; it had to jettison outdated policies, argued the modernisers.[62] The first step was procedural, but essential. Calling on the slogan, "One Member, One Vote" Blair (with some help from Smith) defeated the union element and ended block voting by leaders of labour unions.[63] Blair and the modernisers called for radical adjustment of Party goals by repealing "Clause IV", the historic commitment to nationalisation of industry. This was achieved in 1995.[64]

Black Wednesday in September 1992 damaged the Conservative government's reputation for economic competence, and by the end of that year Labour had a comfortable lead over the Tories in the opinion polls. Although the recession was declared over in April 1993 and a period of strong and sustained economic growth followed, coupled with a relatively swift fall in unemployment, the Labour lead in the opinion polls remained strong. However, Smith died from a heart attack in May 1994.[65]

New Labour (1994–2010)

Main article: New Labour

See also: Premiership of Tony Blair and Premiership of Gordon Brown

Further information: Shadow Cabinet of Tony Blair, Blair ministry, and Brown ministry

Tony Blair, Prime Minister (1997–2007)

Tony Blair continued to move the party further to the centre, abandoning the largely symbolic Clause Four at the 1995 mini-conference in a strategy to increase the party's appeal to "middle England". More than a simple re-branding, however, the project would draw upon the Third Way strategy, informed by the thoughts of the British sociologist Anthony Giddens.

New Labour was first termed as an alternative branding for the Labour Party, dating from a conference slogan first used by the Labour Party in 1994, which was later seen in a draft manifesto published by the party in 1996, called New Labour, New Life For Britain. It was a continuation of the trend that had begun under the leadership of Neil Kinnock. New Labour as a name has no official status, but remains in common use to distinguish modernisers from those holding to more traditional positions, normally referred to as "Old Labour".

New Labour is a party of ideas and ideals but not of outdated ideology. What counts is what works. The objectives are radical. The means will be modern.[66]

The Labour Party won the 1997 general election in a landslide victory with a parliamentary majority of 179; it was the largest Labour majority ever, and at the time the largest swing to a political party achieved since 1945. Over the next decade, a wide range of progressive social reforms were enacted,[67][68] with millions lifted out of poverty during Labour's time in office largely as a result of various tax and benefit reforms.[69][70][71]

Among the early acts of Blair's government were the establishment of the national minimum wage, the devolution of power to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, major changes to the regulation of the banking system, and the re-creation of a citywide government body for London, the Greater London Authority, with its own elected-Mayor.

Combined with a Conservative opposition that had yet to organise effectively under William Hague, and the continuing popularity of Blair, Labour went on to win the 2001 election with a similar majority, dubbed the "quiet landslide" by the media.[72] In 2003 Labour introduced tax credits, government top-ups to the pay of low-wage workers.

A perceived turning point was when Blair controversially allied himself with US President George W. Bush in supporting the Iraq War, which caused him to lose much of his political support.[73] The UN Secretary-General, among many, considered the war illegal and a violation of the UN Charter.[74][75] The Iraq War was deeply unpopular in most western countries, with Western governments divided in their support[76] and under pressure from worldwide popular protests.[77] The decisions that led up to the Iraq war and its subsequent conduct were the subject of Sir John Chilcot's Iraq Inquiry (commonly referred to as the "Chilcot report").[78]

In the 2005 general election, Labour was re-elected for a third term, but with a reduced majority of 66 and popular vote of only 35.2%, the lowest percentage of any majority government in British history. During this election, proposed controversial posters by Alastair Campbell where opposition leader Michael Howard and shadow chancellor Oliver Letwin, who are both Jewish, were depicted as flying pigs were criticised as being anti-Semitic.[79] The posters were referring to the expression 'when pigs fly', to suggest that Tory election promises were unrealistic. In response, Campbell said that the posters were not in "any way shape or form" intended to be anti-Semitic.[80]

Gordon Brown, Prime Minister (2007–2010)

Blair announced in September 2006 that he would quit as leader within the year, though he had been under pressure to quit earlier than May 2007 in order to get a new leader in place before the May elections which were expected to be disastrous for Labour.[81] In the event, the party did lose power in Scotland to a minority Scottish National Party government at the 2007 elections and, shortly after this, Blair resigned as Prime Minister and was replaced by his Chancellor, Gordon Brown. Although the party experienced a brief rise in the polls after this, its popularity soon slumped to its lowest level since the days of Michael Foot. During May 2008, Labour suffered heavy defeats in the London mayoral election, local elections and the loss in the Crewe and Nantwich by-election, culminating in the party registering its worst ever opinion poll result since records began in 1943, of 23%, with many citing Brown's leadership as a key factor.[82] Membership of the party also reached a low ebb, falling to 156,205 by the end of 2009: over 40 per cent of the 405,000 peak reached in 1997 and thought to be the lowest total since the party was founded.[83][84]

Finance proved a major problem for the Labour Party during this period; a "cash for peerages" scandal under Blair resulted in the drying up of many major sources of donations. Declining party membership, partially due to the reduction of activists' influence upon policy-making under the reforms of Neil Kinnock and Blair, also contributed to financial problems.[citation needed] Between January and March 2008, the Labour Party received just over £3 million in donations and were £17 million in debt; compared to the Conservatives' £6 million in donations and £12 million in debt.[85] These debts eventually mounted to £24.5 million, and were finally fully repaid in 2015.[86]

In the 2010 general election on 6 May that year, Labour with 29.0% of the vote won the second largest number of seats (258). The Conservatives with 36.5% of the vote won the largest number of seats (307), but no party had an overall majority, meaning that Labour could still remain in power if they managed to form a coalition with at least one smaller party.[87] However, the Labour Party would have had to form a coalition with more than one other smaller party to gain an overall majority; anything less would result in a minority government.[88] On 10 May 2010, after talks to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats broke down, Brown announced his intention to stand down as Leader before the Labour Party Conference but a day later resigned as both Prime Minister and party leader.[89]

Opposition and internal conflict (2010–present)

See also: One Nation Labour and Labour Party leadership of Jeremy Corbyn

Further information: Shadow Cabinet of Ed Miliband and Shadow Cabinet of Jeremy Corbyn

Ed Miliband, Leader of the Opposition (2010–2015)

Harriet Harman became the Leader of the Opposition and acting Leader of the Labour Party following the resignation of Gordon Brown on 11 May 2010, pending a leadership election[90] subsequently won by Ed Miliband. Miliband emphasised "responsible capitalism" and greater state intervention to change the balance of the economy away from financial services.[91] Tackling vested interests[92] and opening up closed circles in British society[93] were themes he returned to a number of times. Miliband also argued for greater regulation of banks and energy companies.[94] He adopted the "One Nation Labour" branding in 2012.

The Parliamentary Labour Party voted to abolish Shadow Cabinet elections in 2011,[95] ratified by the National Executive Committee and Party Conference. Henceforth the leader of the party chose the Shadow Cabinet members.[96]

The party's performance held up in local elections in 2012 with Labour consolidating its position in the North and Midlands, while also regaining some ground in Southern England.[97] In Wales the party enjoyed good successes, regaining control of most Welsh councils lost in 2008, including Cardiff.[98] In Scotland, Labour held overall control of Glasgow City Council despite some predictions to the contrary,[99] and also enjoyed a +3.26 swing across Scotland. Results in London were mixed: Ken Livingstone lost the election for Mayor of London, but the party gained its highest ever representation in the Greater London Authority in the concurrent assembly election.[97]

On 1 March 2014, at a special conference the party reformed internal Labour election procedures, including replacing the electoral college system for selecting new leaders with a "one member, one vote" system following the recommendation of a review by former general-secretary Ray Collins. Mass membership would be encouraged by allowing "registered supporters" to join at a low cost, as well as full membership. Members from the trade unions would also have to explicitly "opt in" rather than "opt out" of paying a political levy to Labour.[100][101][102]

The party edged out the Conservatives in the May 2014 European parliamentary elections winning 20 seats to the Conservatives' 19. However the UK Independence Party won 24 seats.[103] Labour also gained 324 councillors in the 2014 local elections.[104]

In September 2014, Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls outlined his plans to cut the government's current account deficit, and the party carried these plans into the 2015 general election. Whereas Conservatives campaigned for a surplus on all government spending, including investment, by 2018–19, Labour stated it would balance the budget, excluding investment, by 2020.[105]

The 2015 general election unexpectedly resulted in a net loss of seats, with Labour representation falling to 232 seats in the House of Commons.[106] The party lost 40 of its 41 seats in Scotland in the face of record swings to the Scottish National Party.[107] Though Labour gained more than 20 seats in England and Wales, mostly from the Liberal Democrats but also from the Conservative Party,[108][109] it lost more seats to the Conservatives, including Ed Balls in Morley and Outwood, for net losses overall.[110]

Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Opposition (2015–2020)

After the 2015 election, Miliband resigned as party leader and Harriet Harman again became acting leader.[110] Labour held a leadership election, in which Jeremy Corbyn, then a member of the Socialist Campaign Group,[111] was considered a fringe hopeful when the contest began, receiving nominations from just 36 MPs, one more than the minimum required to stand, and the support of just 16 MPs.[112] However, he benefited from a large influx of new members as well as new affiliated and registered supporters introduced under Miliband.[113] He was elected leader with 60% of the vote and membership numbers continued to climb after the start of Corbyn's leadership.[114]

Tensions soon developed in the parliamentary party over Corbyn's leadership. Following the referendum on EU membership more than two dozen members of the Shadow Cabinet resigned in late June 2016,[115] and a no-confidence vote was supported by 172 MPs against 40 supporting Corbyn.[116] In July 2016, a leadership election was called as Angela Eagle launched a challenge against Corbyn.[117] She was soon joined by rival challenger Owen Smith, prompting Eagle to withdraw in order to ensure there was only one challenger on the ballot.[118] In September 2016 Corbyn retained leadership of the party with an increased share of the vote.[119] By the end of the contest Labour's membership had grown to more than 500,000, making it the largest political party in terms of membership in Western Europe.[120]

Following the party's decision to support the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill 2017, at least three shadow cabinet ministers, all representing constituencies which voted to remain in the EU, resigned from their position as a result of the party's decision to invoke Article 50 under the bill.[121] 47 of 229 Labour MPs voted against the bill (in defiance of the party's three-line whip).[122] Unusually, the rebel frontbenchers did not face immediate dismissal.[123] According to the New Statesman, approximately 7,000 members of the Labour Party also resigned in protest over the party's stance;[124] this number has been confirmed by senior Labour sources.[123]

In April 2017, Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election for June 2017.[125] The Labour campaign focused on social issues like health care, education and ending austerity.[126] Although Labour started the campaign as far as 20 points behind, they defied expectations by gaining 40% of the vote, their greatest share since 2001. The party made a net gain of 30 seats to reach 262 total MPs, and, with a swing of 9.6%,[127] they achieved the biggest percentage-point increase in vote share in a single general election since 1945.[128] Immediately following the election party membership rose by 35,000.[129] This has partly been attributed to the popularity of its 2017 Manifesto that promised to scrap tuition fees, address public sector pay, make housing more affordable, end austerity, nationalise the railways and provide school students with free lunches.[130][131][132]

Following the general election, the Party faced internal pressure to shift its Brexit policy away from a 'soft Brexit' and towards a second referendum, a position widely supported among the party membership. In response, at the 2018 Labour Party conference Corbyn said he did not support a second referendum but would abide by the decision of members at the conference.[133][126] The party conference decided to support a Brexit deal either negotiated by the Conservatives and meeting certain conditions, or negotiated by Labour in government. The conference agreed to use all means to stop an unacceptable Brexit deal, including another referendum including an option to remain in the EU, as a last resort.[134]

A week after seven Labour MPs left the party in February 2019 to form The Independent Group, partly in protest over Labour's Brexit position, the Labour leadership said it would support another referendum "as a final resort in order to stop a damaging Tory Brexit being forced on the country".[135][136]

From 2016, allegations have been made regarding antisemitism in the Labour Party. It concerns both alleged antisemitism by individuals, and issues with the party's handling of accused members. The Chakrabarti Inquiry found instances of "toxic atmosphere" but exonerated the party of widespread antisemitism. Corbyn has been personally accused of antisemitism.[137][138][139][140] Ken Livingstone, Chris Williamson and Peter Willsman, amongst others, have been accused of antisemitism, and have since resigned or been suspended. The Labour Party has partially acknowledged that it has been slow in dealing with accusations of antisemitism by its members.[141][142] In 2018, the Party was divided over adopting the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism, with its references to Israel, prompting 68 rabbis from the Jewish community to criticise the leadership for ‘claiming to know what’s good for our community’.[143] The issue has been cited by a number of MPs who left the party to set up Change UK.[144] Later, Louise Ellman also left, having refused to support the leadership.[145] Following continuous media coverage of the issue, a survey conducted in 2018 showed that 86% of British Jews believe Corbyn is antisemitic.[146] In February 2019, party general secretary Jennie Formby issued statistics of antisemitism cases between April 2018 and January 2019 that showed 673 complaints had been made,[147] equating to around 0.1% of members.[148] During the 2019 general election, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis made an unprecedented intervention in politics, stating that antisemitism, ‘A new poison – sanctioned from the top – has taken root in the Labour Party’.[149] His comments were supported by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.[150] Earlier in 2019, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission launched an investigation into whether the Labour Party has "unlawfully discriminated against, harassed or victimised people because they are Jewish", following complaints by the Jewish Labour Movement and the Campaign Against Antisemitism.[151]

The 2019 Labour Party Manifesto included policies to increase funding for health, negotiate a Brexit deal and hold a referendum giving a choice between the deal and remain, raise the minimum wage, stop the age pension age increase, nationalise key industries, and replace universal credit.[152] Due to the plans to nationalise the "big six" energy firms, the National Grid, the water industry, Royal Mail, the railways and the broadband arm of BT, the 2019 manifesto was widely considered as the most radical in several decades, more closely resembling Labour's politics of the 1970s than subsequent decades.[153] The 2019 general election was the worst defeat for Labour since the 1930s.[154] At 32.2%, Labour's share of the vote was down around eight points on the 2017 general election and is lower than that achieved by Neil Kinnock in 1992, although it was higher than in 2010 and 2015. In the aftermath, opinions differed to why the Labour Party was defeated to the extent it was. The Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell largely blamed Brexit and the media representation of the party.[155] Tony Blair said that the party's unclear position on Brexit was a major factor together with the economic policy pursued by the Corbyn leadership.[156][157]

Sir Keir Starmer, Leader of the Opposition (2020–present)

Sir Keir Starmer was elected the new leader of the Labour party on the 4th of April 2020.[158]


The Labour Party is considered to be left of centre.[164] It was initially formed as a means for the trade union movement to establish political representation for itself at Westminster. It only gained a "socialist" commitment with the original party constitution of 1918. That "socialist" element, the original Clause IV, was seen by its strongest advocates as a straightforward commitment to the "common ownership", or nationalisation, of the "means of production, distribution and exchange". Although about a third of British industry was taken into public ownership after the Second World War, and remained so until the 1980s, the right of the party were questioning the validity of expanding on this objective by the late 1950s. Influenced by Anthony Crosland's book, The Future of Socialism (1956), the circle around party leader Hugh Gaitskell felt that the commitment was no longer necessary. While an attempt to remove Clause IV from the party constitution in 1959 failed, Tony Blair, and the "modernisers" saw the issue as putting off potential voters,[165] and were successful thirty-five years later,[166] with only limited opposition from senior figures in the party.[167]

Party electoral manifestos have not contained the term "socialism" since 1992. The new version of Clause IV, though affirming a commitment to democratic socialism,[168][169] no longer definitely commits the party to public ownership of industry: in its place it advocates "the enterprise of the market and the rigour of competition" along with "high quality public services [...] either owned by the public or accountable to them".[168]

Historically, influenced by Keynesian economics, the party favoured government intervention in the economy, and the redistribution of wealth. Taxation was seen as a means to achieve a "major redistribution of wealth and income" in the October 1974 election manifesto.[170] The party also desired increased rights for workers, and a welfare state including publicly funded healthcare.

From the late-1980s onwards, the party adopted free market policies,[171] leading many observers to describe the Labour Party as social democratic or the Third Way, rather than democratic socialist.[172] Other commentators go further and argue that traditional social democratic parties across Europe, including the British Labour Party, have been so deeply transformed in recent years that it is no longer possible to describe them ideologically as "social democratic",[173] and claim that this ideological shift has put new strains on the Labour Party's traditional relationship with the trade unions.[174] Historically within the party, differentiation was made between the social democratic and the socialist wings of the party, the latter often subscribed to a radical socialist, even Marxist, ideology.[175][176]

In more recent times, a limited number of Members of Parliament in the Socialist Campaign Group and the Labour Representation Committee have seen themselves as the standard bearers for the radical socialist tradition in contrast to the democratic socialist tradition represented by organisations such as Compass and the magazine Tribune.[177] The group Progress, founded in 1996, represents the centrist position in the party and is opposed to the Corbyn leadership.[178][179]

In 2015, Momentum was created by Jon Lansman as a grass-roots left-wing organisation following Jeremy Corbyn's election as party leader. Rather than organising among the PLP, Momentum is a rank and file grouping with an estimated 40,000 members.[180]


Labour has long been identified with red, a political colour traditionally affiliated with socialism and the labour movement. Prior to the red flag logo, the party had used a modified version of the classic 1924 shovel, torch, and quill emblem. In 1924 a brand conscious Labour leadership had devised a competition, inviting supporters to design a logo to replace the 'polo mint' like motif that had previously appeared on party literature. The winning entry, emblazoned with the word "Liberty" over a design incorporating a torch, shovel and quill symbol, was popularised through its sale, in badge form, for a shilling. The party conference in 1931 passed a motion "That this conference adopts Party Colours, which should be uniform throughout the country, colours to be red and gold".[181]

The red flag, originally the official flag and symbol of the Labour Party

Since the party's inception, the red flag has been Labour's official symbol; the flag has been associated with socialism and revolution ever since the 1789 French Revolution and the revolutions of 1848. The red rose, a symbol of socialism and social democracy, was adopted as the party symbol in 1986 as part of a rebranding exercise and is now incorporated into the party logo.[182]

The red flag became an inspiration which resulted in the composition of "The Red Flag", the official party anthem since its inception, being sung at the end of party conferences and on various occasions such as in Parliament on February 2006 to mark the centenary of the Labour Party's founding. It still remains in use, although attempts were made to play down the role of the song during New Labour.[183][184] The song "Jerusalem", based on a William Blake poem, is also frequently sung.[185]

Constitution and structure

Clause IV (1995)

The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.

-- Party Constitution, Labour Party Rule Book[168]

The Labour Party is a membership organisation consisting of individual members and constituency Labour parties, affiliated trade unions, socialist societies and the Co-operative Party, with which it has an electoral agreement. Members who are elected to parliamentary positions take part in the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and European Parliamentary Labour Party (EPLP).

The party's decision-making bodies on a national level formally include the National Executive Committee (NEC), Labour Party Conference and National Policy Forum (NPF)—although in practice the Parliamentary leadership has the final say on policy. The 2008 Labour Party Conference was the first at which affiliated trade unions and Constituency Labour Parties did not have the right to submit motions on contemporary issues that would previously have been debated.[186] Labour Party conferences now include more "keynote" addresses, guest speakers and question-and-answer sessions, while specific discussion of policy now takes place in the National Policy Forum.

The Labour Party is an unincorporated association without a separate legal personality, and the Labour Party Rule Book legally regulates the organisation and the relationship with members.[187] The General Secretary represents the party on behalf of the other members of the Labour Party in any legal matters or actions.[188]

Membership and registered supporters

A graph showing Labour Party individual membership, excluding affiliated members and supporters (1928–2018)

In August 2015, prior to the 2015 leadership election, the Labour Party reported 292,505 full members, 147,134 affiliated supporters (mostly from affiliated trade unions and socialist societies) and 110,827 registered supporters; a total of about 550,000 members and supporters.[189][190] As of December 2017, the party had approximately 552,000 full members, making it the largest political party in Western Europe.[191][192] Consequently, membership fees became the largest component of the party's income, overtaking trade unions donations which were previously of most financial importance, and in 2017 making Labour the most financially well-off British political party.[193]

In February 2019, leaked membership figures revealed a decline to 512,000.[194][195] By July 2019, further leaked figures suggested the membership may have fallen to 485,000.[196] By January 2020, however, Labour was revealed to have around 580,000 registered members, making it the largest political party anywhere in Europe.[4]

For many years, Labour held to a policy of not allowing residents of Northern Ireland to apply for membership,[197] instead supporting the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) which informally takes the Labour whip in the House of Commons.[198] The 2003 Labour Party Conference accepted legal advice that the party could not continue to prohibit residents of the province joining,[199] and whilst the National Executive has established a regional constituency party it has not yet agreed to contest elections there. In December 2015 a meeting of the members of the Labour Party in Northern Ireland decided unanimously to contest the elections for the Northern Ireland Assembly held in May 2016.[200]

Trade union link

See also: Trade unionism in the United Kingdom

Unite the Union showing their support for the Labour party on their Leeds offices during the 2015 general election

The Trade Union and Labour Party Liaison Organisation is the co-ordinating structure that supports the policy and campaign activities of affiliated union members within the Labour Party at the national, regional and local level.[201]

As it was founded by the unions to represent the interests of working-class people, Labour's link with the unions has always been a defining characteristic of the party. In recent years this link has come under increasing strain, with the RMT being expelled from the party in 2004 for allowing its branches in Scotland to affiliate to the left-wing Scottish Socialist Party.[202] Other unions have also faced calls from members to reduce financial support for the Party[203] and seek more effective political representation for their views on privatisation, public spending cuts and the anti-trade union laws.[204] Unison and GMB have both threatened to withdraw funding from constituency MPs and Dave Prentis of UNISON has warned that the union will write "no more blank cheques" and is dissatisfied with "feeding the hand that bites us".[205] Union funding was redesigned in 2013 after the Falkirk candidate-selection controversy.[206] The Fire Brigades Union, which "severed links" with Labour in 2004, re-joined the party under Corbyn's leadership in 2015.[207]

European and international affiliation

The Labour Party is a founder member of the Party of European Socialists (PES). The European Parliamentary Labour Party's 10 MEPs are part of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), the second largest group in the European Parliament. The Labour Party is represented by Emma Reynolds in the PES Presidency.[208]

The party was a member of the Labour and Socialist International between 1923 and 1940.[209] Since 1951 the party has been a member of the Socialist International, which was founded thanks to the efforts of the Clement Attlee leadership. However, in February 2013, the Labour Party NEC decided to downgrade participation to observer membership status, "in view of ethical concerns, and to develop international co-operation through new networks".[210] Labour was a founding member of the Progressive Alliance international founded in co-operation with the Social Democratic Party of Germany and other social-democratic parties on 22 May 2013.[211][212][213][214]

Electoral performance

UK-wide elections

UK general elections

See also: Elections in the United Kingdom § General elections

Parliament of the United Kingdom

Election / Leader / Votes No. / Votes Share / Seats No. / ± / Seats Share / Position / Government

1945 Clement Attlee 11,967,746 47.7
393 / 640
Increase 239 61.0 Increase 1st Labour
1997 Tony Blair 13,518,167 43.2
419 / 659
Increase 148 63.6 Increase 1st Labour
1929[fn 2] Ramsay MacDonald 8,048,968 37.1
287 / 615
Increase 136 47.0 Increase 1st Labour minority
1935 Clement Attlee 7,984,988 38.0
154 / 615
Increase 102 25.0 Steady 2nd Conservative–Liberal National–National Labour
1922 J. R. Clynes 4,076,665 29.7
142 / 615
Increase 85 23.1 Increase 2nd Conservative
1964 Harold Wilson 12,205,808 44.1
317 / 630
Increase 59 50.3 Increase 1st Labour
1923 Ramsay MacDonald 4,267,831 30.7
191 / 625
Increase 49 30.1 Steady 2nd Labour minority
1966 Harold Wilson 13,096,629 48.0
364 / 630
Increase 47 57.8 Steady 1st Labour
1992 Neil Kinnock 11,560,484 34.4
271 / 651
Increase 42 41.6 Steady 2nd Conservative
2017 Jeremy Corbyn 12,874,985 40.0
262 / 650
Increase 30 40.3 Steady 2nd Conservative minority
with DUP confidence and supply
1906 Keir Hardie 321,663 5.7
29 / 670
Increase 27 4.3 Increase 4th Liberal
1987 Neil Kinnock 10,029,807 30.8
229 / 650
Increase 20 35.2 Steady 2nd Conservative
October 1974 Harold Wilson 11,457,079 39.2
319 / 635
Increase 18 50.2 Steady 1st Labour
1918[fn 1] William Adamson 2,245,777 21.5
57 / 707
Increase 15 8.1 Steady 4th Coalition Liberal–Conservative
February 1974 Harold Wilson 11,645,616 37.2
301 / 635
Increase 13 47.4 Increase 1st Labour minority
January 1910 Arthur Henderson 505,657 7.6
40 / 670
Increase 11 6.0 Steady 4th Liberal minority
1900 Keir Hardie 62,698 1.8
2 / 670
Increase 2 0.3 5th Conservative–Liberal Unionist
December 1910 George Nicoll Barnes 371,802 7.1
42 / 670
Increase 2 6.3 Steady 4th Liberal minority
1931 Arthur Henderson 6,339,306 30.8
52 / 615
Decrease 235 8.5 Decrease 2nd Conservative–Liberal–National Labour
2010 Gordon Brown 8,601,441 29.1
258 / 650
Decrease 98 40.0 Decrease 2nd Conservative–Liberal Democrats
1950 Clement Attlee 13,266,176 46.1
315 / 625
Decrease 78 50.4 Steady 1st Labour
1970[fn 3] Harold Wilson 12,208,758 43.1
288 / 630
Decrease 76 45.7 Decrease 2nd Conservative
1983 Michael Foot 8,456,934 27.6
209 / 650
Decrease 60 32.2 Steady 2nd Conservative
2019 Jeremy Corbyn 10,269,076 32.2
202 / 650
Decrease 60 31.1 Steady 2nd Conservative
2005 Tony Blair 9,562,122 35.3
356 / 646
Decrease 57 55.1 Steady 1st Labour
1979 James Callaghan 11,532,218 36.9
269 / 635
Decrease 50 42.4 Decrease 2nd Conservative
1924 Ramsay MacDonald 5,281,626 33.3
151 / 615
Decrease 40 24.6 Steady 2nd Conservative
2015 Ed Miliband 9,339,818 30.5
232 / 650
Decrease 26 36.0 Steady 2nd Conservative
1951 Clement Attlee 13,948,883 48.8
295 / 625
Decrease 20 47.2 Decrease 2nd Conservative
1959 Hugh Gaitskell 12,216,172 43.8
258 / 630
Decrease 19 40.1 Steady 2nd Conservative
1955 Clement Attlee 12,405,254 46.4
277 / 630
Decrease 18 44.0 Steady 2nd Conservative
2001 Tony Blair 10,724,953 40.7
413 / 659
Decrease 6 62.7 Steady 1st Labour


1. The first election held under the Representation of the People Act 1918 in which all men over 21, and most women over the age of 30 could vote, and therefore a much larger electorate.
2. The first election held under the Representation of the People Act 1928 which gave all women aged over 21 the vote.
3. Franchise extended to all 18- to 20-year-olds under the Representation of the People Act 1969.

A graph showing the percentage of the popular vote received by major parties in general elections (1832–2005)

European Parliament elections

See also: European Parliament and Elections to the European Parliament

Elections to the European Parliament began in 1979, and were held under the first past the post system until 1999, when a form of proportional representation was introduced.

Year / Leader / % share of votes / Seats / Change / Position
1979 James Callaghan 31.6
17 / 78
1984 Neil Kinnock 34.7
32 / 78
Increase 15 Steady 2nd
1989 40.1
45 / 78
Increase 13 Increase 1st
1994 Margaret Beckett
(interim) 42.6
62 / 84
Increase 17 Steady 1st
1999[fn 1] Tony Blair 28.0
29 / 84
Decrease 33 Decrease 2nd
2004 22.6
19 / 78
Decrease 6 Steady 2nd
2009 Gordon Brown 15.7
13 / 72
Decrease 5 Decrease 3rd
2014 Ed Miliband 24.4
20 / 73
Increase 7 Increase 2nd
2019 Jeremy Corbyn 13.6
10 / 73
Decrease 10 Decrease 3rd

1. Electoral system changed from first past the post to proportional representation.

Devolved assembly elections

Scottish Parliament elections

See also: Scottish Parliament and Scottish Labour Party

Year / Leader / % share of votes (constituency) / % share of votes (list) / Seats / Change / Position / Resulting government

1999 Donald Dewar 38.8 33.6
56 / 129
1st Labour–Liberal Democrats
2003 Jack McConnell 34.6 29.3
50 / 129
Decrease 6 Steady 1st Labour–Liberal Democrats
2007 32.2 29.2
46 / 129
Decrease 4 Decrease 2nd Scottish National minority
2011 Iain Gray 31.7 26.3
37 / 129
Decrease 7 Steady 2nd Scottish National
2016 Kezia Dugdale 22.6 19.1
24 / 129
Decrease 13 Decrease 3rd Scottish National minority

Welsh Assembly elections

See also: National Assembly for Wales and Welsh Labour

Year / Leader / % share of votes (constituency) / % share of votes (list) / Seats won / Change / Position / Resulting government

1999 Alun Michael 37.6 35.5
28 / 60
1st Labour–Liberal Democrats
2003 Rhodri Morgan 40 36.6
30 / 60
Increase 2 Steady 1st Labour
2007 32.2 29.7
26 / 60
Decrease 4 Steady 1st Labour–Plaid Cymru
2011 Carwyn Jones 42.3 36.9
30 / 60
Increase 4 Steady 1st Labour
2016 34.7 31.5
29 / 60
Decrease 1 Steady 1st Labour minority

London Assembly and Mayoral elections

See also: London Assembly, Mayor of London, and London Labour Party

Year / Assembly leader / % share of votes (constituency) / % share of votes (list) / Seats / Change Position / Mayoral candidate / Mayoralty

2000 Toby Harris 31.6 30.3
9 / 25
1st Frank Dobson ✗
2004 24.7 25.0
7 / 25
Decrease 2 Decrease 2nd Ken Livingstone ✓
2008 Len Duvall 28.0 27.1
8 / 25
Increase 1 Steady 2nd ✗
2012 42.3 41.1
12 / 25
Increase 4 Increase 1st ✗
2016 43.5 40.3
12 / 25
Steady Steady 1st Sadiq Khan ✓

Combined authority elections

Year / Mayoralties won / Change

2017 / 2 / 6 / Increase 2
2018 / 1 / 1 / Increase 1
2019 / 1 / 1 / Increase 1
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Leaders of the Labour Party since 1906

Main article: Leader of the Labour Party (UK)

• Keir Hardie (1906–1908)
• Arthur Henderson (1908–1910)
• George Nicoll Barnes (1910–1911)
• Ramsay MacDonald (1911–1914)
• Arthur Henderson (1914–1917)
• William Adamson (1917–1921)
• John Robert Clynes (1921–1922)
• Ramsay MacDonald (1922–1931)
• Arthur Henderson (1931–1932)
• George Lansbury (1932–1935)
• Clement Attlee (1935–1955)
• Hugh Gaitskell (1955–1963)
o George Brown (1963; acting)
• Harold Wilson (1963–1976)
• James Callaghan (1976–1980)
• Michael Foot (1980–1983)
• Neil Kinnock (1983–1992)
• John Smith (1992–1994)
o Margaret Beckett (1994; acting)[215]
• Tony Blair (1994–2007)
• Gordon Brown (2007–2010)
o Harriet Harman (2010; acting)[215]
• Ed Miliband (2010–2015)
o Harriet Harman (2015; acting)
• Jeremy Corbyn (2015–2020)
• Keir Starmer (2020–present)

Living former Labour Party leaders

As of April 2020, there are seven living former Labour Party leaders.

• Neil Kinnock, (1983–1992), born 1942 (age 78)
• Margaret Beckett, (1994; interim), born 1943 (age 77)
• Tony Blair, (1994–2007), born 1953 (age 66)
• Gordon Brown, (2007–2010), born 1951 (age 69)
• Harriet Harman, (2010 and 2015; interim), born 1950 (age 69)
• Ed Miliband, (2010–2015), born 1969 (age 50)
• Jeremy Corbyn, (2015–2020), born 1949 (age 70)

Deputy Leaders of the Labour Party since 1922

Main article: Deputy Leader of the Labour Party (UK)

• John Robert Clynes (1922–1932)
• William Graham (1931–1932)
• Clement Attlee (1932–1935)
• Arthur Greenwood (1935–1945)
• Herbert Morrison (1945–1955)
• Jim Griffiths (1955–1959)
• Aneurin Bevan (1959–1960)
• George Brown (1960–1970)
• Roy Jenkins (1970–1972)
• Edward Short (1972–1976)
• Michael Foot (1976–1980)
• Denis Healey (1980–1983)
• Roy Hattersley (1983–1992)
• Margaret Beckett (1992–1994)
• John Prescott (1994–2007)
• Harriet Harman (2007–2015)
• Tom Watson (2015–2019)
• Angela Rayner (2020–present)

Living former Labour Party deputy leaders

As of April 2020, there are five living former Labour Party deputy leaders.

• Roy Hattersley (1983–1992), born 1932 (age 87)
• Margaret Beckett (1992–1994), born 1943 (age 77)
• John Prescott (1994–2007), born 1938 (age 81)
• Harriet Harman (2007–2015), born 1950 (age 69)
• Tom Watson (2015–2019), born 1967 (age 53)

Leaders in the House of Lords since 1924

• Richard Haldane, 1st Viscount Haldane (1924–1928)
• Charles Cripps, 1st Baron Parmoor (1928–1931)
• Arthur Ponsonby, 1st Baron Ponsonby of Shulbrede (1931–1935)
• Harry Snell, 1st Baron Snell (1935–1940)
• Christopher Addison, 1st Viscount Addison (1940–1952)
• William Jowitt, 1st Earl Jowitt (1952–1955)
• Albert Victor Alexander, 1st Earl Alexander of Hillsborough (1955–1964)
• Frank Pakenham, 7th Earl of Longford (1964–1968)
• Edward Shackleton, Baron Shackleton (1968–1974)
• Malcolm Shepherd, 2nd Baron Shepherd (1974–1976)
• Fred Peart, Baron Peart (1976–1982)
• Cledwyn Hughes, Baron Cledwyn of Penrhos (1982–1992)
• Ivor Richard, Baron Richard (1992–1998)
• Margaret Jay, Baroness Jay of Paddington (1998–2001)
• Gareth Williams, Baron Williams of Mostyn (2001–2003)
• Valerie Amos, Baroness Amos (2003–2007)
• Catherine Ashton, Baroness Ashton of Upholland (2007–2008)
• Janet Royall, Baroness Royall of Blaisdon (2008–2015)
• Angela Smith, Baroness Smith of Basildon (2015–present)

Labour Prime Ministers

Labour Prime Ministers

Name / Country of birth / Periods in office

Ramsay MacDonald / Scotland / 1924; 1929–1931 (first and second MacDonald ministries)
Clement Attlee / England / 1945–1950; 1950–1951 (Attlee ministry)
Harold Wilson / England / 1964–1966; 1966–1970; 1974; 1974–1976 (first and second Wilson ministries)
James Callaghan / England 1976–1979 (Callaghan ministry)
Tony Blair / Scotland / 1997–2001; 2001–2005; 2005–2007 (Blair ministry)
Gordon Brown / Scotland / 2007–2010 (Brown ministry)

See also

• Politics portal
• United Kingdom portal
• Organised labour portal
• Socialism portal
• Antisemitism in the Labour Party
• Blue Labour
• English Labour Network
• History of the Labour Party (UK)
• Labour Co-operative
• Labour In for Britain
• Labour Party in Northern Ireland
• Labour Representation Committee election results
• List of Labour Parties
• List of Labour Party (UK) MPs
• List of organisations associated with the British Labour Party
• List of UK Labour Party general election manifestos
• Politics of the United Kingdom
• Scottish Labour Party
• Socialist Labour Party (UK)
• Socialist Party (England and Wales)
• Welsh Labour
• Yorkshire and the Humber Labour Party


1. The Labour Party have a policy not to stand in the 18 constituencies in Northern Ireland. The Labour Party has recently set up an officially recognised branch party in the region. The SDLP MPs unofficially take the Labour whip.


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• Smith, Paul (2009). "New Labour and the Commonsense of Neoliberalism: Trade Unionism, Collective Bargaining and Workers' Rights". Industrial Relations Journal. 40 (4): 337–355. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2338.2009.00531.x. ISSN 1472-9296.
• Smith, Paul; Morton, Gary (2006). "Nine Years of New Labour: Neoliberalism and Workers' Rights" (PDF). British Journal of Industrial Relations. 44 (3): 401–420. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8543.2006.00506.x. ISSN 1467-8543. Archived from the original(PDF) on 26 July 2016. Retrieved 26 July 2016.
• Taylor, A. J. P. (1965). English History: 1914–1945. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
• Thorpe, Andrew (1996). "The Industrial Meaning of 'Gradualism': The Labour Party and Industry, 1918–1931". Journal of British Studies. 35 (1): 84–113. doi:10.1086/386097. hdl:10036/19512. ISSN 1545-6986. JSTOR 175746.
• ——— (2001). A History of the British Labour Party (2nd ed.). Basingstoke: Palgrave. ISBN 978-0-333-92908-7.
• ——— (2008). A History of the British Labour Party (3rd ed.). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-137-11485-3.
• Wright, Tony; Carter, Matt (1997). The People's Party: The History of the Labour Party. London: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 978-0-500-27956-4.

Further reading

• Bew, John. Clement Attlee: The Man Who Made Modern Britain (2017). the fullest biography.
• Cole, G. D. H. A History of the Labour Party from 1914 (1969).
• Davies, A. J. To Build a New Jerusalem: Labour Movement from the 1890s to the 1990s (1996).
• Driver, Stephen and Luke Martell. New Labour: Politics after Thatcherism (Polity Press, wnd ed. 2006).
• Field, Geoffrey G. Blood, Sweat, and Toil: Remaking the British Working Class, 1939–1945 (2011) doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199604111.001.0001 online
• Foote, Geoffrey. The Labour Party's Political Thought: A History (Macmillan, 1997).
• Francis, Martin. Ideas and Policies under Labour 1945–51 (Manchester UP, 1997).
• Howell, David.British Social Democracy (Croom Helm, 1976)
• Howell, David. MacDonald's Party, (Oxford University Press, 2002).
• Kavanagh, Dennis. The Politics of the Labour Party (Routledge, 2013).
• Matthew, H. C. G., R. I. McKibbin, J. A. Kay. "The Franchise Factor in the Rise of the Labour Party," English Historical review91#361 (Oct. 1976), pp. 723–752 in JSTOR
• Miliband, Ralph. Parliamentary Socialism (1972).
• Mioni, Michele. "The Attlee government and welfare state reforms in post-war Italian Socialism (1945–51): Between universalism and class policies." Labor History 57#2 (2016): 277–297. doi:10.1080/0023656X.2015.1116811
• Morgan, Kenneth O. Labour in Power, 1945–51, OUP, 1984
• Morgan, Kenneth O. Labour People: Leaders and Lieutenants, Hardie to Kinnock OUP, 1992, scholarly biographies of 30 key leaders.
• Pelling, Henry, and Alastair J. Reid, A Short History of the Labour Party, Palgrave Macmillan, 2005 ed.
• Ben Pimlott, Labour and the Left in the 1930s, Cambridge University Press, 1977.
• Plant, Raymond, Matt Beech and Kevin Hickson (2004), The Struggle for Labour's Soul: understanding Labour's political thought since 1945, Routledge
• Clive Ponting, Breach of Promise, 1964–70 (Penguin, 1990).
• Reeves, Rachel, and Martin McIvor. "Clement Attlee and the foundations of the British welfare state." Renewal: a Journal of Labour Politics 22.3/4 (2014): 42+ online.
• Rogers, Chris. "‘Hang on a Minute, I've Got a Great Idea’: From the Third Way to Mutual Advantage in the Political Economy of the British Labour Party." British Journal of Politics and International Relations 15#1 (2013): 53–69.
• Rosen, Greg, ed. Dictionary of Labour Biography. Politicos Publishing, 2001, 665pp; short biographies.
• Rose, Richard. The relation of socialist principles to British Labour foreign policy, 1945–51 (PhD. Dissertation. U of Oxford, 1960)online
• Rosen, Greg. Old Labour to New, Politicos Publishing, 2005
• Shaw, Eric. The Labour Party since 1979: Crisis and Transformation (Routledge, 1994).
• Shaw, Eric. "Understanding Labour Party Management under Tony Blair." Political Studies Review 14.2 (2016): 153–162.
• Taylor, Robert. The Parliamentary Labour Party: A History 1906–2006 (2007)
• Worley, Matthew. Labour Inside the Gate: A History of the British Labour Party between the Wars (2009)

External links

Official party websites

• Labour
• Scottish Labour
• Welsh Labour
• Young Labour


• Labour History Group website
• Guardian Unlimited Politics—Special Report: Labour Party
• Tony Benn Speech Archive, former Labour Party Chairman, 1971–72
• Labour History Archive and Study Centre holds archives of the National Labour Party
• "Déroute historique des travaillistes". L'Humanité. 5 May 2008.
• Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform website
• Labour Party (UK) discography at Discogs
• Catalogue of the Labour Party East Midlands Region archives held at the Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick
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Barbara Castle
by Wikipedia
Accessed: 4/16/20

The Right Honourable, The Baroness Castle of Blackburn, PC
Secretary of State for Health and Social Services
In office: 5 March 1974 – 8 April 1976
Prime Minister: Harold Wilson
Preceded by: Keith Joseph
Succeeded by: David Ennals
First Secretary of State
In office: 6 April 1968 – 19 June 1970
Prime Minister: Harold Wilson
Preceded by: Michael Stewart
Succeeded by: Michael Heseltine
Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity
In office: 6 April 1968 – 19 June 1970
Prime Minister: Harold Wilson
Preceded by: Ray Gunter
Succeeded by: Robert Carr
Minister for Transport
In office: 23 December 1965 – 6 April 1968
Prime Minister: Harold Wilson
Preceded by: Tom Fraser
Succeeded by: Richard Marsh
Minister for Overseas Development
In office: 18 October 1964 – 23 December 1965
Prime Minister: Harold Wilson
Preceded by: Office created
Succeeded by: Anthony Greenwood
Member of the House of Lords, Lord Temporal
In office: 15 June 1990 – 3 May 2002
Life Peerage
Member of the European Parliament for Greater Manchester West (1984-1989); Greater Manchester North (1979-1984)
In office: 17 July 1979 – 21 July 1989
Preceded by: Constituency created
Succeeded by: Gary Titley
Member of Parliament for Blackburn, Blackburn East (1950–1955)
In office: 27 July 1945 – 3 May 1979
Preceded by: George Sampson Elliston
Succeeded by: Jack Straw
Personal details
Born: Barbara Anne Betts, 6 October 1910, Chesterfield, Derbyshire, England
Died: 3 May 2002 (aged 91), Chiltern, Buckinghamshire, England
Political party: Labour
Spouse(s): Edward Castle, Baron Castle (m. 1944; died 1979)
Alma mater: St Hugh's College, Oxford
a. ^ Office vacant from 19 June 1970 to 5 July 1995.

Barbara Anne Castle, Baroness Castle of Blackburn, PC (née Betts; 6 October 1910 – 3 May 2002) was a British Labour Party politician who was the Member of Parliament for Blackburn from 1945 to 1979, making her the longest-serving female MP in the history of the House of Commons until that record was broken in 2007 by Gwyneth Dunwoody. She later became the Member of the European Parliament for Greater Manchester from 1979 to 1989 and subsequently a member of the House of Lords, having been granted a life peerage in 1990.

One of the most significant Labour Party politicians of the 20th century, Castle developed a close political partnership with Harold Wilson and served in several Cabinet roles during both his premierships. As Minister of Transport (1965–1968) she oversaw the introduction of permanent speed limits, breathalysers and seat belts. Castle was then elevated to Secretary of State for Employment and First Secretary of State (1968–1970), and successfully intervened in the strike by Ford sewing machinists against pay discrimination. Following this Castle introduced the Equal Pay Act 1970. During her time in government Castle also served as Minister for Overseas Development and Secretary of State for Health and Social Services.

Early life

Barbara Anne Betts was born on 6 October 1910 at 64 Derby Road, Chesterfield, the youngest of three children to Frank Betts and his wife Annie Rebecca (née Ferrand).[1] Raised in Pontefract and Bradford, Castle grew up in a politically active home and was introduced to socialism from a young age. Her older sister, Marjorie, later became a pioneer of the Inner London Education Authority, while their brother Tristram (almost always called Jimmie) engaged in field work with Oxfam in Nigeria. She joined the Labour Party as a teenager.

Her father was a tax inspector, exempt from military service in the First World War due to his high rank in a reserved occupation. It was because of the nature of the tax-collecting profession, and the promotions he received, that the family frequently moved around the country. Having moved to Bradford in 1922, the Betts family swiftly became involved with the Independent Labour Party. Although her father was prohibited from formal political activity because of his role as a civil servant, he became editor of the Bradford Pioneer, the city's socialist newspaper, after William Leach was elected to Parliament in 1935.[2][3] Castle's mother ran the family home while also operating a soup kitchen for the town's coalminers. After Barbara had left home Annie was elected as a Labour councillor in Bradford.


Castle attended Love Lane Elementary School, then to Pontefract and District Girls High School. After moving to Bradford at the age of twelve, she attended Bradford Girls' Grammar School. She became involved in acting at the school and developed oratorical skills. She excelled academically, winning numerous awards from the school. She also organised mock elections at the school, in which she stood as the Labour candidate. There were some aspects of the school that she did not like, notably the presence of many girls from rich families. In her last year she was appointed Head Girl.

Her education continued at St Hugh's College, Oxford, from which she graduated with a third-class BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. She began serious political activity at Oxford, serving as the Treasurer of the Oxford University Labour Club, the highest position a woman could hold in the club at the time. She struggled to accept the atmosphere of a university that had only recently begun to question its traditionally sexist attitudes. She was scornful of the elitist nature of some elements of the institution, branding the Oxford Union "that cadet class of the establishment".

Early career

She was elected to St Pancras Metropolitan Borough Council in 1937 (where she remained until 1945), and in 1943 she spoke at the annual Labour Party Conference for the first time. Throughout the Second World War she worked as a senior administrative officer at the Ministry of Food and she was an Air Raid Precautions (ARP) warden during the Blitz.[4]

She became a reporter on the left-wing magazine Tribune, where she had a romantic relationship with William Mellor, who was to become its editor, until his death in 1942.[5] Following her marriage to Ted Castle in 1944, she became the housing correspondent at the Daily Mirror.[5]

Member of Parliament (1945–1979)

In the 1945 general election, which Labour won by a landslide, Castle was elected as the Member of Parliament for Blackburn. As Blackburn was then a two-member constituency,[6] she was elected alongside fellow Labour candidate John Edwards. Castle had secured her place as a parliamentary candidate through the women of the Blackburn Labour Party, who had threatened to quit unless she was added to the otherwise all-male shortlist.[7]

Castle was the youngest of the handful of women elected.[8][nb 1] Although she had grown up in similar northern industrial towns, she had no prior connection to Blackburn.[4] Eager not to appear as a "parachute candidate", she studied weaving and spinning, and spent time living with a local family.[4] In her maiden speech she highlighted the problems facing servicemen then going through demobilisation.[7]

Immediately upon her entering the House of Commons Castle was appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to Sir Stafford Cripps, President of the Board of Trade,[7] who had known her as a member of the pre-war Socialist League. Harold Wilson succeeded Cripps in 1947 and retained Castle as his PPS, marking the beginning of the pair's lengthy political relationship.[7] She gained further experience as the UK's alternate delegate to the United Nations General Assembly for 1949–1950, when she displayed particular concerned for social and humanitarian issues.[7] She soon achieved a reputation as a left-winger and a rousing speaker. During the 1950s she was a high-profile Bevanite, and made a name for herself as a vocal advocate of decolonisation and the Anti-Apartheid Movement.

Cabinet minister

Minister for Overseas Development, 1964–1965

Castle meeting John Tembo, Malawi Minister of Finance (circa 1965)

Labour returned to government under Harold Wilson in October 1964 following a general election, defeating Alec Douglas-Home's Conservative government by winning a slim majority of four seats, thus ending 13 years of successive Conservative governments. Wilson had selected his core Cabinet four months prior to the election;[10] Castle knew Wilson intended to place her within his Cabinet, which would make her the fourth woman in British history ever to hold position in a Cabinet, after Margaret Bondfield, Ellen Wilkinson and Florence Horsbrugh.[11]

Castle entered the Cabinet as the first Minister for Overseas Development, a newly created ministry for which she, alongside the Fabian Society, had drawn up the plans for.[10] For the last year she had acted as the opposition spokeswoman on overseas development.[10] Castle's plans were extensive, though the ministry's budget was modest.[12] She set about trying to divert powers from other departments related to overseas aid, including the Foreign Office and the Treasury. She was only partially successful in her aims and provoked an internal Whitehall dispute in the process.[13]

In June 1965 Castle announced interest-free aid loans would be available to certain (not exclusively Commonwealth) countries.[14] She had previously criticised the Conservative government for granting loans that only waived up to the first seven years of interest, which she considered to be counter-intuitive.[15]

In August, Castle published her government white paper Overseas Development: The Work of a New Ministry.[16] The financial commitments of the ministry were omitted from the report, after a protracted clash between Castle and her Cabinet colleagues James Callaghan (Chancellor of the Exchequer) and George Brown (Secretary of State for Economic Affairs). Labour had made a manifesto promise to increase aid spending to 1% of gross national product, almost double Conservative spending.[17] However, the national economy was unstable, public resentment towards the Commonwealth was growing due to immigration, and within Cabinet aid was viewed with either indifference or contempt.[15] Castle grappled with Callaghan and Brown over the department's budgetary allocation; they reached a compromise following Wilson's intervention,[18] but the sum only amounted to a small increase in spending.[19]

Minister of Transport, 1965–1968

Initially reluctant to head up the department, Castle accepted the role of Minister of Transport (23 December 1965 – 6 April 1968) in a Cabinet reshuffle after Wilson proved persuasive.[20]

In February 1966, Castle addressed Parliament, calling for "a profound change in public attitudes" to curtail increasing road fatality figures, stating: "Hitler did not manage to kill as many civilians in Britain as have been killed on our roads since the war".[21] The statistics bore out; between 1945 and the mid-1960s approximately 150,000 people were killed and several million injured on Britain's roads.[22]

She introduced the breathalyser to combat the then recently acknowledged crisis of drink-driving. Castle said she was "ready to risk unpopularity" by introducing the measures if it meant saving lives.[23] She was challenged by a BBC journalist on The World This Weekend, who described the policy as a "rotten idea" and asked her: "You're only a woman, you don't drive, what do you know about it?"[23] In the 12 months following the introduction of the breathalyser, Government figures revealed road deaths had dropped by 16.5%.[24]

Castle also made permanent the national speed limit (70 mph). Having been introduced as a four-month trial by outgoing Transport Minister Tom Fraser in December 1965, Castle first extended the limit period in 1966 and in 1967 made the limit permanent, following the findings of a Road Research Laboratory report revealing motorway casualties had fallen 20% since its introduction.[25][26]

During a tour of New York City in October 1966, where Castle was examining the impact of traffic problems in American cities, she vocalised plans to introduce a London congestion charge, which was to be introduced as soon as the technical details of fee collection were solved.[27] Castle urged New York's Transport Commissioner to adopt the same policy, describing plans for more roadways as "self-defeating", stating the solution was "more and better mass transit systems".[27]

Castle authorised the construction of the Humber Bridge (pictured in 1980, prior to completion)

Castle also sanctioned the construction of the Humber Bridge,[6] which was the world's longest suspension bridge upon its opening in 1981.[28] In late 1965, the Labour MP for nearby Kingston upon Hull North died, triggering a by-election. The marginal seat was of critical importance to the government and its loss would have reduced Labour's majority in the House of Commons to just one.[6] Harold Wilson invoked Castle to find the necessary funding and promise the bridge's construction as an 'election sweetener'.[6] The move paid off, with Labour holding the seat.

She presided over the closure of approximately 2,050 miles of railways as she enacted her part of the Beeching cuts—a betrayal of pre-election commitments by the Labour party to halt the proposals. Nevertheless, she refused closure of several lines, one example being the Looe Valley Line in Cornwall, and introduced the first Government rail subsidies for socially necessary but unprofitable railways in the Transport Act 1968.

One of her most memorable achievements as Transport minister was to pass legislation decreeing that all new cars had to be fitted with seat belts. Despite being appointed to the Ministry of Transport, a role which she was originally unenthusiastic about, Castle could not actually drive herself, and was chauffeured to functions. (The Labour politician Hazel Blears recalled driving Castle at one time as a young Labour Party activist in the 1980s.[29]) Despite her lack of a driving licence, she attracted controversy when she told local government leaders to give added emphasis to motor vehicle access in urban areas, as "most pedestrians are walking to or from their cars."

Castle and her husband Edward Castle had bought a new flat in John Spencer Square in late 1967[30] while she was the Minister of Transport.

First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Employment, 1968–1970

As Secretary of State for Employment, she was also appointed First Secretary of State by Wilson, bringing her firmly into the heart of government. She was never far from controversy which reached a fever pitch when the trade unions rebelled against her proposals to reduce their powers in her 1969 white paper, 'In Place of Strife'. This also involved a major cabinet split, with threatened resignations, hot tempers and her future nemesis James Callaghan breaking ranks to publicly try to undermine the bill. The whole episode alienated her from many of her friends on the left, with the Tribune newspaper railing very hard against the bill, which they held to be attacking the workers without attacking the bosses. The split is often said to be partly responsible for Labour's defeat at the 1970 general election. The eventual deal with the unions dropped most of the contentious clauses.

Castle also helped make history when she intervened in the Ford sewing machinists' strike of 1968, in which the women of the Dagenham Ford Plant demanded to be paid the same as their male counterparts. She helped resolve the strike, which resulted in a pay rise for Ford's female workers bringing them to 92% of what the men received. Most significantly, as a consequence of this strike, Castle put through the Equal Pay Act 1970.[31] A 2010 British film, Made in Dagenham, was based on the Ford strike. She was portrayed by Miranda Richardson.

In April 1970, Castle's husband Ted lost his position as an alderman of the Greater London Council. He was devastated and although he was supportive of his wife's achievements, he considered himself a failure against her.[32] Upset and concerned by her husband's distress, Barbara moved to persuade Wilson to grant Ted a peerage.[7]


In May 1970, Wilson called a general election, held on 18 June. The Conservative Party, led by Edward Heath, enjoyed a surprise victory, despite opinion polling indicating a steady lead for Labour in the run-up.[33] Castle privately blamed complacency within Labour for their loss and had expressed skepticism of their poll lead, writing in her diaries: "I have a haunting feeling there is a silent majority sitting behind its lace curtains waiting to come out and vote Tory."[33]

In the immediate aftermath of the government's defeat, Castle found she was out of favour with Wilson. The day following the general election, Wilson held a final inner Cabinet meeting at Downing Street, to which Castle was not invited.[34] Eager to make contact, she later called him at Chequers, where Wilson engaged in a brusque telephone conversation with her.[34]

Refusing to acknowledge her career had been curtailed, Castle proposed to run for deputy leadership of the Parliamentary Labour Party.[35] When she informed Wilson of her plans he was furious; Castle's reputation within the party had been damaged by the failure of In Place of Strife and Wilson censured her, claiming her plan would split the party.[35] In an act of retribution for her challenge to the deputy leadership, Wilson impeded Ted Castle's peerage, which he had all but promised prior to the general election.[36]

Castle remained as the Labour shadow spokesperson on Employment. The new Government introduced many of her policy suggestions as part of their Industrial Relations Act. When she was attacking the Conservative bill, the government simply pointed to her own white paper, following which Wilson reshuffled her first to the health portfolio and then out of the shadow cabinet.

Return to Cabinet

Secretary of State for Health and Social Services, 1974–1976

In 1974, after Harold Wilson's defeat of Edward Heath, Castle became Secretary of State for Health and Social Services. While serving in this position, Castle introduced a wide range of innovative welfare reforms, including the introduction of the mobility allowance, the Invalid Care Allowance (July 1976) for single women and others who give up their jobs to care for severely disabled relatives, the introduction of a non-contributory invalidity pension for disabled persons who had not qualified for invalidity pension, reforms in child allowances, and the linking of most social security benefits to earnings rather than prices.[37]

In the 1975 referendum debate she took a Eurosceptic stance. During a debate with Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe he asked her whether, if the vote would be yes, she would stay on as a minister. To this she replied: "If the vote is yes my country will need me to save it."[38] Despite her views she later became a Member of the European Parliament (1979–1989).

James Callaghan removed Castle from his Cabinet

In 1975, Castle introduced the Child Benefit Act, superseding the Family Allowances Act 1945.[39] The act provided new support for families' first child, unlike the previous system in place, which provided benefit for second and subsequent children.[39] Castle also ensured child benefit would be paid directly to mothers, not fathers, unlike Family Allowance, the previous system in place.[40] The legislation faced opposition from unions whose male members would receive less take-home pay with the loss of Family Allowance.[40]

Castle remained in cabinet until Wilson's resignation in March 1976. The head of the Downing Street policy unit, Bernard Donoughue, records in his diary that he warned Wilson that Castle's dogged pursuit of personal policy stances on public health would "wreck the NHS". Donoughue claims that Wilson agreed, but admitted he would leave it to his successor to resolve.[41]

Castle lost her place as a Cabinet minister when her bitter political enemy James Callaghan succeeded Wilson as prime minister following a leadership election. Although he left Wilson's Cabinet virtually unchanged, he dismissed Castle almost immediately upon taking office.[42] Callaghan removed her under the pretext he wanted to lower the average age of his Cabinet,[43] which she regarded as a "phoney reason".[44] In an interview years later, she remarked that perhaps the most restrained thing she had ever achieved in her life was not to reply with "Then why not start with yourself, Jim?" (Callaghan was four years older than Wilson, the man he was replacing).[citation needed]

European Parliament (1979–1989)

Despite her Eurosceptic stance, less than a month after leaving Westminster at the 1979 general election she stood for and was elected to the European Parliament, writing in the Tribune that "politics is not just about policies: it is about fighting for them in every available forum and at every opportunity." In 1982 she wrote in the New Statesman that Labour should abandon its opposition to British membership of the EEC, saying that Britain should fight its corner inside it.[45] This led her former ally Ian Mikardo to say to her: "Your name is mud".[46]

She represented Greater Manchester North from 1979–1984, and was then elected for another five years to represent Greater Manchester West from 1984–1989. She was, at that time, the only British MEP to have held a cabinet position.

In the European Parliament Castle led Labour's delegation, serving as vice-chair of the Socialist Group and as a member of the Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Rural Development and also the Delegation for relations with Malta.

The Castle Diaries were published in two volumes in 1980 and 1984, chronicling her time in office from 1964–1976 and providing an insight into the workings of Cabinet Government. Edmund Dell, reviewing the diaries that cover the years 1974–76 in the London Review of Books, said that it "shows more about the nature of cabinet government – even though it deals with only one Cabinet – than any previous publication, academic, political or biographical. It is, I think, better than Crossman".[47] Michael Foot in the Listener claimed that the diary, "whatever else it is or not, is a human document, hopelessly absorbing".[48] Paul Johnson in the Sunday Telegraph wrote that it was "a contribution of first rate importance to our knowledge of modern politics".[48]

Life peer

In 1974, Ted Castle was made a life peer.[49] This meant that Barbara was now formally Lady Castle, but she refused to use this courtesy title. Ted Castle died in 1979. In 1990, she was made a life peer in her own right, as Baroness Castle of Blackburn. She remained active in politics right up until her death, attacking the then Chancellor, Gordon Brown, at the Labour party conference in 2001 for his refusal to link pensions to earnings.

Castle was a critic of Blairism and "New Labour", in particular with Blairite economic ideologies, which she perceived to be acceptance of "market economics, unchallenged globalisation and the dominance of the multinationals".[20] She also accused Blairites of distorting and dismissing the Labour Party's past, stating in an interview published in the New Statesman magazine in 2000, the party's centenary:

"They do not seem to have realised that all governments, whatever their complexion, end in apparent failure. Macmillan was triumphant in 1959 and was biting the dust shortly afterwards. Heath won in 1970 and spent three and half years doing U-turns, looking for the perfect answer. Thatcher was a remarkable woman, but her premiership ended in ignominy. But the current leadership seems preoccupied by the failing of Labour in power and in opposition."[20]


Barbara Castle died in Chiltern, Buckinghamshire, on 3 May 2002,[50] of pneumonia and chronic lung disease.


Castle has been acknowledged as the most important female Labour politician of the 20th century.[2] An adept and gripping orator,[6][7][51] Castle garnered a reputation as a strong-willed,[52] sometimes single-minded crusader.[53] Political commentator Andrew Marr wrote of Castle in 1993: "Performance has been at the centre of her career. She makes excellent television and was a good Commons speaker. But she was really made for the platform, either at Labour conferences or during election campaigns. There, her wit, self-confidence and theatricality were displayed. A good Castle speech is unforgettable."[54]

She was admired by Bill Deedes, Conservative politician and editor of The Daily Telegraph, for "her astonishing tenacity, her capacity for getting her own way in Cabinet and nearly everywhere else,"[55] though he derided her politics.[55] To her allies, Castle was loyal and would fiercely defend them.[55] Colleague Roy Hattersley credited her with saving his career by insisting he remain her junior Minister when Harold Wilson attempted to sack him.[52] Nevertheless, she remained unforgiving of her enemies; when questioned on James Callaghan in a 2000 interview in the New Statesman, Castle said: "I think it is safest all round if I don't comment on him."[20]

Referred to disparagingly by fellow Labour MP Gerald Kaufman as "the Norma Desmond of politics [...] always ready for her close-up",[6] she was noted for always paying particular attention to her appearance.[56] Variously described as sophisticated, stylish and glamorous,[6][56][57] Castle was also characterised as vain,[2] while her critics called her egocentric.[6][58] Former Labour leader Neil Kinnock recalled she was distraught when her hairdresser cancelled before a television appearance;[56] in response, Castle said: "If you're a woman in the public eye, getting your hair nice is a constant preoccupation."[56] Her weekly appointments with her hairdresser were "an essential Friday engagement" according to Hattersley,[52] although she occasionally wore a wig – which she nicknamed Lucy – for public appearances without the benefit of her hairdresser to hand.[55]

In 2008, Castle was named by The Guardian as one of four of "Labour's greatest heroes"[59] and in 2016 she was named on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour Power List as one of seven women judged to have had the biggest impact on women's lives over the past 70 years, alongside Margaret Thatcher, Helen Brook, Germaine Greer, Jayaben Desai, Bridget Jones, and Beyoncé.[60] Several women politicians have cited Castle as an inspiration for embarking on their careers, including Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry,[61] Tulip Siddiq, and former Conservative MP Edwina Currie.[57]

Since Castle's death there have been several plans mooted to memorialise her with a statue in her constituency town of Blackburn, most recently in 2018.[8][62][63] In the town a dual carriageway that constitutes part of the ring road is named Barbara Castle Way.[62] She was commemorated on a postage stamp issued as part of the Royal Mail's Women of Distinction series in 2008 for piloting the Equal Pay Act through parliament. She appears on the 81p denomination.[64]

Castle was portrayed by British actress Miranda Richardson in the 2010 film Made in Dagenham, dealing with the 1968 strike at the Ford Dagenham assembly plant.[65] She was later portrayed by stage actress Sophie-Louise Dann in the 2014 West End musical adaptation of the film.[66] In the third series of Netflix drama The Crown, Castle is portrayed by Lorraine Ashbourne.[67] In the BBC1 drama ‘’The Trial of Christine Keeler’’ (2019-2020) Castle is portrayed by Buffy Davis.

Honours and awards

Barbara Castle was the recipient of "The Order of the Companions of OR Tambo in Silver", a South African award to foreign nationals for friendship with that country. In a statement the South African government recognised Castle's "outstanding contribution to the struggle against apartheid and the establishment of a non-sexist, non-racial and democratic South Africa".[68] This can be seen throughout Castle's career with her active support for the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) in Britain from the very start of its existence and her continued interest and devotion to colonial issues within Parliament.[68]

In 2002 Castle was posthumously awarded an honorary degree from the Open University. The award, Doctor of the University, was presented for Public Services for works in areas of special educational concern to the OU.[69]

Castle also received a Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1990, for services to European democracy.[70]

In September 2008 Northern Rail, Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council and PTEG (Passenger transport executive Group) named a train after her. The plaque was unveiled by Barbara's niece, Sonya Hinton, and Ruth Kelly MP (then Secretary of State for Transport). A commemorative brochure of the event was produced by PTEG.

Books by Barbara Castle

• The Castle Diaries, 1974–1976, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1980. ISBN 9780297774204
• The Castle Diaries, 1964–1970, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1984. ISBN 9780297783749
• Sylvia and Christabel Pankhurst, Penguin Books, 1987. ISBN 9780140087611
• Fighting All the Way, Macmillan, 1993. ISBN 9780333590317

See also

• List of Members of the European Parliament for the United Kingdom 1979–1984
• List of Members of the European Parliament for the United Kingdom 1984–1989
• Ford sewing machinists strike of 1968
• In Place of Strife
• Rail subsidies



1. Throughout Castle's parliamentary career (1945–1979), women Members of Parliament consistently represented less than 5% of all MPs.[9]


1. Martineau (2000), p. 3.
2. Anne Perkins (4 May 2002). "Obituary: Baroness Castle of Blackburn". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 4 November 2007. Retrieved 17 September 2007.
3. "Barbara Castle". Lasting Tribute. Archived from the original on 26 July 2007.
4. Pickard, Jim (6 August 2018). "Non-Driver Derbyshire-Born MP Who Put Her Foot Down When It Came to Road Safety". Derby Telegraph. Archived from the original on 25 August 2018. Retrieved 27 August 2018.
5. Andrew Rosthorn (24 July 2014). "How Cyril Smith Outwitted Barbara Castle in the Strange Case of the Paedophiles at the Home Office". Tribune. Archived from the original on 14 September 2014. Retrieved 2 September 2014.
6. Kaufman, Gerald (5 May 2002). "Sacred monster – Barbara Castle: 1910–2002". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 28 August 2018. Retrieved 27 August 2018.
7. "Lady Castle of Blackburn". The Daily Telegraph. 4 May 2002. Archived from the original on 29 August 2018. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
8. "Barbara Castle: Statue Plan to Honour Former Blackburn MP". BBC. 8 March 2018. Archived from the original on 24 November 2018. Retrieved 27 August 2018.
9. "Women in Parliament and Government" (PDF). House of Commons Library. 20 July 2018. Retrieved 26 September 2018.
10. Martineau (2000), p. 161.
11. "Appendix C: Women MPs who have held Ministerial office". Women in the House of Commons House of Commons: Information Office Factsheet M4 (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 8 November 2010. Retrieved 30 December2010.
12. Martineau (2000), p. 163.
13. Mitchell & Wienir (1997), p. 87.
14. Perkins (2003), p. 197.
15. Martineau (2000), p. 175.
16. Martineau (2000), p. 178.
17. Perkins (2003), pp. 197–198.
18. Martineau (2000), p. 177.
19. Perkins (2003), pp. 199.
20. Richards, Steve (28 February 2000). "The New Statesman Interview – Barbara Castle". New Statesman. Archivedfrom the original on 29 August 2018. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
21. "ROAD SAFETY BILL". Hansard. 10 February 1966. Archived from the original on 14 January 2019. Retrieved 14 January 2019.
22. "Science, Technology and Road Safety in the Motor Age". University of Leicester. Archived from the original on 17 April 2017. Retrieved 14 January 2019.
23. Pickard, Jim (1 March 2010). "BBC to Barbara Castle: "You're only a woman... what do you know about it?"". Financial Times. Archived from the original on 27 August 2018. Retrieved 27 August 2018.
24. Lee, John (5 October 1968). "Breath Tests Cut British Auto Deaths". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 14 January 2019. Retrieved 14 January 2019.
25. Judge, Ben (22 December 2015). "22 December 1965: 70mph speed limit introduced". MoneyWeek. Archived from the original on 27 August 2018. Retrieved 27 August 2018.
26. "From the archive, 9 June 1967: Casualties down 20 p.c. under 70 m.p.h. speed limit". The Guardian. 9 June 2012. Archived from the original on 27 August 2018. Retrieved 27 August 2018.
27. Schumach, Murray (16 October 1966). "London to Set Fees on Cars Entering City in Rush Hours". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 14 January 2019. Retrieved 14 January 2019.
28. Simpson, Dave (17 September 2012). "How we made the Humber Bridge". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 28 August 2018. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
29. Hazel Blears’ memories of Barbara Castle Archived 19 March 2008 at the Wayback Machine, The Labour History Group, 20 June 2007
30. "North Cross Route". Archived from the original on 17 November 2018. Retrieved 17 November 2018.
31. "TUC | History Online". Archived from the original on 14 November 2016. Retrieved 20 September2016.
32. Perkins (2003), p. 339.
33. Perkins (2003), p. 344.
34. Perkins (2003), p. 345.
35. Perkins (2003), p. 347.
36. Perkins (2003), p. 348.
37. Anthony Seldon and Kevin Hickson (eds), New Labour, Old Labour: The Wilson and Callaghan Governments, 1974–79.
38. Barbara Castle Labour's Greatest Woman, video on YouTube
39. "Q&A: Child benefit changes". The Guardian. 13 January 2012. Archived from the original on 23 October 2018. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
40. Perkins, Anne (25 September 1999). "Red queen in the pink". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 3 September 2018. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
41. Downing Street Diary: with Harold Wilson at no.10. Jonathan Cape, 2001. ISBN 978-0-224-04022-8.
42. "Lord Callaghan of Cardiff". The Daily Telegraph. 28 March 2005. Archived from the original on 3 September 2018. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
43. Pearson, Richard (6 May 2002). "Barbara Castle, 91". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 3 September 2018. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
44. Jones, Chris (29 September 2000). "Barbara Castle: Scaling the ramparts". BBC. Archived from the original on 1 November 2003. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
45. Barbara Castle, 'Let them throw us out', New Statesman (17 September 1982), pp. 10–11.
46. The Times (10 June 1993), p. 37.
47. Edmund Dell, 'Keeping Left Archived 26 October 2019 at the Wayback Machine', London Review of Books, Vol. 2 No. 19 (2 October 1980), pp. 13–14.
48. The Times (16 October 1980), p. 7.
49. "Ted Castle". Spartacus Educational. 16 December 1979. Archived from the original on 4 October 2008. Retrieved 24 June 2009.
50. "Deaths England and Wales 1984–2006". Archived from the original on 27 June 2009. Retrieved 24 June 2009.
51. Crines & Hayton (2015), pp. 62–63.
52. Hattersley, Roy (5 May 2002). "Barbara the brave – a women to reckon with". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 30 August 2018. Retrieved 29 August 2018.
53. Kavanagh, Dennis (23 June 2003). "She craved the limelight". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 30 August 2018. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
54. Marr, Andrew (10 July 1993). "BOOK REVIEW / The lady of Hell Corner Farm: Andrew Marr on Barbara Castle's memoirs". The Independent. Archived from the original on 30 August 2018. Retrieved 29 August 2018.
55. Deedes, Bill (20 August 2007). "Deedes on Barbara Castle". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 30 August 2018. Retrieved 29 August 2018.
56. Baring, Louise (6 June 1993). "How we met: Neil Kinnock and Barbara Castle". The Independent. Archived from the original on 30 August 2018. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
57. Grant, Linda (22 January 1995). "The red Baroness". The Observer. Archived from the original on 31 August 2018. Retrieved 31 August 2018.
58. Harris, Robert (16 July 2002). "One final thought: 'Our Barbara' had many faults". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 31 August 2018. Retrieved 31 August 2018.
59. "Labour's greatest hero: Barbara Castle" Archived 21 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine, The Guardian, 19 September 2008.
60. "Margaret Thatcher tops Woman's Hour Power List" Archived 4 April 2018 at the Wayback Machine, BBC News (Arts & Entertainment), 14 December 2016.
61. Glinka, Elizabeth (27 April 2018). "Political heroes: Emily Thornberry on Barbara Castle". The Independent. Archived from the original on 2 November 2018. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
62. Perkins, Anne (4 June 2004). "Statue keeps Castle's flame burning". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 30 August 2018. Retrieved 29 August 2018.
63. Magill, Pete (24 September 2007). "Baroness Castle statue plan shelved". Lancashire Telegraph. Archived from the original on 30 August 2018. Retrieved 29 August 2018.
64. Salter, Jessica (22 August 2008). "New stamps mark women of distinction like Millicent Garrett Fawcett". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 2 May 2019. Retrieved 2 May 2019.
65. Singh, Anita (16 May 2009). "Sally Hawkins to star in strike film We Want Sex". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 23 May 2009. Retrieved 24 June 2009.
66. Cavendish, Domenic (4 November 2014). "Made in Dagenham, Adelphi Theatre, review: 'larger than life'". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 12 November 2019. Retrieved 12 November 2019.
67. Bley Griffiths, Eleanor (12 November 2014). "Meet the cast of The Crown season 3". Radio Times. Archived from the original on 12 November 2019. Retrieved 12 November 2019.
68. "The Order of the Companions of OR Tambo in Silver – Profile of Barbara Castle". The Presidency – Republic of South Africa. Archived from the original on 19 July 2010. Retrieved 24 June 2009.
69. "OU honours Barbara Castle" Archived 3 April 2015 at the Wayback Machine, The Open University, 1 July 2002. Retrieved 8 June 2013.
70. "WOMEN MPs ELECTED 1940s". Centre for Advancement of Women in Politics. Queen's University. Archived from the original on 24 June 2008. Retrieved 24 June 2009.


• Crines, Andrew; Hayton, Richard, eds. (2015). Labour Orators from Bevan to Miliband. Manchester University Press. ISBN 9780719089800.
• Martineau, Lisa (2000). Barbara Castle: Power & Politics. André Deutsch. ISBN 9780233994802.
• Mitchell, Austin; Wienir, David (1997). Last Time: Labour's Lessons from the Sixties. Bellew. ISBN 9781857251203.
• Perkins, Anne (2003). Red Queen: The Authorized Biography of Barbara Castle. Macmillan. ISBN 9780333905111.

External links

• Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Barbara Castle
• Barbara Castle – Blackburn Labour Party
• Photos of Barbara Castle – Blackburn Labour Party
• The Barbara Castle Cabinet Diaries – held at Bradford University Library
• Works by Barbara Castle at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
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Re: Freda Bedi Cont'd (#2)

Postby admin » Sat Apr 11, 2020 6:45 am

Percival Chubb, 1860-1960
Accessed: 4/10/20

Leader of St. Louis Ethical Society; editor of THE ETHICAL STANDARD; educator and educational reformer.

-- From the description of Papers, 1911-1960. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 155488824

Born 1860; educated at the Stationers' School, London; entered the civil service, 1878, in the legal department of the Local Government Board; established a correspondence society for manuscript exchange called the MS Club, [1881]; member of the Progressive Association, 1882; founder member of the Fabian Society, 1884; joined the London branch of the Fellowship of the New Life, an intellectual discussion and study group dedicated to developing models of alternative societies, 1884-1889; member of the Ethical Society, 1886; emigrated to the USA, 1889; Lecturer at Thomas Davidson's School of the Cultural Sciences, Farmington, Connecticut; Lecturer, Brooklyn Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1890-1892; Head of English, Brooklyn Manual Training High School, 1893-1897; Principal of the Second Grade, New York Society's Ethical Culture School, 1897; Lecturer at the Pratt Institute and New York University, New York; Associate Leader, Society for Ethical Culture of New York, [1897-1910]; married his second wife, Anna Sheldon, the widow of Walter Sheldon, the founder of the St Louis Ethical Society; Leader of the St Louis Ethical Society, 1911-1932; President, Drama League of America, 1915-1920; retired 1932; President of the American Ethical Union, 1934-1939; died 1960. Publications: editor of Dryden's Palamon and Arcite; or the Knight's Tale from Chaucer (New York, 1908); On the religious frontier: from an outpost of ethical religion (Macmillan Co, New York, 1931); The teaching of English in the elementary and secondary school (Macmillan Co, new York, 1902); introduction to Select writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1888); editor of Essays of Montaigne (1893).

-- From the guide to the CHUBB, Percival Ashley, 1860-1960, Fabian, 1860-[1984], (British Library of Political and Economic Science)

Percival Chubb, director of English in the Ethical Culture School, New York City and lecturer at New York University.

-- From the description of Letter to Miss Underhill, 1915 June 11. (University of Virginia). WorldCat record id: 60494331


"Americans Have an Incapacity for Leisure," Says Percival Chubb: The Only Way to Remedy It, According to This Well-Known Ethical Culturist, Is to Educate the Young to Know What to Do With Their Spare Time
by The New York Times
March 12, 1911


Americans, young and old, rich and poor, have an incapacity for leisure. They know how to kill time, but they don’t know how to spend it profitably; they don’t know what fruitful leisure is. I don’t think much can be done for the elder generation. The only hope is in the proper education of the young.”

This is the gist of an interview given by Percival Chubb of the Society of Ethical Culture to a representative of THE TIMES. His text was: “Our Pressing Need of Education for Leisure.”

“This is the nail on which the whole matter hands: As a man cannot be saved in these times by his labor, he must be saved by his leisure,” said Mr. Chubb. “This is an age of specialization, in which the life work of the great majority of men runs in a very narrow groove. It is true of the business man, of the professional man, but more particularly of the poor man.

“A year or so ago a certain organization of laboring men held a meeting to discuss what was the best use to put Labor Day to. There was a plan to make a festival out of it; to have a street parade, floats; to glorify labor. In the midst of the discussion a man who had hitherto been a quiet listener suddenly interrupted:

“’When Labor Day comes let labor be hanged: what I want is to get out for a holiday. I work in a shoe factory, and my job is making the twentieth part of a shoe. I made hundreds of them, one just like another, day in and day out, Winter and Summer, year after year. When I get a holiday do you think I’m going to spend it glorifying that job?’

“This long-continued monotonous labor is one of the most potent factors in filling our asylums. Statistics will tell you at what an alarming rate our asylum population is growing.

“It was thought that the new machine industry would require and develop a higher type of labor. But Dean Schneider of the Engineering School of the Cincinnati University has made an exhaustive investigation of the question, and he finds that it is driving many of the workmen crazy. Just imagine the effect upon a man’s brain of closely watching during some nine or ten hours a machine stamp out pieces of metal, all of the same size, all of the same pattern.

“Now one thing is certain – we are not going to get rid of the machine. The question resolves itself into this: how can we make this automatic labor possible?

“My answer is: Teach the people how to play.

“It has been said that if you want to understand a people, see them at play. A man is free to play as he pleases. He is constrained at work and it is not then fair to judge him.

“See the New Yorker at play on New Year’s Eve – an orgy of gluttony and noise. See him at play on the Fourth of July – an orgy of noise. See him at Coney Island, the favorite playground of the great metropolis – an orgy of cheap glitter and thrills.

“He may be an excellent mechanic, a shrewd, capable business or professional man; but when it comes to playtime, there is nothing within himself, and he must rely upon feather-ticklers and merry-go-rounds. Mentally, he is excellently equipped with tools for his work, but he is empty of playthings. He has the means of a livelihood but not the means of life.

“This lack coupled with the strain of modern life, results in a love of excitement. The man who can afford an automobile develops the speed mania. In another class it makes the man a patron of the prizefight. In another class it develops the hoodlum. I believe that a great deal of the alcoholism of the present is the result of this same condition.

“As an excellent illustration of what I mean by this lack of the equipment for fruitful leisure, let me tell you of a man I know. He is a millionaire and he made it himself. Yet when he finally made the trip to Europe, he was utterly bored. He knew how to make millions, but he did not know how to enjoy the magnificent art, scenery and traditions of Europe.

“He is only one of a class very numerous and I think peculiar to this country. There are many men in America who have made their ‘pile,’ who are weary of business, and yet are afraid to relinquish the reins because they don’t know what else to do with themselves.

“I don’t think much can be done for the elder generation. All we can do is to lead them to a realization of the problem. Let us lead them to say: ‘I have made a botch of it myself, but my children shall not,’ and we have done about all that we can do with the present generation of workers.

“Aristotle said to teach the child music – not that it become a musician but so that it could understand music; to teach the child art – not that it become a craftsman, but so that it could understand art.

“To see the result when this teaching is absent, we need look no farther than our own country. The public has lost its critical faculty. Hence the vogue of the moving-picture show, of vaudeville, of poor drama, of the comic supplement.

“I have been so often quoted in condemnation of the comic supplement that many people think I have developed a comic-supplement-phobia. It is merely one factor in a big problem. Much of our magazine art has a deteriorating effect. But above all I would condemn the advertisements that are so bounteously sprinkled over the city.

“The effect of dieting on ‘ads’ is that you are led to think whether you are using the right hair wash, the proper complexion powder. It focuses people’s attention on personal comfort and attractiveness.

“We are bringing up our children in a world which is not a child’s world. Plato planned his ideal city with reference to the children. Our civilization has forgotten all about them. It is made for adults and the child’s brain is always stretched and strained in the effort to keep pace with it. There is no doubt that the modern child is over-stimulated. Our civilization is sufficiently complicated anyway, but we go on our vulgar way, making matters worse without any regard to the child. He sees things being done apparently by magic on all sides; it is his first impression, and that we can hardly help in this age of electricity. But we could help many things. Take the matter of our advertising, for instance. He cannot ride in the subway without having a score of impressions forced on his mind for which he has no earthly use. He is told to drink somebody’s whiskey and then advised to take such-and-such a water to get over it. All these useless ideas are perpetually hitting the child’s mind and keeping it in a state of constant questioning. He can’t get away from them. Even parents who are careful cannot protect their children against this ceaseless hammering.

“A child is not given time to be a child nowadays; parents try to jump them into maturity. One of the popular ideals of the day is the smart kid. He is a result of the current method of treating youngsters as adults. He is pert, irreverent, no good. His apotheosis is the street gamin.

“Not knowing how to play themselves, parents do not realize the necessity of making their children play. A child should be kept childish, and his interest kept in childlike things.

“His development should be slow rather than rapid. The outcome of the latter is a narrow development that squeezes out all delight in beauty, all capacity for leisure, all spirit of composure. But it leaves nerves and neurotic tendencies.

“These same narrowing influences we find are being brought to bear upon the child in the educational movement of the day. This is all for industrial and vocational education. ‘Cut out the fads and the frills,’ is the watchword of those who are behind this movement. Everything that does not aim directly at preparing a boy to be a better mechanic, bookkeeper, lawyer, or doctor is labeled a ‘fad or a frill.’

“The more tyrannous the forces of commerce become, the more we must protect the child against their narrowing influences. These anti-fads-and-frills people say the child must be prepared for life, but they mean that it must be prepared for that half of life which is work.

“Where this abolition of ‘fads and frills’ is going to end I do not know. For some time now there have been people who have been advocating the abolition of fairy stories. These advocates say that the fairy story is mere literary driftwood from a bygone and outclassed age in the world’s history, that it distorts the youthful imagination and gives it a color that has no basis in science.

“These people would present to the child mind a vulgarized world, a machine-like world, one that is put together on clockwork principles. They would strip the world of mystery and show a universe as bare of poetry as a patent washing machine.

“The old arts of play have already departed out of the life of the city child. The reasons? Our hurrying, money-making civilization for one thing. Another is our mixed population: there are no common terms between the children of a half-dozen transplanted races. Another, and perhaps still more important, is that the private resources for childish play – the old-fashioned backyards are gone – and few public resources in the way of public playgrounds have taken their place.

“Of course every child should be brought up in the country. This has been made impossible, but we could do more toward it than we do now. In New Zealand school children have free passes over the railroad, so that they may go to the country whenever they choose. New Zealand realizes that it is the only way of fighting the evils of physical degeneracy. The zone system of Germany would be difficult to apply to New York, but it might be carried out in other cities, and we could at lealst try to keep matters from getting worse here.

“One of the remedies is the public playground. I wish Mr. Carnegie would divert his money from libraries to playgrounds. I once heard a man ask a Carnegie librarian:

“’But do these Carnegie libraries really meet any popular need?’

“’Why,’ said he, ‘just come around to my library any afternoon between 3 and 5 and you’ll find it crowded with children.’

“I look upon this as a striking commentary on the city’s need of playgrounds. Having no play to play, the children go to a library to pass their leisure hours. This means the manufacture of ‘smart kids’ – a type of which I have already spoken.

“So far as possible children should be brought back to the ways of a simpler age. They should be encouraged to play simple games, to get up simple festivals, to use their imaginations instead of having things forced on them from without.

“It is certainly true that the problem of education is only a part of the larger social problem. It is also true that education from environment is the best form of education. As things are now, the majority of children have not the home surroundings best calculated to develop them, and the school has to furnish what, for various reasons, is lacking at home. Parents have ambition for their children, are willing to sacrifice themselves, but they have not the necessary training for the task of education, and the school has to supply this. It is regrettable, and the sooner the main part of education is put in the home the better, but looking at things as they are, there is no doubt that the school is, in the majority of cases, the centre of the child’s training.

“The schools do their work – such as it is – in the morning, and then the children are turned out on the streets to lose in a wrong environment the good done in the earlier hours. The problem is how to make the school create about a child the environment that is found in the homes of educated and intelligent people, to have a greater influence in his life than the street has.

“The ideal school – that is, the school as near ideal as can be obtained under present conditions – would stand in large grounds which would be the property of the children at all hours. In the evening the building would also be open for them to study there, should they wish it. There would always be the right environment there for the child, however poor he might be, and in this way he would absorb at least a part of what the child of educated parents has always about him.

“One of the tasks of this school would be the development in the young of a tendency to creative play. Speak to some people about children’s play, and they think of something akin to the frolicking of a kitten – a mere aimless exuberance of vitality.

“This undoubtedly applies to the recreations of a child who has neither been born nor educated into a world of play. His vitality needs an outlet and he merely lets himself go. Mischief and hoodlumism are often the result.

“What the child needs is formative play. There are old games that are now never seen in our streets and rarely in our schools, that show an artistry that has been elaborated by centuries of effort. They are summed up in what we call “Mother Goose.” There you find song, dance, pantomime, and ritual.

“’Mother Goose’ is the basis of all sound literary education for the child. That old classic instills rhythm into their minds and peoples their world with a gallery of images – Simple Simon, Little Miss Muffit, and a host of others.

“Then there are the singing games – ring-a-ring-a-rosy, all-around-the-mulberry-bush, London-bridge-is-falling-down. These games are the most striking survival of the old Greek choral dance.

“’Mother Goose’ prepares the mind for the puppets, minstrel shows, and charades of boyhood. These old-fashioned forms of play quicken the imagination and awaken the young mind to the romance and color that there are in the world.

“Then there are the seasonal sports, rarely seen nowadays, however. When I was a boy there was ‘hoop time’; in the windy season, ‘kite time’; ‘marble time’; when the cherries came we played ‘cherry pits.’ And I can remember that ‘leap frog’ and ‘hop-skip-and-a-jump’ had their place in these seasonal sports. The boys had a perfect understanding of their succession.

“With a few exceptions, children engage in these sports no longer. It means a great impoverishment of their lives. Why, do you know that I have actually seen youngsters who do not know what to do when they get on a playground?

“Let the educators teach children how to play; let them strive to keep children from the influences on all sides that tend to destroy childhood and make every one grown up at the age of 10.

“It is an old saying: “The child is father to the man.” But our civilization gives the child no chance. We are so intoxicated with our progress, so proud of having made life complex that we have absolutely forgotten the most important factor in the community – the child.”
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Re: Freda Bedi Cont'd (#2)

Postby admin » Sat Apr 11, 2020 9:43 am

Part 1 of 2

A Journal of Her Own: The Rise and Fall of Annie Besant's Our Corner
by Carol Hanbery McKay
Victorian Periodicals Review, Volume 42, Number 4, Winter 2009, pp. 324-358
Published by Johns Hopkins University Press
©2009 The Research Society for Victorian Periodicals

As founding editor and proprietor of the six-penny monthly journal Our Corner from 1883 through 1888, Annie Wood Besant (1847–1933) provided a Freethought public forum for an array of controversial and groundbreaking topics in politics, science, and the arts. Her impressive roster included Charles Bradlaugh, Moncure Conway, Ludwig Büchner, Edward Aveling, Thomas Huxley, Hubert Bland, Edith Nesbit, William Morris, Sidney Webb, and George Bernard Shaw, although she was a frequent contributor herself, producing a prodigious body of writing and serializing her own lifestory, Autobiographical Sketches, in the journal (January 1884– June 1885).1 She regularly reported on conditions in Ireland and commissioned articles on Afghanistan, Egypt, and India. Increasingly disenchanted with the state of society, she moved into and then beyond Socialism in search of more immediate answers. By 1888 Besant wrote in the January issue of Our Corner, “[W]e’re drifting into revolution” (“London,” OC 11.1.25), and the next month she urged her readership to join her in inaugurating a new humanistic religion: “Lately there has been dawning on the minds of men far apart in questions of theology, the idea of founding a new Brotherhood, in which service of Man should take place erstwhile given to the service of God” (“The Army of the Commonweal,” OC 11.2.117). William T. Stead answered her call, and together they launched a halfpenny weekly, The Link: A Journal for the Servants of Man, concurrent with the final year of her own Our Corner.2

Besant’s subsequent leadership role in the Theosophical Society brought with it the opportunity to edit two more monthly journals, Lucifer (1889– 1907) and The Theosophist (1907–present), but it also carried the onus of a marginalized religious movement. Our Corner is not well-known today less because of Besant’s Socialism than because becoming a Theosophist tainted her reputation in the eyes of many. The years that Besant published Our Corner are bracketed by her commitments to Secularism and Theosophy, but neither program seems to have claimed an abiding interest in those intermediate years. Moreover, Socialism saw the rise of a panoply of short-lived periodicals that contended with one another for attention in the 1880s, reflecting the inability of the ideology to unify its many components and leading to its relative failure in establishing a national agenda. Few studies of nineteenth-century British periodicals take note of Our Corner, and those that acknowledge it often fail to characterize it accurately. For example, Barbara Onslow cites Besant’s role as co-editor of the National Reformer and Link, as well as contributor to the Westminster and Pall Mall Gazette, but makes no mention of Our Corner, while James G. Coolsen incorrectly lumps the entire run of Our Corner together with Justice, Commonweal, and To-Day as Socialist periodicals.3

This relative inattention has compromised the availability of Our Corner in hard copy, although the 1965 edition of the Union List of Serials in Libraries of the United States and Canada boasted seven complete sets available in American university and public libraries (there were no listings for Canada at that time), while in Britain the holdings in the British Museum and Bodleian Library have long been accessible to their readership, and we can count on two microform sources available for purchase or through interlibrary loan.4 Sadly, circulation figures and other publication records have fallen through the cracks, again probably due to the absence of interest in this phase of Besant’s career by the various causes for which she so fervently fought. Based on annual reports published in the National Reformer, Paul Thompson estimates membership in the National Secular Society in 1889 at about 7,000, over half of whom had been recruited in the previous four years. Initially, Our Corner’s readership would have been predominantly drawn from this pool (the journal was regularly advertised in the NR during the first half of its run), but as a six-penny monthly it was not likely to have had an annual circulation of more than about 500.5

Very much self-identified with its editor, Our Corner: A Monthly Magazine of Fiction, Poetry, Politics, Science, Art, Literature featured Besant’s name at the masthead of each issue, and the title page for each of the twelve bound volumes containing six numbers apiece prominently displayed the editor’s name above the Freethought symbol (figure 1). The journal was printed by the Freethought Publishing Company, which she had co-founded with Bradlaugh in 1877 in order for them to take legal responsibility for the circulation of the infamous Knowlton pamphlet, and up until the last twenty numbers of Our Corner they listed both their names and the publishing house address at 63 Fleet St., E.C., at the end of each of the 64-page issues. Bradlaugh clearly operated as a major contributor and participant in the enterprise for four of its six years, and Besant did not claim the usual editor’s prerogative of producing signed editorials. Nonetheless, her editorial voice emerges in the introductory commentary to unsigned entries, and she underwrote most of the first year’s expenses with proceeds from her lecture circuit for the National Secular Society. From the outset, she limited the journal’s advertisements to publications by the Freethought Publishing Company and other radical concerns, and this relative lack of advertising revenue could not sustain the initial lavish use of illustrations beyond the journal’s inaugural year. At the same time, however, Besant’s articles in Our Corner also functioned as the springboard for many of her pamphlets and other publications—as was the case for many of her other Freethought authors—in effect saving them all the cost of resetting type. Surely the rich resource of Besant’s contributions to Our Corner, coupled with those of its other contributors and the social history reflected by its six-year run in the mid-1880s, merits further analysis and critical discussion.

Fig. 1: Title Page for vol. 1, with Freethought Publishing logo

I. Establishing the Paradigm

A brief overview of Besant’s history up until 1883 will help establish the credentials she brought to her editorship of Our Corner. Rejecting Christianity five years into her marriage to an Anglican clergyman, she joined the National Secular Society in 1874, working closely with its president, Charles Bradlaugh (1833–91), and delivering her first public lecture on “The Political Status of Women.”6 In 1877 she became a co-defendant with Bradlaugh in the Knowlton pamphlet trial, during which the two argued in their own defense for the right to publish and disseminate birth control literature.7 Two years later, largely due to the notoriety of that trial and her openly-declared atheism, Besant (now legally separated from her husband) was deemed by the courts to be an unfit mother, and she lost custody of her daughter. Still working as sub-editor of Bradlaugh’s weekly National Reformer: Journal of Radicalism and Freethought (1860–93) and delivering lectures on the Freethought circuit, she began studying science under Dr. Edward Aveling at London University, the first British university to open its degrees to women. After matriculating at the university in 1879, Besant won “firsts” in both botany and animal physiology, and she taught courses in physiology with Aveling at the Hall of Science. (Her chemistry professor repeatedly refused to grant a pass to a woman, however, thus ensuring that she could not complete her degree.) During this period, she had also been writing articles advocating land reform for tenant farmers in Ireland as well as promoting legislation of the Married Woman’s Property Acts of 1870 and 1882.8

In the course of its six-year run, Our Corner facilitated Besant’s own intellectual and ideological growth as well as that of her readers. She designed the journal to inform, teach, and entertain, and each issue operated like a mini-liberal education. Besant was quite the polymath. Of the half dozen or so regular departments, or “corners,” that appeared at the end of all but the last six issues, the “Science Corner” was primarily signed by her, while Bradlaugh served as her mainstay contributor to the “Political Corner.” Other customary corners were dedicated to the arts (drama, music, and painting), publishing, and gardening. For the first three years there was even a “Young Folks Corner” devoted to puzzles, games, and story-telling about foreign lands; appropriately, the first issue debuted with a Hindu legend. (In 1893 Besant would visit India for the first time, making it her permanent home the following year; having succeeded Mme. Blavatsky as leader of the Theosophical Society in Europe and India at Blavatsky’s death in 1891, Besant was elected worldwide president of the Society in 19079). The “Young Folks Corner” was almost obsessively, even militantly, didactic, yet there is an admirable wholesomeness to this earnest endeavor to raise up a more informed generation who might share her mission.

A recapitulation of Our Corner’s inaugural issue reveals the energy of Besant’s cauldron of creativity. The initial number established a template that allowed Besant to set up reader expectations with regular features while still introducing timely articles on current affairs, literature, and the sciences. Besant heads the first issue with the initial installment of Charles Victor Cherbuliez’s novel The Story of Ladislas Bolski (1869; the unascribed translation from the French may well be her own), propelling her readers into a serialization that would take some fifteen months to complete. “A Bull-Fight in Madrid” by Bradlaugh follows, culminating in the dramatic conclusion, “I left that bull-fight before it was over; I shall never see another” (OC 1.1.14). Next comes Ludwig Büchner’s “The Force of Heredity; And its Influence on the Moral and Mental Progress of Mankind” (the first of three installments),10 succeeded by the first of five parts of C.G. Compton’s novella, Love’s Champion. Three articles then round out the main body of the issue—Besant’s unsigned “Copernicus” (illustrated with a fine steel engraving), A. Sinclair’s “On the Way to Egypt: Ten Days in and about Gibraltar” (accompanied by a scenic photograveure), and the first entry of Besant’s year-long feature, “Peeps through a Microscope” (supplied with three line drawings of Infusoria “after” Ernst Haeckel and Friedrich Stein).

Besant devoted over a third of the remainder of each monthly issue to recurring “corners” that were covered by regular contributors (for the recurring logos of the “corners” established in the first issue, see figure 2). Primacy of place was always granted to Bradlaugh. His “Political Corner” pulls no punches, berating the Government for its failures to enact reforms at home and to act responsibly abroad; his inaugural corner observes, “1883 has, politically, much of menace for England” (OC 1.1.40). Besant’s own reporting in her “Science Corner” in this issue runs the gamut of subjects from comets, a solar eclipse, the last transit of Venus, the Horticultural Society, the Royal Society, dust (pollution), an electrical storm, and an ordinance survey, to canine articulation, beetroot, corn, a Physiology Professorship, and university correspondence classes. Initially, Aveling was in charge of the “Art Corner,” which variously featured art, music, and drama reviews, depending on the seasonal openings (and the columnist’s proclivities). For the first issue, Aveling highlighted three concerts and then briefly reviewed plays mounted at Drury Lane, the Globe, and the Lyceum in London, while noting a performance of Sophocles’s Ajax at Cambridge (coincidentally, “Ajax” had been Besant’s nom de guerre when she was writing anonymously for the National Reformer). Next debuted the “Chess Corner” by C.H. Coster (it lasted only a year) and the “Gardening Corner” by W. Elder (a regular fixture through 1886). Besant’s unsigned “Publishers Corner” followed, for which she provided six mini-reviews of topical publications on a wide array of subjects—vaccination, Freethought invectives, superstitions about witchcraft, the property rights of women, sermons in support of “service to humanity,” and a temperance tale.11 Two “corners” addressed primarily to adolescent readers wrap up the first number and subsequent issues through 1885; unsigned, they can be either attributed to Besant herself or presumed to be written to her general directive. These two “corners” and their contests for prizes show Besant providing a forum competitive with some of the boys’ and girls’ magazines of the period, most of which were conservative and even imperialist in their (albeit covert) politics. The “Inquisitive Corner” (subsumed under “Young Folks” after 1883) sets the stage with “Queries” (answers to which would receive prizes announced in succeeding issues) and “Notes” (letters to the editor). For the inaugural issue, letters to the editor were clearly a setup, but even these “exchanges” provide useful information about implied subscribers and their families. They reveal that Besant was obviously interested in creating an outreach to working-class as well as middle-class children, although at 6 d. apiece, the journal’s cost might well have been prohibitive. As the rules and regulations about solving problems evolved, points could be accumulated in different age categories and counted toward prizes, which usually took the form of books, awarded on a quarterly basis to first-time winners in a given calendar year.

Fig. 2: Logos for recurring “Corners” (not including “Chess Corner,” which only lasted a year; “Inquisitive Corner” subsumed under “Young Folks Corner” in 1885; see Fig. 3 for “Young Folks Corner” logo

All this is prelude to the “Young Folks Corner,” which constitutes the last ten pages of the issue. Signed by Besant, “A Hindu Legend” heads the section this time, its penultimate paragraph affirming the humanistic principles that she would later seek to project on a global scale: “So the life that was given became the source of life throughout the great Hindu land; and as she rolls ever towards the sea Ganga murmurs to herself: ‘To give oneself for others is duty: to spread happiness around one’s steps for others to gather up is truest joy’” (OC 1.1.57–58; see figure 3). This month’s legend was followed by the first of three installments of the biography of Thomas Paine. Listed under the category of “Real Heroes,” the entries on Paine were signed with the initial “J,” undoubtedly the work of John Robertson, who would increasingly contribute to the journal and serve as a kind of sub-editor to Besant when her working relationship with Bradlaugh waned over the course of the decade. This final “corner” concludes with “Our Roll of Honor,” consisting of five sets of puzzles (see figure 4 for a “Picture Puzzle”), one of which is entitled “Nuts for Sharp Little Teeth to Crack.” One can easily imagine the adult reader testing his or her ability to solve the puzzles in this and the preceding “Inquisitive Corner,” reacting with self-congratulation when the solution is readily forthcoming and looking ahead to the next issue for the answers to unsolved problems.

Fig. 3: “A Hindu Legend,” by Annie Besant (“Young Folks Corner” for January issue of vol. 1, pages 55–59)

A Hindu Legend.
Women of the Himalayas Seeking Water
Far away, in the vast range of mountains that close Hindustan against the barbarians of Thibet, the great god Siva lay asleep. Around him rose the sky-piercing, snow-capped peaks of the mighty Himalays; and as he slept his tangled hair, storm-tossed, wind-driven, was played with by King Frost, and the snow-

The remaining five numbers of the first volume of Our Corner closely replicate the pattern established by the inaugural issue. The two serialized fictions by Cherbuliez and Compton continued to run their course, as did the installments of scientific and biographical articles authored by Büchner, Besant, and Robertson (Canadian banker and railroad executive George Stephenson constituted the next subject of the “Real Heroes” category; see figure 5). Additional articles by Bradlaugh appeared, titles such as “Angling Memories of the Lea” and “Leaves and Trees” suggesting that he relished an opportunity to explore topics in natural science for which he likely had no other public outlet. Meanwhile, Moncure Conway initiated a two-part article in February on the theme of principled choice in the “Three Caskets,” while Aveling began a four-part study in March of “Shakespeare the Dramatist.”12 Each issue also included a poem (intriguingly, January featured Chunder Labul’s poem entitled “A Hindu Poet to Alfred Tennyson”). Although Besant’s subsequent contributions to this first volume were limited to installments for “Peeps through a Microscope” and the “corners” devoted to “Science” and “Publishers,” she also provided a new “legend” for the “Young Folks Corner” each month, encompassing Greek, Christian, and Jewish legends and turning to another Hindu legend, this one designated as “after” eighteenth-century Orientalist and philologist Sir William Jones (OC 1.4.247–49).

The contents of this first volume of Our Corner project ahead in telling ways to Besant’s own engagement with the issues of her day and the direction her life would take. Ironically, given her conversion to Theosophy some six years later, she published in her third issue a tongue-in-cheek article entitled “Clairvoyance,” by Alter Brown, who concluded, “May we not find other beliefs equally unworthy of acceptance if we scrutinise the evidence on which they rest?” (OC 1.3.157). Two months later, she included an article by James Leigh Joynes on “Leading Socialistic Theories,” which articulated a conviction that she would endorse for the remainder of her days: “We recognise in theory the brotherhood of the whole human race. Let us, each for himself, try to reduce his theory to practice” (OC 1.5.272).13 The last issue of the first volume provided Besant with an occasion to highlight sentiments that she shared with renowned scientist Thomas Huxley. Quoting his recent remarks at a banquet of the Royal Academy, she writes, “It is not usual in a monthly magazine to print a casual speech, but the rare perfection of this is our justification” (OC 1.6.354). Huxley’s message is clearly one she recommends to her readership: “I am unable to understand how any one [sic] with a knowledge of mankind can imagine that the growth of science can threaten the development of art in any of its forms. If I understand the matter at all, science and art are the obverse and reverse of nature’s medal, the one expressing the eternal order of things in terms of feeling, the other in terms of thought” (354–55).

Fig. 4: “Picture Puzzle” for “Puzzle List of Birds” for January issue of vol. 1 (“Young Folks Corner,” page 63)

Fig. 5: Illustration for biography of George Stephenson (“Real Heroes,” page 250, by J., in three parts: OC 1.4.249–52, 1.5.312–16, 1.6.377–80)

On just the one occasion—marking an end to 1883—Besant added an extra issue to her twelve-month regimen. By publishing “The Christmas Number of Our Corner,” the atheist editor actually discloses a great deal about both her financial standing and her willingness to work within the system that she is otherwise critiquing. Although a Christmas number might well be hoped to generate additional income, it was not made more attractive as a possible gift item through what Besant now probably recognized as the extravagant use of illustrations. Lacking the journal’s signature “corners,” this issue was nonetheless geared toward entertainment, for its contents primarily consist of short fiction and poetry. However, reflecting its presumed secular readership, the number also includes two pieces that challenge the traditional Christian narrative, namely, Aveling’s “The Dream of the Boy Jesus” and Besant’s own “The Child Christ: A Solar Myth.” There is, moreover, an even more telling element to this publication: its 26-page advertiser. Over the course of its six-year run, Our Corner never included more than eight or nine pages of advertisements. But at this first year’s end, Besant clearly wanted—perhaps needed—to take advantage of the holiday season’s gift-giving potential. The advertiser is replete with lists of the Freethought Publishing Company’s inventory of books in print as well as remainders at bargain prices, and in a double exception to the journal’s general practice, a commercial advertisement (for S. Davis & Company’s sewing machines) appears on the usually blank back cover.

Unfortunately, scholars today are not likely to be in a position to speculate about the implications of either the Christmas number or advertising in Our Corner. Besant’s standard mode of publishing six months per bound volume did not include this seventh issue at the end of volume two nor did she republish any of the monthly covers or advertisements, and most libraries eliminated individual covers and advertising if they instituted their own bi-annual in-house binding. Thus the full story the journal’s history has continued to further escape our scrutiny.

II. Her Story, Her Stories

Within that first year of launching Our Corner, Besant found her subscribers and colleagues in the National Secular Society calling for a public recounting of her lifestory, and the pages of her own journal seemed the logical choice. She opened the January issue of 1884 with the following words: “I have resolved to pen a few brief autobiographical sketches, which may avail to satisfy friendly questioners, and to serve, in some measure, as defence against unfair attack (OC 3.1.1). For the next eighteen months, Besant reviewed the events of her childhood, early marriage, and legal struggles, examining them for their disparate influences on the woman she had become (for the December 1884 cover, with its table of contents listing the twelfth installment of Autobiographical Sketches as well as highlighting the change in the “Science Corner” logo, see figure 6). In particular, she examined her early instruction under the tutelage of Ellen Marryat, who had imbued in her a love of learning by direct observation as well as fueled religious zeal. Reflecting on her false hopes in her marriage partner, Besant details the path of her disillusionment with Christianity, while displaying the depth of her knowledge about the Bible and the history of the early Church Fathers. The replaying of the two key trials in her life thus far forms the core of Autobiographical Sketches. Her account of the Knowlton trial demonstrates her legal skills and scientific expertise, while the trial for custody of her daughter exhibits her commitment to Freethought, even at the expense of her personal life. Happily, both Besant’s daughter Mabel and her son Digby reunited with her when they reached their majority, and both of them worked with her within the ranks of the Theosophical Society for the rest of her life.

With the subsequent book publication of Autobiographical Sketches by the Freethought Press at the end of 1885, Besant’s general readership had the opportunity to join her subscribers in knowing about the rationale behind the outline of her public history. The book was not widely reviewed, probably because members of the National Secular Society constituted its primary audience and most of them had already been reading it as it was serialized in Our Corner, and for those whose subscriptions did not overlap, it was sufficient that Bradlaugh had been advertising the forthcoming book publication in the National Reformer. The paragraph-long review of Autobiographical Sketches in the Westminster Review begins on the following sympathetic note, “A touching account of the life of a singularly ill-used woman,” and proceeds to editorialize about Besant’s roles as “a tender mother and a spotless wife”: “[L]et us hope that her sufferings have not been in vain, and that she will be the last in our own or any future generation to incur such a penalty for a matter of opinion” (n.s. 70.1 [July 1886]: 275–76). This endorsement did not significantly impact book sales, however, and for most readers of her own and our time, it has been her second (and last) attempt at self-writing, An Autobiography (1893), with its more controversial conversion narrative, that stands as the definitive autobiographical account. The Freethought Publishing Company continued to advertise Autobiographical Sketches through 1890, the year after Besant had converted to Theosophy, but she chose not to keep it in print thereafter, presumably because she, too, considered the second story to have eclipsed the first.14

Fig. 6: Cover for December 1884 issue of vol. 4
December 1, 1884
No. 6, Vol. IV.
Edited by Annie Besant.
Our Corner
A Monthly Magazine
Fiction, Poetry, Politics, sSience, Art, Literature
Autobiographical Sketches. By Annie Besant
Army Mismanagement. By Charles Bradlaugh.
Shelley and Poetry. By John Robertson
"Progress and Poverty": A Review of the Theories and Proposals of Mr. Henry George. By "D."
Some Advanced Women of the Past. By J.M. Wheeler.
True Women. (A Play.) By Mrs. Anne C. Edgren.
A Birthday Dirge. By M.J.R.
Political Corner. By Charles Bradlaugh
YOUNG FOLKS' CORNER: How the World was Made, by Hypatia Bradlaugh; Puzzles, etc.
Price Sixpence.

The year Autobiographical Sketches concluded its serialization also witnessed Besant’s admission to the Fabian Society and her unequivocal endorsement of Socialism, distancing her from Bradlaugh and the individualism that marked the tenets of the National Secular Society. In the second half of its run, Our Corner reflects her increasing involvement with Socialism, signalled by the regular feature she initially entitled “Fabian Society and Socialist Notes” (figure 7); she would later refer to this section as “a record of Socialist progress in all lands” (Autobiography 314).15 During 1886 Besant herself contributed two articles on the subject, “Modern Socialism” (in four parts, February–May) and “Why I am a Socialist” (OC 8.3.157–63), while opening her pages to other Socialist proponents. By then fellow Secularist G.W. Foote was more than ready to tackle Socialism in general and Besant’s interpretation of it in particular. His ad hominem attacks are sprinkled throughout his so-called review of Modern Socialism, which was printed as a book by the Freethought Publishing Company a month after its serialization. Entitled “The Latest Apostle of Socialism,” this review appeared in his own journal, Progress: A Monthly Magazine of Advanced Thought (6.6. 266–73), and was followed by a heated exchange between him and Besant the following month (7.1.290–300). Nonetheless, as a measure of both her own open mind and her desire to retain some degree of camaraderie with Bradlaugh, the two of them engaged in a friendly exchange of viewpoints about Socialism in the first half of 1887. Beginning with his “Socialism: Its Fallacies and Dangers” (OC 9.3.129–36), the debate continued through her “Socialism: Its Truths and Its Hopes” (9.4.193–200), followed by his “Rejoinder” (9.6.321–24), and ending with her last word in “Final Reply” (9.6.324–27). This exchange was later reprinted in book form, joining a number of other public debates on the subject of Socialism that were published throughout the 1880s.16

By the end of 1887, Besant could conclude her article entitled “The Nottingham Programme” by making the following proclamation: “The Socialist Programme . . . aims directly at the privileges of the few for the sake of the many, and seeks to destroy the horrible inequality which is the curse of modern civilisation” (OC 10.6.361). Earlier that year she had featured an article by W.H. Utley on “Scientific Aspects of Socialism” (OC 9.2.82–86) as well as “Facts for Socialists” (OC 9.3.136–49), which reprinted a series of extended quotations “drawn from” John Stuart Mill, R. Griffen, J.E. Cairnes, Mulhall, Leone Levi, J.S. Jeans, Henry Fawcett, Frederic Harrison, and J.K. Ingram. As Besant approached the end of her tenure as editor and proprietor of Our Corner, she increasingly turned to other periodicals to air her views on Socialism; in 1889 alone, she would publish twelve articles on the subject in Justice (1884–99), most notably “Socialists as Administrators” (2 February), “Socialists and Radicals” (13 April), “Our Duty to Socialism” (6 July), “Women and Socialism” (12 October), and “The Advantages of Socialism” (16 November). When she had been admitted to the year-old Fabian Society in 1885, she joined forces with Shaw, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, H.G. Wells, Hubert Bland, and Edith Nesbit, but within just two years she and fellow Secularist Herbert Burrows became frustrated by the Fabians’ more gradual approach to reform through permeation, or progressive legislation.

Fig. 7: Fabian Society logo and motto (first appearance in March 1886: OC 7.3.187)
The Fabian Society and Socialist Notes.
"For the right moment you must wait, as Fabius did most patiently, when warring against Hannibal, though many censured his delays; but when the time comes you must strike hard, as Fabius did, or your waiting will be in vain, and fruitless."
BASIS. The members of the Fabian Society assert that the system of production for profit instead of production for use ensures the comfort and happiness of the few at the expense of the sufferings of the many, and that society must ...

Besides editing and writing for Our Corner, Besant put herself physically at risk by participating in open-air meetings in autumn of 1887 that led to “Bloody Sunday” in Trafalgar Square, the subject of one of her articles the following year, “The Story of Trafalgar Square” (Link; rpt. OC 11.4.224– 33). Recent years had seen her coverage of the 3rd Reform Bill (1884; she authored a six-part series of articles on all three reform bills, under the general title “The Redistribution of Political Power”) and the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act (1886), and the next year would see her working with Burrows to help the Match-Girls’ Union win its strike against Bryant and May (see “Revolt of the Matchmakers” [14 July 1888] and “The Late Strike” [4 August], both co-authored with Burrows in the Link), as well as heralding the passage of the Affirmation Act that finally allowed Bradlaugh to take his seat as Member of Parliament for Northhampton (Bradlaugh had five times previously been denied his right to represent his district because he refused to take an oath of office invoking God). Now Besant seemed to be taking stock of her engagement with social and political causes in addition to reviewing the efficacy of her own publication record. No longer sub-editor of the National Reformer (that alliance with Bradlaugh had ended in October 1887), she published no freestanding pamphlets in 1888; the previous year had seen publication of only Radicalism and Socialism (itself a reprint of OC 8.4/5) and Why I Do Not Believe in God, revealing a considerable drop in her rate of production.

III. Bricolage, or, The Miscellany Writ Large

With the intertwined goals of educating and entertaining its readership, Our Corner regularly included literary entries, especially featuring serialized fiction. George Bernard Shaw entered the lists of Our Corner in April 1885 with the first of 23 serial installments of his novel The Irrational Knot, Being the Second Novel of His Nonage, announced as “by the author of ‘The Unsocial Socialist’, etc.” even though there was no “and so on” to cite and The Unsocial Socialist (Swan, Sonnenschein, Lowry) did not appear until 1887, when Love Among the Artists began its concurrent run in Our Corner.17 (Shaw’s second novel, Cashel Byron’s Profession, was serialized in To-Day [1883–89] during 1885, receiving a rather mixed review in Our Corner from fellow staffer John Robertson the following year [OC 7.5.301–05].) Within two months of his first novel’s first installment, Shaw had taken over the “Art Corner” from Elizabeth Cracknell (Aveling’s successor), converting it largely into an opportunity to showcase his drama criticism. Even after giving up the “Art Corner,” Shaw was heavily invested in production of the last volume of Our Corner, contributing not only the conclusion to his three-part “A Refutation of Anarchism” but also two other articles, “The Transition to Social Democracy” and “The Economic Aspect of Socialism.” His working relationship with Besant remained perplexing to both of them, however. Years later he would falsely claim responsibility for assigning her to review The Secret Doctrine, and after her death he tried to dissuade suffragist Elizabeth Robins from writing Besant’s biography. All this equivocation seems astounding in light of Besant’s having underwritten first-time publication of two of Shaw’s five novels.18

In addition to serialized fiction by Cherbuliez, Compton, and Shaw, Our Corner published short stories, poetry, and literary translations. Some of the shorter fiction was reprinted from other periodicals, for example, “Sam Lovel’s Thanksgiving” (OC 9.5. 276–82) and “Sam Lovel’s Bee Hunting “ (OC 9.6.358–68), both by Roland Evan Robinson and taken from Field and Stream, while others were original to Our Corner, most notably Bland’s “Mr. Orlestone’s Manager” (June–September 1887). The poetry was usually signed with initials that are not readily recognizable today; James Thompson’s “The Naked Goddess” (March–April 1883) and William Morris’s “In Memoriam” (dedicated to Alfred Linnell; OC 11.1.52) are two exceptions. One frequent contributor, whose “M.J.R.” remains unidentified, provided two poems that deserve attention in terms of Besant’s personal predilections, namely “To Science” (OC 4.3.151) and “Storm and Calm” (OC 5.1.38), the latter prefiguring some of her key terminology in the last chapter of An Autobiography. Translations from the Russian began to appear during the last two years of Our Corner’s publication, perhaps reflecting an interest in Russia that had prompted several articles on political upheavals in 1886. The preeminent example is Ivan Turgenieff’s Poems in Prose (1878), translated from Russian to German by William Lange (the English translator goes unacknowledged) and published in the last three monthly issues of 1887. The last Russian translation to appear in the pages of Our Corner was N.P. Vagner’s fairy tale “The Cake King,” translated by N. Tchaykowski for the June and July issues of the journal’s final year.

Because some of the contributions are either anonymous or signed by names or initials that are not recognizably female, it is hard to gauge how many of the entries in Our Corner are women-authored, but a number of women writers can be identified and the journal clearly advocates gender equity. Of particular note are Mrs. Anne C. Edgren’s play, True Women, translated from the Swedish by H.L.B. for the last three issues of 1884, and four contributions by Edith Nesbit—the poems “A Choice” (OC 7.6.351), “Under Convoy” (OC 9.2.114), “Night and Morning” (OC 10.1.51), and the short fiction “A Looking Glass Story” (Mar.–April 1886). Equally intriguing is Hypatia Bradlaugh’s short story entitled “Dr. Valery Vernon, Q.C,” which begins, “I am a woman and a law student.” During the course of the tale, the protagonist-narrator marries, but her final words sum up her combined personal and professional status, “I still continue to describe myself as a ‘law student’” (OC 4.2.103–11).19 Two of the four department heads of the “Art Corner” were women; Elizabeth Cracknell succeeded Aveling, while Mary Reed followed Shaw in that capacity. Both women commanded substantial columns—Cracknell maintained an enviable balance among the arts, while Reed became a prominent voice critical of the Royal Academy.20 Moreover, numerous male contributors specifically address women’s issues and the question of equality between the sexes. Noteworthy are J.M. Wheeler’s two articles, “Some Advanced Women of the Past” (November–December 1884) and “Some Advanced Women” (May 1885), the latter primarily about Elizabeth Cady Stanton, as well as Leopold Katscher’s four-part review essay on George Sand (April–July 1885).

Neither articles nor literary entries were pitched solely to male or female readers, and the “Young Folks Corner” was gender-free, never providing problems or stories specific to either a male or female readership. Besant’s own contributions exemplified the potential breadth of a woman’s interests and expertise, regularly ranging from politics to science to international relations and comparative religion, and she always seemed quick to accept articles that exposed gender inequity or endorsed specific reforms regarding limitations imposed upon women. Besant explicitly stepped to the fore herself on numerous occasions, utilizing her position as editor, department head, and contributor. The “Publisher’s Corner” provided ample opportunity to editorialize about books concerning the Woman Question, as the following excerpt demonstrates: “We receive from the publishers a set of Suffrage Stories, which very usefully illustrate the practical disadvantages under which women suffer from not having a vote. They are admirably adapted for distribution among women who will not read sustained argument, but who will glance over a brief tale when the day’s work is over” (OC 5.3.179). If her assessment betrays some degree of condescension, it also conveys a realistic understanding of the restricted time and energy working women could allow for the activity of reading. One of her articles, “The Law of Population and Its Relation to Socialism,” specifically addresses her female readership at its conclusion, however. Having looked ahead to a future when there will be women who are great musicians, artists, scientists, and writers, she apostrophizes, “[T]he realisation of these possibilities, O women my sisters, depends on the triumph of Socialism which will give us equality and independence, and the practice of conjugal prudence which will give us physical freedom” (OC 7.6.332).21
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Part 2 of 2

Besides Besant and Bradlaugh, several other department heads for Our Corner became regular contributors, at least for a time. Propelled by the “Art Corner,” Aveling entered the lists with multi-part articles on literature and science, although his break with Bradlaugh over financial irregularities in the National Secular Society led to his complete departure from the journal’s pages by the end of its second year.22 For both Shaw and Reed, too, the “Art Corner” served as a launching pad to independent articles. The same can be said for Utley with respect to the “Science Corner” after he inherited it from Besant, and both J. Horner and W. Mawer moved back and forth between established scientific series and entries of their own devising. Robertson was a mainstay throughout the entirety of Our Corner. Besides filling in the gaps in the “Young Folks Corner,” particularly with respect to biographies of “Real Heroes,” he displayed his own range of expertise, whether supplying a quotidian entry like “On Diary Keeping” (July 1883) or developing substantial critical articles on the poetry of Browning and Tennyson. Politically aligned with both Besant and Bradlaugh when the journal was first established, he wrote articles like “Thoughts on Home Rule” (October–November 1883) during its first year, and even though Besant’s increasing involvement with Socialism began to distance him (like Bradlaugh) from the journal’s Socialist affiliation during its last two years, he still found opportunities to publish authentic pieces like “England Before and Since the French Revolution” (May–June 1888) and “Comptism from a Secularist Point of View” (November 1888) alongside Socialist polemics.23

Meanwhile, Besant’s involvement with the “Science Corner” had ceased by the end of 1886, with Utley assuming its responsibilities from 1887 through the first half of 1888; throughout 1885, her “Peeps through a Microscope” had given way to Horner’s “Work for the Microscope.” The timing of these turnovers corresponds to a combination of Besant’s growing concerns about the evictions of tenant farmers in Ireland and her introduction of “Socialist Notes” as a regular feature. By then, she had paved the way for the many physical and natural science articles by E.D. Fryer (domestic pets), Joseph Symes (the telescope), Horner (glaciers and household pests), Aveling (insects and flowers), Laurence Small (nebular theory), and Mawer (rocks, mountains, and shells). Hypatia Bradlaugh (now Bonner) figures as well into this accounting with her series, “Chats about Chemistry” (1885–86). After all, she had taken science classes with Besant at London University in the late 1870s, and they had both been denied access to the Botanical Gardens on the grounds that they might be bad influences on the daughters of the professors who frequented them. Even Huxley had contributed to this expulsion, choosing to interpret Fruits of Philosophy as recommending birth control methods that might be equally applied to extra-marital sexual relations.24 Either Besant never knew about his alliance with her persecutors or she rose above their petty politics, for she continued to endorse his every measure. At the end of her first year’s entries to the “Science Corner,” she writes, “Professor Huxley delivered a brilliant and characteristic address at the opening of the London Hospital Medical School, on the relations of the State to the medical profession. . . . It is pleasant to hear the voice of any eminent man speaking against the tendency to grandmotherly legislation which is now so common” (OC 2.5.297).

The “Young Folks Corner” retained its prominent role in each issue for the first three years but then disappeared for the remaining three. Besant’s contributions had pride of place during the first year, when she produced one legend (or its continuation) at the head of the department for each issue. She published her final legend, “The Story of Hypatia” (OC 3.1.55–59), at the outset of 1884, following it with a six-part serialization of the life of Giordano Bruno during the remainder of that year.25 Bruno’s biography appeared in tandem with those of the last three “Real Heroes” authored by Robertson; after Paine and Stephenson in the first volume, the next three volumes included multi-part biographies of Isaac Newton, John Milton, Benjamin Franklin, Galileo, Michael Faraday, and Martin Luther. Starting with the third volume, Hypatia Bradlaugh became a more frequent contributor to the journal as a whole, publishing not only biographies of Wendell Phillips and Alexander Kourbanoff but also articles like “Witches and Witchcraft” (September 1884) and short adult fiction. For the last three months of 1884, she provided the lead entry for the “Young Folks Corner” (“How the World Was Made,” stipulated as “translated from the Latin of P. Ovidius Naso”), and she held that lead position through the first nine months of 1885, producing a series of short stories and retelling some Russian fables. When the “Young Folks Corner” concluded its run at the end of 1885, its final entries included the four-part “Story of Garibaldi,” by Jessie Taylor. By then Besant had finished serializing her autobiography and was turning her attention to Ireland and Socialism, and both she and Hypatia had the satisfaction of collecting their legends and other stories for book publication by the Freethought Publishing Company.26

Besides featuring mythology, biography, fiction, and puzzles, the “Young Folks Corner” also sponsored a regular section during its first year entitled “Domestic Pets.” Usually written by E.D. Fryer, these entries conveyed both a scientific and humane attitude toward animals: the full roster included the guinea pig, the rat, the rabbit, the squirrel, the Scotch Terrier, dormice, and the St. Bernard (all but the latter two illustrated with a woodcut). Going back to Bradlaugh’s entry on bullfighting in the first issue, the journal had endorsed respect for the animal kingdom and an abhorrence of violence, but outside the realm of the “Young Folks Corner,” the second year witnessed a series with a different tenor. Entitled “Our Household Pests,” this series was entirely scientific and provided practical information about avoidance and extermination; this listing included the flea, the bug, the clothes’ moth, the housefly, the cricket, the spider, and the cockroach (again all but the latter two illustrated with a woodcut). After she became a Theosophist, Besant joined the ranks of the anti-vivisectionists, but during the secularist years that encompassed her tenure as editor of Our Corner, she is likely to have concurred with the opinions expressed by Robertson in his article, “The Ethics of Vivisection” (OC 6.2.84–94). After refuting Frances Cobbe’s viewpoints as expressed in “The Moral Aspects of Vivisection,” he asserts, “Those of us who have no fixed prejudice against legislation as such can see there is a good deal to be said for the present arrangement of licenses, which puts a check on mere experiments in torture and leaves a possibility of conscientious research” (90). Presumably, such legislation was not of the “grandmotherly” type.

By now it should be clear that the “Young Folks Corner” in particular had lent itself to being illustrated, and Besant began publication of Our Corner with generous instances of engravings, photograveures, and woodcuts throughout the journal. Portraits of biographical subjects that first year seemed to establish a standard, as did the various woodcuts for the legends, domestic pets, picture puzzles, and chess positions, but as the year wore on fewer and fewer illustrations appeared, and the last issue of 1883 did not have a single illustration. During the first half of the following year, the sole depictions were those accompanying scientific articles; never more than three or four figures per article, these illustrations were simple line drawings that could not have been expensive to reproduce. After that, only one more article—”A Southern Shell” (January 1885), with its pair of line drawings—merited pictorial accompaniment for the remainder of the journal’s publication. No longer including illustrations must have affected Besant’s original conception of the “Young Folks Corner,” and undoubtedly it also influenced her decision to bring her “Peeps though a Microscope” to a close. Moreover, the Socialistic program of the second half of her editorship called more for argument than vignette.

IV. Winding Down and Winding Up

In retrospect, it is not hard to recognize that Besant’s commitment to Our Corner was winding down in 1888. All “corners” (except for two installments of the “Art Corner”) disappeared from the journal’s final volume (its subtitle had been shortened to “A Monthly Magazine” at the beginning of the year), and Besant turned over a disproportionate number of its pages to the last six installments of Shaw’s novel Love Among the Artists. This shift in ratio suggests that she had recognized at least six months before the journal’s last issue that it might cease publication, and she would surely have wanted to see the novel through to completion (the June 1888 number barely acknowledges the “Art Corner” and “Publisher’s Corner” by burying them in the background of its cover design). As for the demise of the two “corners” associated with Bradlaugh and Besant, the first half of 1888 saw installments of Bradlaugh’s “Political Corner” only three times, while the “Publishers Corner” appeared in only four of six monthly numbers. By then the increasing role of Robertson as a reviewer would suggest that he was primarily in charge of the final entries about recent publications.

Bradlaugh’s withdrawal is hardly surprising, given his break with Besant over Socialism in general and her participation in the events leading to Bloody Sunday in particular. As head of the National Secular Society he had urged its membership to withdraw, while Besant’s leadership in the Social Democratic Foundation put her at the forefront of the demonstrations. (Nonetheless, they were still on public record in support of the National Secular Society at the end of 1888; for the advertisement for the NSS’s Almanack for 1889 in the final issue of Our Corner, see figure 8.) Prior to their printed exchange about Socialism in 1887, Bradlaugh had willingly argued his opposing position on the subject in a five-part article in 1884, and he continued to average eight or nine contributions to Our Corner per year in addition to his “Political Corner” up until 1888, when he submitted only two articles, one on “The Real High Tory Programme” and the other entitled “My Parliamentary Work This Session.” Throughout the run of Our Corner, Bradlaugh served as a watchdog on Parliament, and when he concluded his summary article, he could honestly attest, “I have taken part in most of the important debates, during the Session, my chief speeches having been made on Ireland and India, but several of importance have been made on questions affecting labor” (OC 12.4.196). Often called the “Member for India,” Bradlaugh wrote two articles on India for Our Corner, “India and the Ibert Bill” (February 1884) and “Our Empire in India” (August–September 1885). He shared Besant’s views on the deplorable conditions in Ireland, making their division over Bloody Sunday all the more painful—given that it had escalated from a demonstration against coercion in Ireland.27

Fig. 8: Advertisement for The National Secular Society’s Almanack for 1889 (Advertiser for vol. 12, December 1888)
The National Secular Society's
Almanack for 1889.
The Story of the Year 1887-8. By Charles Bradlaugh.
Secular Education. By Annie Besant.
Mother's Religion. By G.W. Foote.
Jarjaille at the Good God's. (A Provencal Legend. By Alphonse Daudet.) Translated by H. Bradlaugh Bonner.
Opinion. By J.M. Robertson
Going Gloriously. By George Standring.
Freethought in Australia. By Wallace Nelson.
Land Law Reform League; National Association for the Repeal of the Blasphemy Laws; The Malthusian League; Freethought Organisation: Progress of Foreign Trade of the United Kingdom and other Countries in Recent Years; India and China -- exports and Imports during Seventeen Years; Pauperism in England and Wales; Local Debt; Religions in China; What Museums or Public Galleries are open on Sundays; Two Hundred Years' Cost of War to the British Taxpayers 1688-1886; Societies and Organisations; etc., etc.
Price Sixpence.

Bradlaugh’s last monthly contribution to Our Corner in October 1888 coincided as well with the timetable of Besant’s last entry. Entitled “Reaction and Education,” hers was a review of the report issued by the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the Elementary Education Acts for England and Wales, a fitting subject for the woman who was elected that year to a three-year term on the London School Board. Women had been permitted to stand for the London School Board since 1870, while 1888 marked the first year that they could vote in local elections. Appealing to the working class, Besant’s last article concluded on a fiery note: “The ‘middle class’ has the money, but the ‘lower class’ has the voting power, and it will indeed be shortsighted and foolish if, pending the great change which will make the workers and the nation synonyms, it does not use its voting strength to recover the use of some of the wealth which is ever being made by it and ever slipping from its hands” (OC 12.4.204). Educational reform, especially for women and girls, would remain at the forefront of Besant’s goals as she went on to address the problems faced by India in the twentieth century.28

While the first four months of 1888 had witnessed publication of four articles authored by Besant, this review article was her sole contribution to the journal’s final volume. Five years later, in her post-Theosophical-conversion reassessment of her lifestory, An Autobiography, she wrote that Our Corner merely “served as a useful mouthpiece in my Socialist and Labour propagandist work” (286). This dismissive accounting of the value of Our Corner misrepresents its overall goals and accomplishments, but it does indicate the degree to which the journal had become an outlet for her political views and her frustration that her social initiatives were not resulting in immediate action. Like a number of other social visionaries of her day (Foote with both the Freethinker and Progress [1883–87] and William Morris with the Commonweal [1885–94] especially come to mind), Besant had needed the voice of her own periodical. And when neither it nor the Link fully sufficed for her aspirations, she was primed for the transformation that would occur when she acceded to the 1889 request of her coeditor, William Stead, that she review the two volumes of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine for his Pall Mall Gazette. Not only did Besant review Blavatsky’s tome for the Pall Mall Gazette (under the title “Among the Adepts” [23 April 1889]), but she also reviewed it for the National Reformer (this time as “The Evolution of the Universe” [23 June 1889]). In the interim, she wrote a two-part article for editor H.W. Massingham’s the Star entitled “Sic Itur ad Astr [thus do we reach the stars]; or, Why I Became a Theosophist” (May 1889), which acknowledged her membership in the Theosophical Society earlier that month. Seeing the proofs for this article reportedly caused Shaw to declare her “quite mad.”29

Annie Besant’s desire to foster intellectual growth and knowledge in others prompted her to seek out ingenious ways to break down boundaries between the liberal arts and sciences, to promote rationalism, and to champion Freethought. Her journal constituted an international platform as she utilized science, literature, comparative religion, and the tenets of Socialism to expose colonialism, imperialism, and fascism. From the outset, she evinced concern about conditions in Ireland. Proudly claiming her Irish heritage on the opening page of Autobiographical Sketches—”full three quarters of my blood are Irish” (OC 3.1.1)—she made it clear to her readership that exposure to anti-Irish sentiment via the mentorship of William P. Roberts, solicitor and trades-union advocate, was significant in first raising her political consciousness. As a young woman of twenty in the autumn of 1867, just a few months short of her marriage, she had stayed with Roberts and his family in Manchester immediately prior to his participation in the defense of the Fenian Five, which resulted in three public executions (OC 3.5.257–67). Our Corner became a forum where she could speak out against the land laws in Ireland that favored absentee English landlords, and in October of 1886 she initiated a column entitled “Evictions in Ireland”: “Outrages may come, and I am anxious that any whom I can influence may clearly understand the connextion between evictions and outrages, and may see how landlord oppression leads to peasant revenge” (OC 8.4.245). The following year she retitled the column “The War in Ireland,” regularly including editorial commentary and argument in addition to providing key statistics; these columns ran concurrent with the first six months of “Fabian and Socialist Notes.”30 Besant continued to be critical of the British Empire for the rest of her life, although her brand of independence for India favored its inclusion in the federation of former British colonies that constituted the Commonwealth.

Fig. 9: Advertisement for The Link, co-edited by Annie Besant and W. T. Stead (Advertiser for vol. 11, June 1888)
A Journal for the Servants of Man.
Among the articles are:
No. 1. To our Fellow Servants. By Annie Besant and W.T. Stead.
No. 1. How to Organise London. An Interview with Michael Davitt.
No. 2. The Prisons of England. By Josephine E. Butler.
No. 2. Our Duty to our M.P.'s.
No. 3. The Ground of our Hope.
No. 3. How it Strikes a Wife. By Mrs. Cunninghame Graham.
No. 4. Speeches by W. O'Brien, Michael Davitt, Prof. Stuart, Annie Besant, W.T. Stead, and others.
No. 5. How each one can help all.
No. 5. How Criminals are created.
No. 6. The battle of the Square in Parliament.
No. 7. Inquiry into the Poor Law.
No. 8. The Control of the Police.
No. 9. The Duties and Dangers of Democracy.
No. 10. Labor Candidates.
No. 10. The Saints of the Service of Man.
No. 11. Utilisation of City Churches.
No. 11. The Service of Man. A lecutre by Annie Besant.
No. 12. Civic Duty.
No. 12. Matthew Arnold's Saviors of Society.
No. 13. Open-air Meetings.
No. 13. How to Register.
No. 14. For Pope or Poor.
No. 14. Confiscation.
[Nos. 12, 13, 14, post free for 2d., contain a full report of the Lancet Commission of Enquiry into the Sweating Dens of Manchester and Liverpool]
No. 15. The Help of the Poor against the Mighty.
No. 16. Cheap Goods.
No. 16. Justice Insulted from the Bench.
Yearly Subscription, 2/2; post free. 4/4.
One quire (26 copies), 9d.; post free, 1s.

Introducing a recurring “Socialist Notes” section to Our Corner had made Besant’s radical Socialism more conspicuous, and she became much less in demand as a lecturer for the National Secular Society. Without the remuneration from her lectures, and because she eschewed the revenue she might have gleaned from external advertising, neither Our Corner nor the Link was solvent (for an example of how Besant advertised the Link in Our Corner, see figure 9). All along, Besant was unusual in paying her contributors up front, but now she was out of funds. Fellow Socialist Edward Carpenter reported that when he had submitted an article to Our Corner in July 1888, she replied, “[ b]efore accepting I must say that my poor Corner is on its last legs and is not able to pay contributors. I am out of pocket every month and have spent on it all I could spare.”31 When both Our Corner and the Link stopped publishing at the end of 1888, Besant found herself not working in an editorial capacity for any periodical publication for the first time in almost fifteen years. Invigorated by the experience of being at the helm of such a stalwart vehicle as Our Corner for six years, Annie Besant was nonetheless disheartened not to win over more adherents to the Socialist causes she espoused. Yet once she began to explore the promise of comparative religion—a topic unleashed during her editorship of Our Corner—she was poised to make the quantum leap to Theosophy the following year.

The University of Texas at Austin



1. Before the end of 1885, Autobiographical Sketches was republished in book form by the Freethought Publishing Company (London). This volume has long been out of print, but that omission has been rectified by the critical edition edited by Carol Hanbery MacKay (Petersborough, Ont.: Broadview Press, 2009); this edition also reproduces the cabinet photograph of Besant that appeared as frontispiece to the book edition. In 1893, four years after converting to Theosophy, Besant rewrote her lifestory as An Autobiography (London: T. Fisher Unwin), and the Theosophical Society has kept that volume in reprint ever since. In the interim, Besant penned one other selfaccounting, “1875 to 1891: An Autobiographical Fragment” (Theosophical Publishing Society), in an effort to reestablish a dialogue with her by then alienated Secularist constituency. Our Corner was issued in twelve volumes, with six numbers for each half of the calendar year; parenthetical citations within the body of the text refer to volume and issue number, followed by the designated pagination.

2. Journalist William Thomas Stead (1849–1912) had founded and edited the Northern Echo in 1871, and he assisted John Morley in editing the Pall Mall Gazette for three years before assuming its sole editorship (1883–90). Three years after co-founding the Link with Besant (see their co-authored article, “To Our Fellow Servants,” Link [4 Feb. 1888]), he published “A Character Sketch” of her in his own journal, in which he predicted that she would one day take her seat in the House of Commons alongside Mrs. Fawcett; see Review of Reviews 3 (Oct. 1891): 349–67; rpt. Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1946, 100 pp.

3. See Onslow, Women of the Press in Nineteenth-Century Britain (London: Macmillan, 2000), 216, and Coolsen’s History dissertation, “The Evolution of Selected Major English Socialist Periodicals, 1883–1889” (American University, 1973). In this respect, Deborah Mutch is correct not to include Our Corner in her recent book, English Socialist Periodicals, 1880–1900: A Reference Source (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005); she does, however, provide listings of Besant’s articles on Socialism in other journals, as well as citations to her various letters to the editor on the subject.

4. We can track this increased availability by way of the British Library Catalogue of Microfilm of Newspapers and Journals Sale for 1983–1984. For the two microform resources, see University Microfilms, Early British Periodicals Series (Ann Arbor: Xerox Company, 1979), reels 225–26; and Rare Radical and Labour Periodicals of Great Britain, Part II: Marxism and the Machine Age, 1867–1914 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Company, 1983), 2 reels. The entries for each volume are indexed according to title or department (the index is always found at the head of each volume, thus serving as a table of contents), but digital search mode would, of course, be ideal. Working toward this end, Google Books have recently digitalized several volumes from the originals at the New York Public Library and Princeton University Library. See standard descriptive listing no. 17,080 in John S. North (ed.), Waterloo Directory of English Newspapers and Periodicals, 1800–1900, phase 2, vol. 5 (University of Waterloo: North Waterloo Academic Press, 1997), 3661–63. For further information that is regularly updated, see The Nineteenth Century Index, online at <C19index.chadwyck. com/marketing/index.jsp>.

5. See Thompson, Socialists, Liberals, and Labour: The Struggle for London, 1885–1914 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1967), 32. It is still possible, however, that some of the publication records for Our Corner exist among the Besant Papers, Theosophical Society, Adyar, India, and I am hopeful that further archival study will bring them to light.

6. This lecture first appeared in print as an article in the National Reformer in 1874; later that year, it was published as a freestanding pamphlet (12 pp.) by the National Secular Society; Watts republished it in 1877; and then in 1885, Besant and Bradlaugh reprinted it under the auspices of their Freethought Publishing Company. It is republished in its entirety in Appendix D of the Broadview edition of Autobiographical Sketches (330–40). Bradlaugh’s younger daughter Hypatia recalls his saying that it was the best speech he ever heard; see “Personal Reminiscences,” Bradlaugh Family Papers, Bishopsgate Institute, London.

7. Bradlaugh and Besant republished American physician Charles Knowlton’s Fruits of Philosophy: The Private Companion of Young Married People (1832) as a test case of the English obscenity laws. Through their edition, now subtitled An Essay on the Population Question, they sought to establish the right to publish contraceptive information. For the circumstances surrounding the Knowlton Trial, as well as for the pertinent documentation authored by Besant, see S. Chandrasekhar, A Dirty, Filthy Book: The Writings of Charles Knowlton and Annie Besant on Reproductive Physiology and Birth Control and an Account of the Bradlaugh-Besant Trial (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981). For the full transcript of the trial, see The Queen v. Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant (Specially Reported by the Queen’s Bench Division, June 18th, 1877), published by the Freethought Publishing Company immediately after its resolution.

8. The Married Woman’s Property Act of 1870 came too late to assist Besant in her effort to retain payment for her first publication. Her husband, the Reverend Frank Besant, immediately laid claim to the thirty shillings she earned from the short story entitled “Sunshine and Shade—A Tale Founded on Fact,” published under the initials of her maiden name (“A.W.”) in The Family Herald: A Domestic Magazine 26.300 (2 May 1868): 6–8.

9. Besides co-founding the Central Hindu College in Benares in 1898, Besant actively engaged in Indian politics and was elected the first female President of India’s National Congress in 1917. In 1914 she founded two newspapers in India, the weekly Commonweal and the daily New India. In general, Besant’s Indian biographers have been much less judgmental than Westerners in recounting her life; see, for example, C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar, Annie Besant (Delhi: Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, 1963), as well as In Honour of Dr. Annie Besant: Lectures by Eminent Persons, 1952–1988 (Kamachha: Indian Section of the Theosophical Society, 1990).

10. The Freethought Publishing Company had previously printed Büchner’s freestanding pamphlet, The Influence of Heredity on Free Will, in 1880, and Besant published another article by him in 1886, “The Origin and Progress of Religion” (OC 7.1.14–21). See also Besant’s review of his Force and Matter (1855; trans. 1887; OC 10.1.39–44). Büchner’s last appearance in the pages of Our Corner occurred in 1887 with the publication of “Freethought and Philosophic Doctrines: Considerations on Spiritualism, Materialism, and Positivism.” Read for him at the London International Freethought Conference in a French translation by Dr. De Paepe, it concludes with the following question: “For to what purpose are the most subtly thought-out philosophical systems, if they do not put us in a position to add to the well-being and happiness of mankind?” (OC 10.4.218).

11. Although Besant had already begun to make G.W. Foote jealous because of her close association with Bradlaugh and her rapid rise within the ranks of the National Secular Society, her comments about his “barbed” Arrows of Freethought (London: H.A. Kemp) in this issue undoubtedly contributed to his animosity; she writes, “It always seems to me a sorry amusement to burlesque other people’s deities” (OC 1.1.51). The Freethought Publishing Company catalogue for 1904 lists 52 titles by Foote, including “Mrs. Besant’s Theosophy,” “The New Cagliostro” (an open letter to Blavatsky), and “Is Socialism Sound?” (his four-night debate with Besant). The Freethinker, founded in 1881 and edited by Foote, is still in print today; it is the longest running Freethought publication.

12. Named after the American abolitionist and liberal clergyman Moncure Conway (1832–1907), Conway Hall Humanist Centre in Red Lion Square (founded in 1929) is the present home of the Ethical Society, originally headquartered at South Place Chapel, Finsbury, London, where Conway served as minister before his conversion to humanistic Freethought. Its library houses the records of the National Secular Society, including a complete run of Our Corner; see also the ongoing publications of the Ethical Record and the National Secular Society Bulletin for occasional references to and articles about Besant. Other holdings of the NSS, most notably the Bradlaugh Papers, are on deposit at the Workingman’s Library, Bishopsgate. Conway Hall is currently the site of monthly meetings of The Shaw Society.

13. Joynes’s use of the masculine pronoun would continue to be reflected in the rhetoric of the Theosophical Society about “brotherhood” and the longterm future of “mankind.” Despite her feminism and her genuine support of women’s suffrage, Besant participated in this same rhetoric, although Joy Dixson makes an excellent case for Besant transcending gender considerations; see “Sexology and the Occult: Sexuality and Subjectivity in Theosophy’s New Age,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 7.3 (1997): 409–33. See also Robert Ellwood and Catherine Wessinger, “The Feminism of ‘Universal Brotherhood’: Women in the Theosophical Movement,” Women’s Leadership in Marginal Religions: Explorations Outside the Mainstream, ed. Wessinger (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993), 68–87, for elaboration of this topic.

14. Part of the rationale for the Broadview edition of Autobiographical Sketches has been to make available ready comparison of these two instances of self-writing; it is especially instructive to examine Besant’s first autobiographical undertaking in terms of selectivity and emphasis. Besant did not think that being a Theosophist and a Secularist (or, for that matter, a Socialist) were incompatible. The Freethought Publishing Company continued to list her “Why I Became a Theosophist” (1890), along with her cabinet photograph, while Bradlaugh was still alive, and after his death in 1891 many of their co-authored publications stayed on the roster. For an archive specific to Freethought, see the collection acquired in 1976 from Pickering & Chatto (London) by the Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington IN (BL 2747; 11 boxes of circa 400 pamphlets, broadsheets, and other ephemera).

15. This “Notes” section is fronted by a full-page Fabian Society logo and motto, first introduced in the March 1886 issue of Our Corner (187–92); besides the cover designs, it is the sole interior pictorial representation— with the single exception noted in the upcoming discussion on illustrations— after June 1884. The section’s regular subdivisions are headed as follows: Basis (of Socialism), Aim, Methods, Branches (in London), England, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain, and America. Interestingly, the last four numbers of the journal no longer include any Socialist section.

16. Another popular debate—“Will Socialism Benefit the English People?”— had been conducted between Bradlaugh and Henry Mayers Hyndman, editor of Justice, on 17 April 1884 at St. James’s Hall; the verbatim record was printed two days later in Justice and then reprinted as a freestanding booklet by Arthur Bonner.

17. Strangely enough, the issue for April 1885 in which Besant launched Shaw’s career as a novelist is also the only one not to include an installment of her own Autobiographical Sketches during its year-and-a-half run. A brief entry in the National Reformer, undoubtedly written by Bradlaugh, announced that she was ill that month, thereby also explaining the hiatus of her regular NR column, “Day-break.”

18. The last of Shaw’s novels to be published, Immaturity (Constable, 1931), was actually the first written (in 1879). None of the publication dates of his novels followed the order of their writing, and in general they have been adjudged as failures. Most bibliographies do not acknowledge the first appearance of The Irrational Knot and Love Among the Artists in Our Corner, citing instead their first book publications, both occurring after the turn of the century.

19. Bradlaugh’s daughter was a prolific contributor to Our Corner, as will be noted in subsequent mention of her scientific and biographical articles as well as her tales for the “Young Folks Corner.” Her relations with Besant would always be delicate, however, as both she and her sister Alice resented the long hours Bradlaugh spent working with Besant. Hypatia married Freethought printer Arthur Bonner in mid-1885; later that autumn she published another article noteworthy for its feminist argument, “Anti-Slavery Women” (OC 6.3.167–70).

20. As Shaw’s successor, Mary Reed would remake the “Art Corner” into a forum for reviewing art gallery openings and discussing the reputation of painting worldwide. She also wrote an extended review of the play Ariane, about the still-controversial subject of divorce (OC 11.4.261–62). During the last six months of Our Corner, she came increasingly to the fore in her own right as a critic of the realistic school of painting; see especially her two independent articles, “Some Minor Variations in Realism” (OC 12.5.291– 95) and “Realism Once More” (OC 12.6.376–83). For more information featuring Reed’s and Cracknell’s contributions, see Virginia Clark, “The Freethought Lens: The Arts Commentaries in Annie Besant’s Our Corner, Her Freethought/Fabian Socialist Monthly, 1883–1886,” Journal of Freethought History 1.2 (2004): 1–4.

21. See also Besant’s review essay of August Bebel’s Women in the Past, Present, and Future (OC 6.2.94–98), as well as her article “The Economic Position of Women” (OC 10.2.95–99).

22. Aveling’s personal and financial affairs came under increased critical scrutiny by his former colleagues. While separated from his wife (whom he had deserted), he lived for over a decade with Eleanor Marx, daughter of Karl Marx, and while Our Corner was still in publication, he co-authored two books with Eleanor, The Factory Hell (1885) and The Woman Question (1886). Upon his wife’s death in 1897, however, he married someone else, and shortly thereafter Eleanor committed suicide.

23. Already a frequent contributor to both the National Reformer and Our Corner, Robertson was persuaded by Besant to move from Edinburgh to London in 1884. Like Besant, he did not find Secularism and Socialism incompatible, although by the time he succeeded Bradlaugh to the editorship of NR, his Socialism had tempered. After Bradlaugh’s death, he assisted Hypatia Bonner with her publication of Charles Bradlaugh: A Record of His Life and Work by His Daughter, With an Account of His Parliamentary Struggle, Politics, and Teachings by John M. Robertson, 2 vols. (London: T.F. Unwin, 1895). His open mind made him less dismissive of Besant than many of his compatriots when she converted to Theosophy. He was elected to Parliament 1906–18.

24. Besant would have been dismayed to learn of Huxley’s participation in the debate about denying her right to pursue botany studies at the Benthamite Foundation. Although he acknowledged to Aveling that she “was once a student—and a very hard-working student of my class at South Kensington” (30 May 1883; Bradlaugh Papers), he later wrote to solicitor Henry Crompton, “I have no objection to her exclusion” (16 July 1883; private possession of Gustavo Duran); see citation to the latter quotation in David Tribe, President Charles Bradlaugh, M.P. (London: Elek Books, 1971), 359.

25. By telling the story of Hypatia, the Neo-Platonist scholar and martyr, Besant seemingly draws unsettling attention to Bradlaugh’s daughter of the same name. The conclusion of Besant’s biography of Bruno quotes his epitaph: “To know how to die in one’s century is to live for all centuries to come” (OC 4.3.185).

26. These two collections are Besant’s Legends and Tales (1885) and Hypatia’s Princess Vera and Other Stories (1886), both published as part of the Young Folks Library; if they had plans for extending the series, they did not come to fruition.

27. Throughout publication of Our Corner, Bradlaugh was clearly much appreciated and honored. For an unusual example of this recognition, see the (unacknowledged) acrostic poem that spells out his name in rather affectionate terms (OC 4.2.87). See also the article on Bradlaugh by S. Van Houten, Member of the Dutch Parliament, written for an entry in the series entitled “Contemporary Men of Note”: “A clear and firm foreign policy I have during the last few years only noticed in the Radical prints [press]” (OC 5.6.368). Even after Besant converted to Theosophy, they managed to retain a guarded friendship. For Besant, Bradlaugh would always hold a special place; of their first meeting, she later wrote, “As friends, not as strangers, we met—swift recognition, as it were, leaping from eye to eye” (Autobiography 137).

28. Besant was instrumental in leading the fight to create free public education, as well as to introduce the concept of free lunches for those who needed them. For a detailed discussion of her role on the London School Board, see Patricia Hollis, Ladies Elect: Women in English Local Government, 1865– 1914 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), 110–22 especially. See also Besant, Education as a National Duty (1903) and The Education of Indian Girls (1904), both published by the Theosophical Publishing Company (London, Benares, and Adyar).

29. Long after the fact, Shaw recalls confronting Besant about the astonishing news that she had converted to Theosophy and being even more astounded by her jocular response: “She said she supposed that since she had, as a Theosophist, become a vegetarian, her mind may have been affected”; see “Annie Besant and the ‘Secret Doctrine,’” The Freethinker 67 (14 Dec. 1947): 450. They had become estranged over his failure to participate in the Trafalgar Square demonstrations, although she still contributed a chapter on “Industry under Socialism” for his edited collection, Fabian Essays in Socialism (London: Walter Scott, 1889), 150–69.

30. For an early example of how Besant recognized that the farmers in England constituted natural allies of the working class, see her article entitled “Landlords, Tenant Farmers, and Laborers” (National Reformer 1877; rpt. Freethought Publishing Company); see Appendix D of the 2009 edition of Autobiographical Sketches (344–52).

31. The article in question is Carpenter’s “Democracy” (OC 12.3.208–10). Besant’s letter to Carpenter is dated 7 July 1889; see the Carpenter Papers, City of Sheffield Central Library, MSS 386. I am indebted to Anne Taylor for drawing my attention to this correspondence; see Annie Besant: A Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 220. Taylor also highlights Carpenter’s ‘more detached and generous assessment of [Besant’s] contribution” (183): “She helped to batter down the ruins of the stupefied old Anglican Church; she gave the general mind a wholesome shock on the Malthusian question; she dotted out clearly the main lines of the socialist movement” (Carpenter, My Days and Dreams [London: Allen & Unwin, 1916], 221). But neither Taylor nor Besant’s other substantive biographer, Arthur H. Nethercot, provides an impartial account of her life; note the mocking titles of his two-volume biography, The First Five Lives of Annie Besant and The Last Four Lives of Annie Besant (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960 and 1963).

Works Consulted

Beetham, Margaret. A Magazine of Her Own?: Domesticity and Desire in the Woman’s Magazine, 1800–1914. London: Routledge, 1996.

Brake, Laurel, and Julie F. Codell, eds. Encounters in the Victorian Press: Editors, Authors, Readers. London: Palgrave, 2005.

Brake, Laurel, Aled Jones, and Lionel Madden, eds. Investigating Victorian Journalism. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990.

Brake, Laurel, Bill Bell and David Finkelstein, eds. Nineteenth-Century Media and the Construction of Identities. Houndmills: Palgrave, 2000.

Brown, Lucy. Victorian News and Newspapers. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985.

Cantor, Geoffrey, Gowan Dawson, Graeme Gooday, Richard Noakes, Sally Shuttlesworth, and Jonathan R. Topham. Science in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical: Reading the Magazine of Nature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Fraser, Hilary, Stephanie Green, and Judith Johnston. Gender and the Victorian Periodical. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Harris, Janice. “Not Suffering and Not Still: Women Writers at the Cornhill Magazine, 1860–1900.” Modern Language Quarterly 47.4 (1986): 382–92.

Harris, Michael, and Alan Lee, eds. The Press in English Society from the Seventeenth to Nineteenth Centuries. London: Associated University Presses, 1986.

Hughes, Linda. “Turbulence in the ‘Golden Stream’: Chaos Theory and the Study of Periodicals.” Victorian Periodicals Review 22.3 (1989): 117–25.

King, Andrew, and John Plunkett, eds. Victorian Print Media: A Reader. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Lacey, Colin, and David Longman. The Press as Public Educator: Cultures of Understanding, Cultures of Ignorance. Luton: University of Luton Press, 1997.

MacKenzie, Norman and Jeanne. The First Fabians. London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1977.

Madden, Lionel, and Diana Dixon. The Nineteenth-Century Periodical Press in Great Britain: A Bibliography of Modern Studies, 1901–1971. New York: Garland, 1975.

Palmegiano, E.M. “Mid-Victorian Periodicals and Careers for Women.” Journal of Newspaper and Periodical History 6.2 (1990): 15–19 .

Shattock, Joanne, and Michael Wolff, eds. The Victorian Periodical Press: Samplings and Soundings. Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1982.

Turner, Mark W. “Toward a Cultural Critique of Victorian Periodicals.” Studies in Newspaper and Periodical History. 1995 Annual. Ed. Michael Harris and Tom O’Malley. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995. 111–25.

Vann, J. Don, and Rosemary T. VanArsdel, eds. Victorian Periodicals: A Guide to Research. 2 vols. New York: Modern Language Association, 1978 and 1989.

Wiener, Joel H., ed. Innovators and Preachers: The Role of the Editor in Victorian England. Contributions to the Study of Mass Media and Communication, no. 5. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985.

Wolff, Michael. “Charting the Golden Stream: Thoughts on a Directory of Victorian Periodicals.” Victorian Periodicals Newsletter no. 13 (1971): 23–38.
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Re: Freda Bedi Cont'd (#2)

Postby admin » Sun Apr 12, 2020 1:05 am

Fruits of Philosophy trial
by National Secular Society
Accessed: 4/11/20

The Bradlaugh and Besant edition of Knowlton's 'Fruits of Philosophy'.

The Fruits of Philosophy was a relatively obscure publication which provided elementary (but not entirely accurate) contraceptive information. It was originally published by a New England doctor named Dr Charles Knowlton in 1832.

In 1834 James Watson brought out the first English edition. It achieved steady if unspectacular sales in the years that followed. In 1875 the plates were purchased by Charles Watts, who had helped Bradlaugh found the NSS [National Secular Society]. Watts became the new publisher.

The pamphlet was propelled into the public eye in 1876 when a Bristol bookseller, Henry Cook, was sentenced to two years' hard labour for selling it.

Types of Punishment: Hard Labour. Hard Labour within Prisons
by Victorian Crime & Punishment
Accessed: 4/11/20

As an element of segregation became part of a prison sentence, for both petty and serious crimes, hard labour was often carried out in a prisoner's cell or under guard in silence.

Most prisons had a treadmill or tread wheel installed, where the prisoner simply walked the wheel. In some prisons, such as Bedford in the earlier part of the 19th century, the treadmill provided flour to make money for the gaol, from which the prisoners earned enough to pay for their keep. However, in later times, there was no end product and the treadmill was walked just for punishment. It became loathed by the prisoners.

Another equally pointless device was the Crank. This was a large handle, in their cell, that a prisoner would have to turn, thousands of times a day. This could be tightened by the warders, making it harder to turn, which resulted in their nickname of 'screws'. These punishments were not abolished until 1898.

The little procession started towards the Police Station winding its way back through narrow brick-paved gulleys of the village. The shopkeepers came to the door of their shops, with their hands folded in greeting. The women crowded on the flat roofs to see us go, and sighed in the doorways. A few young men and boys began to attach themselves to the little group and shouted wildly 'Freedom for India. Long live Gandhiji. Long live Jawaharlal Nehru. Long live Comrade Bedi. Release the detenues.' We reached the elegant grey Amritsar car parked under the peepul tree near the only pucca road. Garlands were thrown over the radiator of the car, through the windows. They were removed immediately: 'garlands not allowed'.

At the village police station, Freda was questioned by the police officer she had nicknamed Old Bill, who she later discovered had 'Irish blood and a kind heart' -- though the interrogation was limited to questions along the lines of 'What colour would you call your hair?' Under the wartime regulations, trials under the Defence of India Act could be held straightaway and without any legal formality or indeed representation. Freda was taken from the police station to the dak bungalow, the guest house where visiting officials stayed, and that's where her trial took place that same morning:

It was finished in fifteen minutes. The man on the other side of the table was quite young still, and looked as though he had been to Oxford. His face was red.

'I find this as unpleasant as you do,' he murmured.

'Don't worry. I don't find it unpleasant at all.'

'Do you want the privileges granted to an Englishwoman?'

'Treat me as an Indian woman and I shall be quite content.'

... The room was deserted but there was a noise, and two Congressmen walked in. They had been allowed at the last minute to attend the 'public trial'. They carried a round shining brass tray filled with flowers and sweetmeats.

Wait until you have heard my judgment, perhaps you will not want to give them then.'

Six months Rigorous Imprisonment.

'She cannot have the garlands. Give her one or two of the sweets.'

Freda had expected the jail sentence, but not the specification of rigorous imprisonment. 'Hard labour was the point,' she said many years later, 'and none of the Indians arrested got hard labour in the Punjab except myself. None of the women at least. Whether it was the ignorance of the young civil servant, Englishman, who gave the sentence, very regretfully and with many apologies .... Or whether it was that they wanted to make an example of me because I was the first, maybe, western woman to offer satyagraha at that time.' Once the sentence was pronounced, Freda was put back in the car which was mobbed by well-wishers, many of them members of the Bedi clan, as it set off to Lahore jail....

Freda shared a cell with 'two very lovely women of the old type', as she described them -- both were brahmins and vegetarians as well as political campaigners. She gave them English lessons, and in return was helped in her Hindi. 'Both Lakshmi and Savitri remain for me an example of beautiful Indian womanhood: self-sacrificing, simple, cheerful. Naturally pure. And it was a great privilege to spend three months sharing a room with them. I shall never forget it. They both excelled in simple Indian cookery, making maize cakes and vegetables, and insisted on doing this little service for me. And I found time in the early mornings to meditate, at dawn under the trees in the jail compound, before my labour started -- which took the form of gardening.'

She was fortunate that her hard labour consisted of running the prison gardens
-- a much more congenial option than the laundry or picking ropes or other punishment labour. 'It's still delirious with young leaves and the scent of orange blossom, the cooing of doves, the screech of parrots, an early owl hooting,' she wrote in mid-March. In a replication inside jail of the class hierarchy outside, she was put in charge of a group of 'criminal' prisoners in tending to the flowers and vegetables in the small prison grounds. Freda liked the work, which brought to mind the huts in Model Town, and she relished the opportunity to get to know the other inmates and something of the circumstances that led to their jailing.

-- The Lives of Freda: The Political, Spiritual and Personal Journeys of Freda Bedi, by Andrew Whitehead

To Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant's consternation, Watts -– their close associate -– agreed to the destruction of the printer's plates and his stock. Confronted with the prospect of a prison sentence, he argued that the pamphlet was not worth fighting over.

Bradlaugh and Besant responded by founding their own Freethought Publishing Company at 28 Stonecutter Street (near Fleet Street). This publishing works and radical booksellers was to become the NSS headquarters for the rest of the century. Bradlaugh and Besant republished the pamphlet, modified the text a little, and attempted to bring it up to date with medical footnotes by Dr George Drysdale. From the outset they were determined to test the law.

There was nothing in the pamphlet that was unknown to medical practitioners or which had not been published before. The issue was that it was being published at a price (sixpence) that made it available to ordinary working people.

Annie Besant at the time of the Knowlton pamphlet trial

At 4 p.m. Saturday 24 March the new edition went on sale and 500 copies were sold in the first twenty minutes, including some to the police.

On Thursday 5 April 1877, Bradlaugh and Besant were arrested and charged for breaching the Obscene Publications Act 1857. They were committed to trial at the Old Bailey and the case was brought before the Queen's Bench on 18 June amidst great publicity. The case was tried by the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Alexander Cockburn. The Solicitor General, Sir Hardinge Giffard, led the prosecution. This highlighted the importance of the case.

Both Bradlaugh and Besant conducted their own defence; this was unusual in any event, but remarkable for a woman in the 1870's. The trial lasted four days before a divided jury returned a qualified guilty verdict. However, the story did not end there because Bradlaugh then managed to have the judgment set aside on a technicality concerning the wording of the original indictment.

'We wrote a letter to the district magistrate,' Freda recalled, 'saying that we would break the law by asking the people not to support the military effort until India became democratic and that India must get her elected government first. But since we sent the letter, we effectively prevented ourselves from speaking because on the day we were supposed to speak we were naturally arrested before this happened.'....Her intention was to shout anti-war slogans in Punjabi in the village streets. She heard that the local inspector had summoned an English officer from Amritsar, thinking it best to have an Englishman to hand when an Englishwoman was placed under arrest. 'At eight-thirty they arrived. In the centre was the local Inspector with a beard. He came forward politely, "regretting that it is my duty but I must arrest you." The turbanned police-officer on his left had a half-smile. To the right was the European Inspector from Amritsar in an unwieldy topee [hat]. He was surprisingly small and had a walrus moustache. He looked like Old Bill: I wanted to laugh, and the corners of my mouth twitched. "Yes, I am quite ready. Take me along with you.'"...

In mid-May 1941, word began to circulate in the jail that some of the women were to be released, because of a ruling that an intention to challenge the wartime regulations was not a sufficient basis for conviction. If activists had not publicly challenged India's involvement in the war, then they had not broken the law. The rumours turned out to be true.

-- The Lives of Freda: The Political, Spiritual and Personal Journeys of Freda Bedi, by Andrew Whitehead

Another veteran freethought bookseller was not so fortunate. Edward Truelove received a sentence of four months in prison and a fine of £50.

Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant had become household names. In the eyes of some they were notorious. To others they were heroes.

During the last 20 years of the 19th century the birth rate began to decline. The Fruits of Philosophy was replaced by more modern birth control pamphlets such as Annie Besant's own The Law of Population and Henry Allbutt's The Wife's Handbook. These were widely sold and distributed in their hundreds of thousands by booksellers and publishers associated with the NSS.

There had been a cost, because not all secularists had agreed with the stance taken by Bradlaugh and Besant. But by 1880 all that changed: secularists reunited behind Bradlaugh over his struggle to enter parliament.

A book by Roger Manwell documented the trial of Besant and Bradlaugh
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Re: Freda Bedi Cont'd (#2)

Postby admin » Sun Apr 12, 2020 2:22 am

Part 1 of 3

Our story: 150 years of the National Secular Society: The NSS has been on the forefront of campaigning for a fairer, secular society for over 150 years. We have gone from being prosecuted for blasphemy to being instrumental in its abolition.
by National Secular Society
Accessed: 4/11/20


Our story began in 1866 when a large number of secularist groups from around the UK came together to strengthen their campaigns. Their leader was Charles Bradlaugh. Since those early days the National Secular Society has pioneered many important social reforms and society has changed a lot.

For centuries, religion-based laws forbade entry for non-believers into parliament. They banned abortion, divorce, contraception, homosexuality, blasphemy and even cremation. Those laws have now been dismantled; human rights and equality for minorities are broadly accepted and protected by law.

In the struggles to bring about these reforms, the NSS has always played a prominent role and sometimes a decisive one.

To mark our 150th anniversary in 2016 the National Secular Society commissioned a portrait bust of Charles Bradlaugh which is now on display in the Palace of Westminster as part of the Parliamentary Art Collection. We also produced an anniversary brochure giving a potted history of our first 150 years.

Read on to find out more about our story, and some of the significant historical events and people that illustrate the NSS's rich history.

Explore our story

Our archives

Following a collaborative archival project between Bishopsgate Institute and the Conway Hall Ethical Society, the National Secular Society's historical archives are now available to the public at Conway Hall.

The National Secular Society: The First 150 Years 1866 – 2016  


Like any organisation that has campaigned to make radical changes to the constitutional structure of our country, the National Secular Society has encountered much resistance, and this has been true throughout its 150 year history.

Founded in 1866 by Charles Bradlaugh, a brilliant orator and self-taught lawyer and later to become a radical politician, the ambitions of the NSS have met with successes and defeats in almost equal measure. On the credit side, religion-based laws that for centuries forbade entry for non-believers into Parliament and had banned abortion, divorce, contraception, homosexuality, blasphemy — and even cremation — have been dismantled. Human rights and equality for minorities are now accepted and protected by law. In the struggles to bring about these reforms, the NSS has always played a prominent role and sometimes a decisive one.

On the debit side, the Anglican and Catholic Churches still have a disproportionate hold on our education system, and despite its diminishing size and reduced influence among the population, the Church of England remains established by law, a status that brings with it many unjustified privileges – including representation as of right in Parliament.

Bradlaugh, as you will see from the following pages, was denied a seat in Parliament — despite being repeatedly reelected — simply because he was an atheist. At that time, the swearing of a religious oath by parliamentarians was mandatory. Through dogged determination, Bradlaugh overcame religious objections and his Oaths Act made it possible for MPs to have a choice to affirm rather than take an oath.

Bradlaugh’s attacks on religion, particularly on the outrageous privileges of the Established Church, were brilliant, scorching and necessary. More recently, though, as the Church of England and its influence has dramatically withered away, the NSS has changed its focus to one that is neutral on religion.

Today the Society’s focus is on the struggle to build a more equal, inclusive and just society based on secularism and on the application of universal human rights.Basing our activities on our Secular Charter, we continue to oppose religious privilege and to propose a society that is far more suited to the diverse nation that Britain has become in the 21st century.

Of course, secularism alone cannot stop religious conflicts, but it can prevent the power of the state being used by any particular religion to persecute others.

Secularism only works when it is an adjunct of democracy, when it is willingly accepted by the majority. It is the job of the National Secular Society now to persuade Britain that secularism is a friend and not an enemy. We must put a convincing case that the time has come to formulate a new secular constitution that is fair to all, and gives privilege to none.

In other parts of the world where secularism has been established constitutionally – such as in Turkey – we have seen how fragile it can be when faced by determined theocrats. In many other parts of the world we can see how religion can be recruited so easily to support the political ambitions of tyrants and demagogues. Throughout the Middle East and to a degree in Russia, religion has become a tool of manipulation and division. Even in the USA, where the establishment of religion is forbidden by the constitution, theocrats are finding ingenious ways of undermining and damaging the first amendment. In France, where state and church were strictly separated in 1905, the rise of Islam has posed grave threats to the traditional concept of laïcité.

I am proud to be the twelfth President of the National Secular Society and I value being part of its long tradition and history. It continues to evolve to meet the changes in society. We all still have much to do. The need for secularism has never been more pressing. The fight must continue.

Terry Sanderson

'Secularism' to Mean a Positive Alternative to Atheism: 1851 Secularism Defined
by George Jacob Holyoake (1817–1906)

Secularism Defined
George Jacob Holyoake

George Jacob Holyoake, a British secularist and newspaper editor who was prosecuted for blasphemy in 1842, adopted the word ‘secularism’ to mean a positive alternative to atheism – ‘the province of the real’. Secularist groups formed under the influence of Owenite socialist groups.

Civil Marriages Introduced

The Church of England’s stranglehold on marriage was broken by the Marriage Act which created the possibility of civil marriages for Roman Catholics, Hindus, Muslims, non-conformists and atheists. It was fiercely resisted by the Church of England, with the Bishop of Exeter calling it “a disgrace to British legislation”. Until that time, the only legally recognised marriages were those conducted on Church of England premises by Anglican clergy. Eventually registry offices were established to facilitate civil marriages with no religious character.

The Church of England’s stranglehold on marriage… and atheists

The young Charles Bradlaugh adopted the pseudonym ‘Iconoclast’ to protect his employer’s reputation (1861)

NSS Founded by
Charles Bradlaugh

As an avowed atheist, republican, promoter of the right of women to vote and advocate of birth control, Charles Bradlaugh became one of Victorian England’s most detested and, at the same time, admired men. He was a great orator and filled venues of many thousands throughout the UK (which then included all of Ireland). He founded the NSS in 1866. In the same year, the periodical The National Reformer was started in Sheffield and became a kind of diary of the organisation. The founding principles of the NSS were: “to promote human happiness, to fight religion as an obstruction, to attack the legal barriers to Freethought” and its objects were “Freethought propaganda, parliamentary action to remove disabilities, secular schools and instruction classes, mutual help and a fund for the distressed. “

The NSS was formed as a national society, a federation of the numerous local secular societies throughout Britain.

Bradlaugh The Republican

A Trafalgar Square meeting to protest against grants to the royal family was banned. Bradlaugh defiantly reconvened it and warned the Home Secretary that his threat of force would be resisted. The Government backed down and rescinded the ban half an hour before the start of the demonstration. Bradlaugh stepped down temporarily from the Presidency of the NSS.

Bradlaugh Resists the Ban on Public Meetings of Secularists

After some attendees at a secularist rally in Hyde Park had been convicted in court, Bradlaugh together with the Reform League called a mass protest meeting. Although the military was on standby to confront the demonstrators, they were allowed to pass without interference, thereby establishing the right to peaceful assembly. The regulations banning such gatherings were annulled, and the Home Secretary Walpole resigned. Bradlaugh resumed his presidency of the NSS, after calling for the Royal Family to be impeached.

No 5 Bacchus Walk, Hoxton – Bradlaugh’s birthplace in 1833

Principles of Secularism, an early version of the Secular Charter

Principles of Secularism.

1. Secularism is a name given to a series of principles of Positivism, intended for the guidance of those who find Theology indefinite, or inadequate, or deem it unreliable.

2. A Secularist is one who gives special attention to those speculations the impact of which can be tested by the experience of this life.

3. Secularism seeks to discern what is in nature; studies what ought to be in morals, and selects the affirmative in exposition. It concerns itself with the real, the right, and the constructive.

4. Its moral basis is, that justification by sincerity is a higher and nobler truth than justification by faith.

5. Its province of study is the order rather than the origin of Nature, the study of the laws or oeprations of Nature being the most fruitful for human guidance.

6. Its theory of morals; that there exists guarantees of pure morality in human nature -- utility, experience, and intelligence; that conduct is the true source of acceptability; that human service is the noblest prayer, and work the highest worship.

7. Secularism teaches that science is the available providence of man.

8. Secularism teaches that conscience is higher than consequences.

9. Secularism teaches that the methods of mind are as uniform and as calculable as the methods of nature, and that whoever masters the process of human affairs may come to control the results.

10. Secularism teaches that human nature is improveable under well-understood conditions.

11. Secularism teaches that the dependence or the well-being of one depends upon all, that care for others is a matter of well-understood self-defence.

12. Secularism teaches the moral innocence of all sincere opinion, that sincerity, though not errorless, involves the least chance of error and is without moral guilt.

13. Secularism teaches that service and endurance are the chief personal duties of man.

14. Secularism teaches that no man or woman is accountable to others for any conduct by which others are not injured or damaged.

15. Its sphere of controversy: the criticism of sacred books and existing religions, only in those respects in which they seem to contradict ascertained moral truths and are impediments to a rational progress.

16. Its objects are to develop those sentiments which have their sources in human nature -- which impel and ennoble all morality -- which are grounded upon intelligent personal conviction, and which manifest themselves in worthy and noble actions, especially in the promotion of Truth, Justice, and Love.

17. Secularism teaches that retribution ought to be immediate, proportionate, and corrective, in contrast to being remote, eternal, and vindictive.

18. As to authority: Secularism recognizes no authority but that of Nature; adopts no methods but those of science and philosophy and respects in practice no rule but that of conscience, illustrated by the common sense of mankind. It values the lessons of the past, and looks to tradition as presenting a storehouse of raw materials to thought, and in many cases results of high wisdom for our reverence; but it utterly disowns traditions as a ground of belief, whether miracles and supernaturalism be claimed or not claimed on its side. So sacred Scripture or ancient church can be made a basis of belief, for the obvious reason that their claims always need to be proved, and cannot without absurdity be assumed. The Association leaves to its individual members to yield whatever respect their own good sense judges to be due to the opinion of great men, living or dead, spoken or written; but it disowns all appeal to such authority as final tests of truth.

19. Secularism concerns itself with four rights -- the right to Think, Speak, Differ, and Criticize.

20. The distinctive peculiarity of the Secularist is that he seeks good which is dictated by Nature, which is attainable by material means, and which is of immediate service to humanity -- a peculiarity to which the idea of God is not essential, nor the denial of the idea necessary.

"Mean well, and act well, and you will deserve well, both here and hereafter."

"You can't BURN Truth."

"In whatsoever state you find yourself, endeavour to improve it."

Annie Besant Joins the NSS

Annie Besant, the divorced wife of a clergyman, joined the NSS and was soon a formidable ally to Bradlaugh. She excelled as a lecturer, public speaker and agitator. She rapidly became a vicepresident of the NSS. She wrote widely in opposition to religion and in support of euthanasia. She was abused and stones were thrown at her at a meeting promoting Darwinism.

The First Prosecution of Knowlton’s Birth Control Pamphlet

Charles Watts was arrested for publishing The Fruits of Philosophy, a pamphlet by an American doctor, Charles Knowlton, explaining birth control. The pamphlet was described in court as obscene and Watts pleaded guilty. He was released and his sentence suspended. Condemned for not carrying the case through, Watts resigned from the NSS. Some secularists at the time hesitated to champion birth control. Some even opposed it, and they followed Watts and Holyoake out of the Society to found the British Secular Union. Charles Bradlaugh and Mrs. Besant started their own Freethought Publishing Co. and published the Knowlton pamphlet.

Annie Besant

The Fruits of Philosophy

Bradlaugh and Besant Prosecuted for Publishing an ‘Obscene Libel’

The publication and distribution of The Fruits of Philosophy; or the Private Companion of Young Married Couples by Charles Knowlton resulted in Bradlaugh and Besant being prosecuted for publishing an ‘obscene libel’. The case became a cause célèbre that revealed the full scale of Victorian prejudice. The jury were unanimous in the opinion that the book was calculated to deprave public morals. Bradlaugh and Besant, however, escaped imprisonment on a technicality. The overall effect of the trial was to make large numbers of people aware of the potential available for better planning of the size of their families. The new Knowlton edition sold 100,000 in three months, and another birth control pamphlet by Mrs. Besant sold 150,000. Edward Truelove was then jailed for four months for selling birth control pamphlets. Secularists raised funds for his defence and petitioned the government, unsuccessfully, regarding his 7-month sentence. Mrs. Besant was deprived of the custody of her child because of her views. When, much later, she became a theosophist, she rejected birth control.

Bradlaugh elected in Northampton, rejected in Parliament

After being elected as MP for Northampton, Bradlaugh was prevented from taking his seat. His request to affirm instead of taking the religious oath was refused by the Commons; and a committee recommendation that he affirm at his legal peril was rejected by the House. Nevertheless, he presented himself to be sworn in and was faced with fierce hostility from MPs and parliamentary officials. Refusing to withdraw he was removed to the Clock Tower under Big Ben and there detained.

NSS membership reached 6,000 and there was an untold increase in outside support. Secular funerals were legalised.

Bradlaugh denied his seat again, despite repeated attempts to claim it

There was a nationwide controversy over Bradlaugh who, on one occasion, was forcibly ejected from the House of Commons by ten policemen and others in a brutal struggle. Mrs. Besant had to restrain Bradlaugh’s assembled supporters from reacting violently. Gladstone moved that if Bradlaugh tried to vote in parliament, he would be prosecuted. Bradlaugh voted and was taken to court. His Northampton seat was declared vacant. This gave new strength and impetus to the secularist campaign for affirmation rights. The NSS acquired the support of a new organ, The Freethinker, edited by G. W. Foote. Among the speakers at the opening of the Leicester Secular Hall (which is still extant) were Bradlaugh and Mrs. Besant.

Bradlaugh and the Bigots – a cartoon in support of Bradlaugh, 1881

Bradlaugh re-elected and still debarred

Bradlaugh was again returned for Northampton but was again denied his parliamentary seat. He was, at the time, vigorously opposing grants to the royal family.

After much religion-baiting and deliberate provocations, The Freethinker was prosecuted for blasphemy. Its editor G.W. Foote was imprisoned for 12 months. Foote’s famous reply to the judge as he passed sentence was: “My lord, the sentence is worthy of your creed.” Bradlaugh foiled an attempt to implicate him. He gained a separate trial and was acquitted; a conviction would have quashed his ability to stand for Parliament. There was now an even greater agitation by secularists for the abolition of the blasphemy laws. There was also a petition for Foote, signed by many eminent scientists and literary men and even some clergymen. Foote was to later become a notable president of the NSS.

Bradlaugh at the Bar of the House of Commons

Bradlaugh elected again as NSS grows

Bradlaugh was elected again as MP by the voters of Northampton. In his non-stop activity he was urging votes for women, drawing up a radical programme, and serving as Vice- President of the Sunday League, which was being materially aided by the NSS. Bradlaugh’s fame was growing and he was addressing overflowing meetings around the country, speaking on one occasion to 3,000 at Leicester. NSS membership hit a new peak; there were 102 branches and five independent secular societies, and regular outdoor stations at 20 places in London alone. Mrs. Besant was now in the Fabian Society, combining secularist with socialist activity.

Protest Meeting against Affirmations Bill
1st. That this Meeting protests against the straining of the Law in favour of an avowed ATHEIST, who has made the most infamous attacks upon Religion.
2nd. That this Meeting protests against the way in which Mr. Bradlaugh has been forced upon the House of Commons by Mr. Gladstone, in defiance of Statute Law, and contrary to precedent.

Bradlaugh finally takes his seat in Parliament

Bradlaugh was finally allowed to takes his parliamentary seat on oath, and being busily engaged in Parliament, allowed much of the NSS leadership to devolve on GW Foote. A bill for the abolition of the blasphemy laws failed. There was also increased agitation for disestablishment.

“I had never heard of Mr Bradlaugh before. He is a massive man, physically and intellectually, and after listening to one or two of his speeches I was not surprised at the influence he has acquired here. A more effective speaker at electioneering meetings I have never come across in America or England. After calmly replying in detail to some of the trash that forms the staple of Conservative oratory, he raises his voice until the very walls echo with it and winds up with a fierce appeal to the electors to do their duty.”

-- Henry Labouchere, fellow Northampton MP

Bradlaugh arrested for refusing to leave the Chamber of Commons

If you wish to be truly Represents in Parliament
Who has the ability and courage to plead your cause in the House of Commons, and this for the following reasons:
1. He knows your wants, and has been for twenty years prominent in every Radical movement.
2. His ability as a speaker has been admitted in both the Old and New Worlds.
3. His determination has been shown by his successful and peaceful assertion of the right of meeting against the Government of Mr. Disraeli as well as against the Government of Mr. Gladstone.
4. His legal tact has been proved by the fact that he has personally defeated two Government prosecutions against the journal he edits.
5. His reputation is shown by the fact that every true politician has refused to oppose him at this election, and that the late John Stuart Mill endorsed his candidature.
6. The Federal Union of the Agricultural Labourers say they wish him elected.
7. The Northumberland and Durham Miners wish him elected.
8. The majority of Working Men's Societies spread through the country wish his election.
9. Because the working men, by voting for Mr. BRADLAUGH will vote for themselves, and further their own interests.
10. Because Mr. Fowler, known in Cambridge, should contest the Cambridgeshire vacancy.

Bradlaugh triumphs with the passing of the Oaths Act in 1888

Oaths Act

After a six year struggle and four byelection victories, Bradlaugh became very active in parliament. He was instrumental in bringing about a change in the law, giving all MPs the right to affirm rather than swear a religious oath. Today, any MP or Member of the House of Lords who objects to swearing an oath can make a solemn affirmation instead. Punch (the Private Eye of its day) wrote: “Not many years ago members crowded the lobbies to see Bradlaugh kicked downstairs. Now they throng the benches to hear him.”

Bradlaugh tries to abolish the blasphemy law

Despite having Prime Ministerial support, Bradlaugh’s blasphemy bill failed at the second reading. He was suffering kidney disease and his health was failing. Despite this he travelled to speak to the fifth Indian National Congress in Bombay. He became known as “the member for India”, being ahead of his time in advocating Indian self-determination. Annie Besant then converted to the mystical religion of theosophy and gradually moved away from secularism.

Bradlaugh resigns as NSS president

Bradlaugh resigned as president of the NSS in 1890 due to ill-health and G. W. Foote was unanimously acclaimed as the new president. At the same time, a young man of 22 from Leicester called Chapman Cohen was lecturing in public spaces for the NSS. By 1890 there were four independent secular societies, 57 NSS branches in London and district, 20 in the south (one in Jersey), 33 in the Midlands, and 115 in the northern counties, with heavy concentrations in Lancashire, the West Riding and Durham. There were also 12 in Scotland, four in Ireland and seven in Wales.

NSS members pay their respects to Bradlaugh at his grave in Brookwood Cemetery, near Woking

Bradlaugh dies

Ironically, Charles Bradlaugh died just as the House of Commons expunged the resolutions that had forbidden him from taking his seat for so long. He was buried at Brookwood Cemetery in the presence of thousands of his admirers. One of them was Mahatma Gandhi, then aged 21.

Attempt to legalise bequests to secular organisations

The NSS supported a bill which would legalise freethought bequests, but it failed.

Unveiling of a statue commemorating Bradlaugh in Northampton, June 25 1894

NSS calls for end of hereditary House of Lords

The NSS joined the agitation for the abolition of the hereditary House of Lords.

Hypatia Bradlaugh’s life of her father was published.

Secular education again

The NSS issued a manifesto on secular education. It also sued the publishers of a pamphlet alleging that a class was conducted at the Hall of Science (the NSS Headquarters) “teaching boys unnatural vice”.

Attempt to protect bequests

The Secular Society Ltd. was formed by GW Foote to safeguard bequests to freethought organisations.

NSS supports votes for women

Many secularists supported the suffragette cause and there was even a term for men who supported the campaigns: “suffra-gent”. The first of these to be sent to jail was Bayard Simmons.

Secular Education League

The Secular Education League set up by liberal Christians, ethicists, rationalists and secularists. The NSS was a leading member of this alliance with G. W. Foote and Chapman Cohen on the Executive. There was a Trafalgar Square demonstration under the auspices of the Social Democratic Federation, with the NSS strongly represented and Foote a main speaker. The League’s aim was to abolish sectarian schools and establish a secular education system – an ambition still being pursued by the NSS today. The League was wound up in 1964, with its aims unrealised. One of its leading lights, the Rev. J Hirst Hollowed, wrote in 1907: “The State school must be restricted to national and moral education, and religious teaching of all kinds must be thrown upon the Churches, in private hours, at their own cost, and by their own agents”.

Equal rights demanded in Birmingham

A campaign was launched in Birmingham demanding the right to hire the Town Hall for secularist meetings on the same basis as Christian bodies could for their purposes. Plans for secular meetings were often frustrated by refusals to hire halls; this was why so many of the secular societies around the country built their own halls.

Later that year, J. W. Gott was imprisoned for blasphemy.

New president for the NSS

After the death of G. W. Foote (b. 1850) many tributes were published in The Freethinker and other journals. Chapman Cohen took over as editor of The Freethinker and became President of the NSS.

Bowman v. Secular Society – a landmark legal case – was started. It became one of the most important religious legal cases in England. It concerned a bequest from Charles Bowman to the Secular Society Ltd that was disputed by Mr Bowman’s next of kin. They argued that the objects of the Society were unlawful insofar as they constituted a blasphemous libel and therefore the gift was contrary to public policy and invalid.

Religion in the armed forces

The NSS energetically protested against compulsory religious observances in the Army and Navy.

“The process of secularisation arises not from the loss of faith but from the loss of social interest in the world of faith. It begins the moment men feel that religion is irrelevant to the common way of life and that society as such has nothing to do with the truths of faith.”

-- Christopher Henry Dawson

Bowman case won

Judgment in the Bowman case was given in favour of the Secular Society Ltd. Mr. Justice Joyce, in a brief judgment, said the case must be decided by law, and he did not find anything in the Memorandum of the Secular Society subversive of morality or contrary to law. Consequently the bequest was good. The trial established that blasphemous libel existed only in scurrilous or profane attacks on Christianity, not in temperate or reasoned criticism and a denial of the truth of Christianity. It did not render a person or organisation unable to claim the benefit and protection of civil law.

Court papers for Bowman v The Secular Society

The right to sell literature in London parks

The NSS, along with other organisations, had endured a four-year struggle for the right to sell literature in the London parks. The collective protests were organised by Miss E. Vance, the NSS’s Secretary, supported by Harry (later Lord) Snell. The campaign succeeded. The NSS created a Trust Deed.

Married Love and Love in Marriage

First birth control clinic opened

Marie Stopes opened the first birth control clinic in the world, in Holloway, north London. The Marie Stopes Foundation now supplies contraceptive advice and safe abortion in 38 countries around the world. It would not be until 1930 that the Anglican Church came grudgingly to accept contraception in certain circumstances.

The struggle against blasphemy laws continues

Chapman Cohen was on the Executive Committee of The Society for the Abolition of the Blasphemy Laws. J.W. Gott was imprisoned for blasphemy for the fourth time: he died shortly after his release from prison in 1923.

Agitation against blasphemy and creationism grows further

Secularists’ agitation for the repeal of the blasphemy laws gains support from some peers in the House of Lords. An anthropologist, Sir Arthur Keith, is welcomed by secularists as a spirited defender of Darwinism against Creationism.

Cohen causes a stir

Pressure by freethinkers induces the Manchester Evening News to invite Chapman Cohen’s participation in a feature “Have We Lost Faith?” and a long controversy ensues which further raises the NSS’s profile.

Bertrand Russell delivers his famous speech

Bertrand Russell lectured for the NSS at Battersea Town Hall on “Why I am not a Christian”. The lecture became very famous and was later published as a booklet and is still in print today.

"Why I am not a Christian"

BBC’s religious obsession causes resentment

Secularists strenuously protested to the BBC about the gross religious privileges on the air. Sir John Reith (later to be Lord Reith), a supposedly pious, fulminating Christian, was Director General. He was later revealed to be a Nazi sympathiser.

NSS lobbies election candidates

The NSS and the Rationalist Press Association (which still publishes the New Humanist) issued a joint circular containing a three-point questionnaire to election candidates on secular education, the blasphemy laws, and the BBC.

South Place Chapel was sold and Conway Hall erected in Red Lion Square, Holborn, London WC1 where the NSS still holds its AGMs. It is owned by the Conway Hall Ethical Society, formerly known as South Place Ethical Society, after its original location near London’s Moorgate.

The attempt to impose religious belief on children should be resisted. Religious doctrine is arbitrary and entirely the province of those who wish to maintain such views as they find adequate to their needs. It is entirely unacceptable, however, that doctrine should be foisted upon the young as a matter of duty in the course of their education. I welcome the campaign against compulsory chapel and religious coercion in our schools.

-- Bertand Russell


BBC dedicates itself to Almighty God

A plaque was unveiled at BBC Broadcasting House in London reading: “This temple of the Arts and Muses is dedicated to Almighty God by the first governors of broadcasting in the year 1931. It is their prayer that good seed sown may bring forth a good harvest and that all things hostile to peace and purity may be banished from this house and that the people inclining their ear to whatsoever things are beautiful and honest and of good report, may tread the path of wisdom and uprightness.” Director General Lord Reith was puritanical in public but was later revealed by his daughter to have been in private an adulterer and a tyrant.

NSS rails against religion in schools and religious services in the BBC

Secularists condemned the political pandering to the churches over religious teaching in schools. They also pressed for the BBC to broadcast alternative programmes while religious services were on the air. They criticised, too, the government’s Sunday Performance Bill.

More struggles for equal access

With echoes of the 19th century, the NSS was refused the hire of a lecture hall in Birkenhead following religious pressure on the owners. A court challenge followed, but was unsuccessful. In Durham, following an anti-NSS demonstration by students, the police attempted to forbid further secularist meetings on the site; the attempt failed.

Charles Bradlaugh 1833-1891

Bradlaugh Centenary

The Bradlaugh Centenary was celebrated with meetings, a Commemoration Fund, a BBC talk (brief and unsatisfactory). A gramophone recording was made by Chapman Cohen of one of his lectures.

NSS has a full year of campaigning and lecturing

Secularists protested against the Incitement to Disaffection Bill that made it an offence to endeavour to seduce a member of HM Forces from his “duty or allegiance to His Majesty”, thus expanding the ambit of the law. There was also its now-annual attack on the BBC. During the year, the NSS executive sponsored some 500 lectures, mostly open-air; the Dublin Branch NSS was under severe pressure from the Catholic Church.

Another attempt to abolish blasphemy

Secularists condemned the new Sunday Trading Act. E. Thurtle, MP, attempted a blasphemy law repeal bill, which failed. Other bodies with which the NSS was then co-operating were the Society for the Abolition of Blasphemy Laws, the Secular Education League, the Society for the Abolition of Capital Punishment, the League of Nations Union and the National Peace Council. The NSS executive sponsors 542 meetings in the year.

Catholic attempts to thwart Freethought congress fail

The NSS Annual Conference was given a civic reception by the Lord Provost and Corporation of Glasgow.

There was Catholic-inspired agitation to prevent the International Freethought Congress (later the World Union of Freethinkers) from meeting in London. There were petitions to the Home Secretary and questions were asked in the House. Despite all this, the event took place and was an enormous success. The NSS played a leading part.

Religious tests for teachers opposed

The NSS helped resist the clerical agitation for religious tests for teachers, and attacked the arbitrary war regulations regarding religious oaths, church parades and the status of army chaplains.

NSS hit during Blitz

The offices of the Freethinker, NSS and Secular Society Ltd. in Farringdon Street were destroyed by fire in an air raid. New offices were quickly established nearby at 2 Furnival Street, less than half a mile from the NSS’s offices today.

Butler Act

The blurring of the distinction between education and religious inculcation in UK schools today is largely the legacy of the Church’s historical role and influence in education. The Education Act 1944, the ‘Butler Act’, created the ‘dual system’ which brought religious schools into the state-maintained sector. The 1944 Act decreed that the school day of all publicly-funded schools must begin with an act of “collective worship” – a law still in place to this day, despite the objections of secularists and the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Participants at the NSS National conference in Nottingham in 1945

Chapman Cohen resigns

Chapman Cohen resigned the NSS presidency after 34 years: as an octogenarian he no longer felt able to be as active as he would wish. R. H. Rosetti was then made acting president.

Marriage law reform supported

The NSS supported the Marriage Law Reform Society in an effort to rectify an anomaly in the Marriage Act: it exposed the Pope’s “mother or child” edict. Following the death of R. H. Rosetti (President), F. A. Ridley became acting President of the NSS and P. V. Morris its General Secretary.

Republicanism reaffirmed

The NSS reaffirmed its adherence to republicanism and drew attention to the superstitious nature of the Coronation ceremony. Wreaths were laid on the Bradlaugh monument at Northampton during a gathering of secularists and rationalists. There was a large rise in NSS membership in two years. The NSS, Rationalist Press Association and Ethical Societies got together to form a Humanist Council for bringing pressure to bear on the BBC for a fair share of broadcasting.

A bill to remove Sunday trading restrictions was defeated.

Chapman Cohen dies

Chapman Cohen (b. 1868) died. The NSS set about exposing the exploitative nature of the Billy Graham revivalist campaign that had arrived in London.

Chapman Cohen  


Margaret Knight smashes the barrier against atheists on the BBC

Broadcasting history was made when Mrs. Margaret Knight, of Aberdeen University, was allowed, in a series of talks on the BBC, to propose a Scientific Humanist, as opposed to a Christian, conception of morality. Her subsequent book took its title from her talks, Morals without Religion. There was enormous national publicity and controversy. Some national newspapers condemned Mrs Knight and defended Christian privilege in intemperate terms. She joined the NSS.

Colin McCall became NSS General Secretary.

NSS members protest against London Transport’s family planning poster Ban in 1961

NSS organise picket over family planing poster ban 1961
(Opposite St. Marylebone Town Hall, Nearest Underground Stations -- Baker Street and Edgware Road)
Saturday, March 11th, 1961 -- 11:30 a.m.
Telephone: HOP 2717

The NSS has been making the case for secular education since its inception

NSS Public Meeting Religion in Schools 1966[/i
PETER FRYER. AUTHOR Mr. Grundy -- Studies in English Prudery
JOHN MORTIMER. The Dock Brief, What Shall We Tell Caroline? The Wrong Side of the Park, Two Stars for Comfort, The Judge
PETER WATKINS. FILM DIRECTOR. The War Game, Privilege, Culloden
FRIDAY, 23 JUNE 1967, 7:30 p.m.
Organised by the

[i]Sexual Offences Act 1967, Chapter 60

NSS protest against religious rates privileges

Mrs. Knight was the distinguished Guest of Honour at the NSS Annual Dinner. The NSS General Secretary recorded a two-minute talk at the invitation of a TV programme inquiring into the state of religion, but the talk was edited out of the show. Vigorous protests from the NSS ensued. The NSS was also protesting against the exemption of vicarages, presbyteries and manses from rates, and rate relief for the clergy. Margaret Knight appeared on TV to debate three Christian representatives.

Wolfenden Report causes huge controversy

The Wolfenden Report, commissioned by the Government, called for homosexual acts to be decriminalised. Its publication caused a huge public reaction, but it took another decade before its recommendations were implemented. The NSS had long condemned the cruel anti-gay laws as one among many religion-based “injustices and abuses” and in its 1967 annual report the NSS said “homosexual toleration” would strengthen over time.

Suicide legalised

The NSS was prominent in campaigning for the passing of The Suicide Act. Until this reform, attempted suicide was treated in law as a misdemeanour. Until 1823 suicide victims were buried at the village crossroads with a stake through their heart. From 1823 to 1882 they were buried in a unconsecrated part of the churchyard at night.

David Tribe becomes president of the NSS, teaming up with Bill McIlroy

David Tribe, originally from Australia, was a very active NSS president from 1963 to 1971. He brought a new and modern approach to campaigning for secularism and was prominent in many of the major reform campaigns of the sixties. He was ably assisted by the redoubtable Bill McIlroy who was General Secretary 1963–77 (with a one-year break). Among Tribe’s many contributions was a pamphlet entitled Broadcasting, Brainwashing Conditioning – which continued, and enhanced, the long-running complaint about the disproportionate and deferential presence of religion on the BBC. This continues to the present, with a particular frustration at the continuance of Radio 4’s Thought for the Day as a purely religious preserve.

NSS organises secular education month

In November 1964, with the support of playwright Harold Pinter and philosopher Bertrand Russell, the NSS organised Secular Education Month with meetings held in London, Glasgow, Inverness, Leicester, Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham and Reading. The NSS has remained steadfast in its opposition to publicly funded ‘faith schools’ and continues to campaign against compulsory worship and faith-based admissions, instead advocating for secular, inclusive schools that are equally open and welcoming to all children, regardless of their religious and philosophical backgrounds.


Challenge to theatre censorship

The Royal Court Theatre went ahead with performances of a play, Saved, by NSS Honorary Associate Edward Bond, despite it being banned by the theatre censor, the Lord Chamberlain. The resultant furore led to the Theatres Act of 1968 which abolished the role of the Lord Chamberlain.

The NSS had joined campaigns over several years calling for the abolition of the death penalty, which came about in 1965 with the passage of the Murder (Abolition of the Death Penalty) Act. The Race Relations Act was also passed in this year.

Homosexuality decriminalised

In the face of much religious resistance, and after decades of struggle, the Sexual Offences Act was finally passed in 1967. It decriminalised sex in private between men over the age of 21. The NSS had long objected to the legal persecution of homosexuals.

Contraceptives were made available on the NHS.

NSS enters right-to-die debate

An NSS working party produced a report “The Right to Die” aimed at reforming the law on assisted suicide. At that time those convicted of assisting a successful suicide could be charged with murder and jailed for 14 years. The many attempts at reforming the law had been thwarted by mainly religious opposition. NSS annual conference passed a resolution supporting voluntary euthanasia.

Rights of ‘illegitimate children’ recognised

The Family Law Reform Act allowed people born outside marriage to inherit on the intestacy of either parent. It was not until 1987 that all legal distinctions between children born to married and unmarried parents were removed. The NSS had campaigned for this for many years.

NSS members at an Easter Monday rally in Hyde Park c.1970

Should State Support Church Schools?
FRIDAY, 19 JUNE 1970, 7:30 p.m.
Public Forum
The Lord Bishop of Durham
DAVID TRIBE, President, National Secular Society
Admission free, reserved seats 5 p. from the Organisers
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Barbara Smoker becomes NSS president

Barbara Smoker was at the helm of the NSS for 25 years during which she lectured, went on speaking tours, did radio and television interviews and debates. She was in demand to give addresses at secular funerals and eventually officiated at nonreligious funerals, wedding ceremonies, gay and lesbian commitments and baby-namings. She was active in various social campaigns, such as the abolition of the death penalty, nuclear disarmament and voluntary euthanasia. Her range of interests were wide and her writing prolific, and she was active in organisations throughout the secularist and humanist movements. In 1984 Barbara undertook a speaking tour of the United States; she produced a booklet Eggs Are Not People which was distributed to all members of parliament to dissuade them from voting for a ban on embryo research. In 1989 she was assaulted by demonstrators when standing beside the route of a huge Muslim march that demanded the death of Salman Rushdie. She was holding a home-made banner proclaiming “Free Speech”. In 1990 she undertook a speaking tour of India, visiting again in 1998 to inaugurate a mass atheist rally.

Protesters call for repeal of the blasphemy law during Gay Pride

Gay News blasphemy case

When a private prosecution for blasphemous libel was brought by the Christian activist Mrs Mary Whitehouse against the magazine Gay News, the NSS joined the campaign to defend the paper. Gay News had published a poem about a Roman centurion having sex with the dead body of Christ. Denis Lemon, the editor, was found guilty and given a suspended sentence. In advance of the case, the judge surmised that the fall of the Roman Empire was due to homosexuality. NSS General Secretary Bill McIlroy became chair of the Committee Against Blasphemy Law to protest against the conviction, gaining endorsement from an impressive array of prominent figures. The Committee was revived in 1989 to defend Salman Rushdie in the Satanic Verses controversy. Jim Herrick was NSS General Secretary for two years from 1977.

Bill Mcllroy, Barbara Smoker, Denis Lemon and Jim Herrick at the NSS’s annual dinner in 1977

Keith Porteous Wood becomes General Secretary

Keith Porteous Wood was appointed General Secretary (later Executive Director) and brought the NSS into the digital age. Soon after his appointment, the NSS had its first website. He has since brought the NSS back to national prominence with parliamentary lobbying and effective campaigning and media coverage. He soon expanded the NSS’s theatre of operations to include the EU, the Council of Europe and even the UN.

Bill McIlroy and Keith Porteous Wood

Daniel O’Hara becomes President

Denis Cobell becomes President

Together with Keith Porteous Wood, the NSS’s campaigning and profile was significantly increased over the forthcoming decade.

Denis Cobell

NSS opposes proposal for multi-faith replacement of Bishops Bench in House of Lords

NSS gave verbal and written evidence as expert witnesses to Royal Commission, dismissive of the expansion of the religious representation to other religions and calling for no ex officio religious representation.

Protest against blasphemy law

Members of the NSS and other organisations and supporters – including MPs, academics, musicians and activists – gathered on the steps of St Martin in the Fields Church in central London to read aloud the poem, The Love that Dares to Speak its Name that had got Gay News prosecuted in the 1970s. The poem was still technically illegal. Despite a large counter-protest by Christians, there were no arrests.

Religious offences re-examined in parliament

Keith Porteous Wood was cross-examined about the St Martin in the Field demonstration by Viscount Colville, chairing the House of Lords Select Committee on Religious Offences in England and Wales. This brought him into contact with Lord Avebury, who was also on the Select Committee, and who would later become actively involved in the NSS’s campaigning.

NSS establishes Irwin Prize

With sponsorship from Dr Michael Irwin (hence The Irwin Prize), the NSS began awarding an annual £5,000 to its Secularist of the Year – an individual or organisation that has made a significant contribution to secularism over the previous year. The first winner was Maryam Namazie, a feminist of Iranian heritage, who formed the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain. The prize has been subsequently won by Peter Tatchell, Safak Pavey (Turkish MP), Prof Steve Jones, Mina Ahadi, former MP Dr Evan Harris, Lord Avebury, Southall Black Sisters. Sophie in’t Veld MEP, Plan UK (on behalf of Malala Yousafzai), the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, and Educate Together, the Irishbased secular educational charity. Terry Sanderson has played a leading role in organising these events.

Free speech advocates counter a Christian protest in Leicester against Jerry Springer: The Opera, a musical written by Richard Thomas and NSS honorary associate Stewart Lee

Jerry Springer: The Opera controversy

The NSS became involved in defending a TV broadcast of a controversial theatre show Jerry Springer: The Opera. Christian Voice, a group of evangelicals, had decided that the show was blasphemous and was attempting to have BBC Director-General Mark Thompson prosecuted on these grounds. However, the courts refused to issue a summons, saying the blasphemy law was obsolete and unusable in the era of human rights.

Terry Sanderson becomes President

Terry Sanderson joined the Council of Management in 2000 and became a vice president in 2002. He was elected President in 2006, since when he has been a principal spokesperson.

NSS helps defeat Government legislation that threatened freedom of speech

The Government suffered a shock defeat when it tried to overturn vital free speech safeguards made in the House of Lords to its controversial Racial and Religious Hatred Bill. The Bill was aimed at extending the concept of the UK’s race hate laws to cover religious beliefs. The NSS together with Honorary Associate Dr Evan Harris (then an MP) led the cross party campaign which resulted in the Bill being accepted by Parliament, albeit by just one vote. The campaign included a march and rally for free expression in Trafalgar Square which was supported by comedians, including Rowan Atkinson, who feared the proposals would limit artistic freedom and might have stopped comedians making jokes about religion. The Government promised to look again at the blasphemy law as a quid quo pro.

NSS supports join the March for free expression 2006

NSS reports the abolition of the blasphemy law

Small concession on collective worship

The Education and Inspections Act permitted – after a proposal from the NSS – sixth form pupils to withdraw themselves from Collective Worship. The NSS had also pressed for much younger children to be able to withdraw themselves. The Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights and more recently the United Nations have stated their objections to inadequate UK laws on pupil opt out. The UN has also advised the Government that the continuance of compulsory collective worship in schools is an abuse of a child’s human rights.

Blasphemy law abolished

The Society’s 150 year campaign to scrap the blasphemy law in England at last came to fruition in 2008 when the offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel were abolished. It followed months of work by NSS Honorary Associates Dr Evan Harris and Lord Avebury, with the NSS providing extensive practical assistance to both. The Society organised a party to celebrate the abolition, attended by many people who had been affected by the blasphemy laws in some way. The offending poem was read out by Sir Ian McKellen. The NSS continues to vigorously defend everyone’s right to freedom of expression and campaigns to resist blasphemy laws in other parts of the world where in some places conviction can carry the death penalty.

Sir Ian McKellen at the National Secular Society’s party to mark the end of the blasphemy law in 2008


The NSS continues to vigorously defend everyone’s right to freedom of expression and campaigns to resist blasphemy laws in other parts of the world where in some places conviction can carry the death penalty.

Protest the Pope rally

As many as 20,000 secularists marched through the streets of London to protest against the state visit of Pope Benedict XVI, which had a cost of £20 million to the taxpayer. The NSS was one of the co-organisers of the event which was intended to highlight the Vatican’s role in the concealment of child abuse and its denial of justice for victims. There were also protests about the Vatican’s controversial and damaging stance on social issues, including its opposition to women’s reproductive rights. The Vatican later admitted that it had been the largest demonstration against a papal visit ever seen.

The Equality Act

The Equality Act brought together all existing anti-discrimination legislation under one umbrella and added religion and sexual orientation as new protected characteristics. The NSS fought hard to stop – or at least restrict – religious exemptions from this important legislation but was up against opposition from the highest levels in Government and religious bodies. The Equality Act is regarded by many as a major advance in the struggle for a secular society. Because some religious groups regard it as an attack on what they regard as “religious freedoms” (or, as the NSS sees them, “religious privileges”), it has been under much pressure since its passage, with many court cases seeking to extend the religious exemptions, particularly in employment rights.

NSS adopts Secular Charter

Following Terry Sanderson’s calls for the NSS to focus on equality and Human Rights rather than the “religion bashing” that had been so important in the early days of the organisation, the NSS adopted a new Secular Charter. This provided a new sharper focus for the Society’s work. Based on the defence of human rights the Charter positioned the NSS as a purely secularist organisation, open to anyone that supports its aims, irrespective of their religion or belief.

NSS intervenes at Human Rights Court

The NSS was given permission to intervene in an important court case at the European Court of Human Rights. The four cases being heard together concerned Christians who claimed they had been discriminated against at work on the grounds of their religion. The intervention was prepared for the NSS by leading Human Rights advocate Lord Lester of Herne Hill, QC. We argued that no discrimination had occurred, the complainants had simply been required to abide by the same workplace rules as everyone else.

NSS wins High Court Challenge to council prayers

The High Court ruled that Bideford Town Council was not acting lawfully as the Local Government Act 1972 does not give them the power to include prayers in council meetings. Following the judgment, many councils conducting such prayers ceased doing so. The decision caused a huge controversy, and was particularly upsetting to an evangelical Christian Government Minister Eric Pickles. In 2015 legislation was brought in by other Christians in Parliament to reintroduce prayers into council meetings (and some other public meetings) if the councils wanted them, but few if any councils reintroduced prayers as a result.

NSS threatens court action over free parking for worshippers only

The NSS threatened to take Woking Council to court over its policy of providing free parking on Sundays exclusively for church-goers. The council eventually amended its policy to make parking free for members of other community groups that promote social inclusion and undertake voluntary work.


NSS offers evidence to UN Committee on Catholic child abuse

In June 2013, the NSS, together with two victims of Catholic sex abuse, gave evidence to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. This followed interventions by the NSS’s executive director and written submissions (under the auspices of IHEU) over three years at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. We repeatedly pointed out that the Holy See was in breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The National Secular Society's Secular Charter
Principle 1: There is no established state religion.
Principle 2: Everyone is equal before the law, regardless of religion, belief or non-belief.
Principle 3: The judicial process is not hindered or replaced by religious codes or processes.
Principle 4: Freedom of expression is not restricted by religious considerations.
Principle 5: Religion plays no role in state-funded education, whether through religious affiliation of schools, curriculum setting, organised worship, religious instruction, pupil selection or employment practices.
Principle 6: The state does not express religious beliefs or preferences and does not intervene in the setting of religious doctrine.
Principle 7: The state does not engage in, fund or promote religious activities or practices.
Principle 8: There is freedom of belief, non-belief and to renounce or change religion.
Principle 9: Public and publicly-funded service provision does not discriminate on grounds of religion, belief or non-belief.
Principle 10: Individuals and groups are neither accorded privilege nor disadvantaged because of their religion, belief or non-belief.


In 2016 the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations awarded the National Secular Society Special Consultative NGO status. This follows decades of work by the NSS in areas of freedom, fairness and human rights and will provide the Society with a platform to address the UN Human Rights Council, ECOSOC, and the General Assembly on issues of concern to secularists in the arena of human rights.

European Human Rights Court rules in Christian cases

The European Court of Human Rights found against three of the four claims of discrimination by Christians. The fourth case, of a woman who claimed she had been ‘banned’ from wearing a cross at work at British Airways, was upheld on a technicality. The NSS’s intervention was influential and it is widely accepted that had the three cases been won by the claimants it would have placed religion at the top of a hierarchy of rights, seriously undermining European Equality jurisprudence.

UN slates Vatican over child abuse failures

After much pressure from the NSS and victim support groups, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child issued a scathing report criticising the Catholic Church’s secrecy over child abuse and its obstruction of justice to victims worldwide. It also criticised the Church’s failure to pay compensation to those who had been abused by its priests. The report received huge publicity worldwide. The NSS had also given evidence to the UN Committee on Torture, which concluded that some of the clerical abuse amounted to torture. It too issued similarly scathing report.


Same-sex marriage legalised in UK

Same-sex marriage was introduced into England, Wales and Scotland, but Northern Ireland continues to refuse to change the law. Despite Church of England efforts to derail the legislation, it went through on a comfortable parliamentary majority. The Church did, however, manage to gain several important opt outs. Neither religious bodies nor clerics can be forced to conduct such marriages, but some are agreeing to do so, with the Anglican Church facing schism over the issue. The NSS kept a high profile during the long campaign to bring this legislation to fruition.

‘Insulting’ removed from Section 5 of Public Order Act

A draconian limitation on freedom of expression was removed in the face of opposition from both Conservative and Labour front benches. The NSS teamed up with the Christian Institute; the combination of their supporters in Parliament and the NSS’s was crucial in achieving this astonishing victory.

Our work continues

As this brief history shows, the National Secular Society has evolved over the past 150 years, always moving with the times. Some might imagine that that our work is almost complete. Society – at least in Western Europe – has secularised to an enormous degree.

Religion no longer dictates the direction of our lives and, more importantly, it does not hold its populations in thrall as it did for so many centuries past. Bradlaugh’s battle with the Established Church is now almost won – but not quite. His ambition to disestablish the Church of England has yet to be achieved. But we think it is now closer than it has been for a century.

And so the focus on Christian privileges will inevitably give way to the problems that come with the revival of Islamic fundamentalism. It surely has the potential to threaten us all, and brings with it new challenges and new urgency to implement the aims of the National Secular Society.

Bradlaugh’s special significance as a parliamentarian was recognised by the House of Commons in the 1950s when his name was added to the list of those deserving of representation in the Art Collection at the Houses of Parliament. The National Secular Society is delighted to sponsor this portrait bust for Parliament, sculpted by the artist Suzie Zamit, as part of the NSS’s 150th anniversary celebrations and to fill this historic gap in the Parliamentary Art Collection. This important commission allows Bradlaugh to take his place among other leading parliamentarians who are represented at the Houses of Parliament and who are recognised for the special contribution they have made to the political life of the United Kingdom.

National Secular Society
25 Red Lion Square
London WC1R 4RL
Tel: 020 7404 3126
Twitter: @NatSecSoc


Secularism before the NSS

Throughout history, different religious and political traditions have considered the relationship between individuals' personal conscience and ideology, between the divine and the secular. What today we might call the balance of freedom of and from religion.

During the 18th century, the Enlightenment movement, revolutions and the emergence of the nation state, all challenged the relationship between church and state. Secularist philosophers religious and non-religious alike, created the intellectual climate in which the National Secular Society was to emerge.

Inspiration came from early freethinkers. The most important of these was Thomas Paine, whose pioneering Rights of Man changed the way ordinary people thought about politics and their place in society. Also of importance was Richard Carlile, who went to jail for nine years for publishing Paine's The Age of Reason, a trenchant critique of the Bible. Later leading figures included Robert Owen, George Jacob Holyoake — who first coined the word 'secularism' — and our first President, Charles Bradlaugh. These freethinkers often stood at the forefront of radical and reformist movements, which gained strength in the 19th century.

Thomas Paine


The development of secularism cannot be understood without reference to Thomas Paine. Although the term itself was only coined by G.J. Holyoake 50 years after Paine's death, his role in developing and popularising the ideas that underpin it are of fundamental significance.

Paine was born in Thetford on 29 January 1737, the only son of a staymaker. He received an elementary education before entering his father's trade. He then tried various other occupations before settling in Lewes as an exciseman where he married a second time, his first wife having died a year after marrying him.

In 1774 Paine became involved in a campaign for better pay for excisemen which was unsuccessful and probably led to his dismissal, although the official reason was that he was absent from his post without permission. That year much else went wrong, including the failure of his marriage and a tobacco shop intended to supplement his income.

Paine moved to London – where he met Benjamin Franklin, who encouraged him to emigrate to the American colonies on the eve of the American revolution.

At this point he had only ever written one pamphlet (supporting the excisemen's claim for better pay). But in January 1776 he published Common Sense, a clarion call for independence which crystallised support for the American insurrection. As the revolution gathered pace he published a series of pamphlets, entitled The American Crisis, which were designed to inspire Americans in their battles with the British. In one of these the first use of the term 'United States' occurs.


In 1787 Paine was back in London, trying to promote his ideas on the use of iron for bridge building. But he was soon engrossed in the cause of the French Revolution, leading him to publish the two-part Rights of Man in 1791-2. This was a refutation of Edmund Burke's counterrevolutionary blast, Reflections on the Revolution in France.

Reformers received Rights of Man with jubilation but the government moved to have it suppressed. Rights of Man is an appeal for the recognition of human rights, a compassionate society and principles which we would describe today as secular. Paine was indicted for seditious libel but fled England to avoid trial.

He moved to France: he had been granted honorary French citizenship in honour of Rights of Man and elected to the National Convention. Unfortunately Paine made an enemy of Robespierre by speaking up for Louis XVI when plans for his execution were afoot. Paine objected to capital punishment. He was arrested and imprisoned for 10 months, narrowly escaping the guillotine.

On his way to the Luxembourg prison Paine managed to pass the manuscript of The Age of Reason to a friend, who arranged for its publication. It comprised an analysis of the Bible's claims which, he argued, were false:

"I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church."

Paine argued that revealed religion is harmful to humanity and should therefore be rejected. He has often been accused of being an atheist. He was a deist – but also a fervent opponent of Christianity.

The Age of Reason saw Paine create furious enemies and opponents. They were to besmirch his reputation, integrity and work in the following years.


He returned to the USA in 1802, but the last years of his life were sad as the role that he had played in the American revolution was forgotten and his unbelief provoked dislike and opposition among the religious.

In his writings Paine had set out the secularist case, which inspired the radicals and reformers who followed him. Many of his ideas were not new: they were found in the writings of Enlightenment philosophers such as John Locke.

Paine's contribution was to popularise and explain them in terms ordinary people could understand and relate to. Everything he wrote was deeply embedded with the ideas of republicanism; liberty; anti-slavery; democracy; human and women's rights; the separation of religion from the state; and the idea that government should serve the interests of ordinary people

Thomas Paine died on June 8, 1809. Only six people attended his funeral. Today his best monument in the UK is in Thetford, where Sir Charles Wheeler's statue has stood on King Street since 1964.



Richard Carlile


Richard Carlile was the first person to establish a permanent secularist and campaigning organisation in the UK. He was the most important campaigner for freedom of thought and expression in the first half of the 19th century.

Carlile was born in Ashburton, Devon on 9 December 1790 but moved to London as a young man and was soon involved in radical politics. His background is probably best described as lower middle class. He received a good education by the standards of the time.

In 1817 he took over a radical publishing business founded by William Sherwin. He was soon in trouble for reprinting parodies of church services originally published by William Hone but withdrawn under pressure from the authorities. For this Carlile was imprisoned for four months without trial.

In 1819 he witnessed the Peterloo massacre. He published furious denunciations of those responsible in the first editions of his weekly journal The Republican. He was again imprisoned for a week.

That year he was also prosecuted for publishing Paine's The Age of Reason. He was sentenced to three years in Dorchester prison and fined £1,500 – a huge sum at the time. The prison sentence was subsequently extended to six years because of his failure to pay the fine.

During this period Carlile achieved his greatest fame. Prison was very different then and during his incarceration Carlile continued to edit the Republican as well as many freethinking tracts by Paine, Shelley, Voltaire and others. Today, Carlile's desk from his time in Dorchester gaol is in the Conway Hall Library.


It was during this period that Carlile developed his own ideas. He moved from deism to atheism and became the first person in Britain to deny the existence of God openly in print during his own lifetime. Just as remarkably he published an essay entitled What is Love? (sometimes Every Woman's Book), describing and defending contraceptive techniques for the first time in the UK.

During his time in gaol, others continued his work distributing and selling his publications. For a time his sister and wife joined him and a child was conceived and born. No fewer than 150 others were also imprisoned for working in his Fleet Street premises and elsewhere.

In 1825 the authorities gave up the struggle and Carlile and his followers were released. However, Carlile was far from finished and now teamed up with the Rev. Robert Taylor whose deism was a strange mix of astrological and mythological theories.

In 1829 the two went on a tour (an 'infidel mission') to the provinces and in 1830 opened the Rotunda on Blackfriars Road making it a centre of radical theological and political discussion. By 1831 Carlile was back in prison, this time in London, for expressing sympathy for agricultural workers during the Swing riots.

He was released in 1833. He left his wife and was joined by his mistress Eliza Sharples, who had already given birth to their first child (conceived in prison) and went on to have two more. Sharples was an extraordinary character herself, becoming the first woman to give freethought lectures and edit a free thought journal. After Carlile's death, in 1849, she provided shelter for the 16-year-old Charles Bradlaugh after he left home in acrimonious circumstances.

Carlile lived for another 10 years. He was imprisoned once more, serving a couple of months for causing a public nuisance by refusing to pay church rates and displaying blasphemous effigies in his shop window.

Carlile's career marks a significant contribution to the development of the secularist tradition. His publishing business helped keep the works and ideas of Thomas Paine and others alive. His heroic defiance of the Church and state helped demarcate the boundaries between the secular and the religious. He dedicated his life to the freedom of the press and expression.

Richard Carlile died on Fleet Street on 10 February 1843. Nearly 10 years of his life were spent in prison.



George Jacob Holyoake


Holyoake was born on 13 April 1817 in Birmingham, where he followed his father into the whitesmithing trade.

As a young man he was much influenced by Robert Owen's socialist writings. He endeavoured to become a teacher but found it difficult to progress due to his socialist views.

He joined the Birmingham Reform League in 1831 and the Chartists in 1832. In 1840 Holyoake decided to become a 'socialist missionary' and follower of Robert Owen, moving to Worcester to become a full-time socialist lecturer. Among his fellow lecturers was Charles Southwell, who helped establish the atheist periodical The Oracle of Reason in 1841. As editor, Southwell was soon tried for blasphemy and sent to gaol in Bristol.

Holyoake was not an atheist at this time. But his friendship with Southwell and fury at the injustice he thought he had suffered led him to volunteer as editor of The Oracle during Southwell's absence. He soon lost whatever remnant of Christianity he had left.

In May 1842 Holyoake was on his way to visit Southwell in gaol when he stopped in Cheltenham to give a lecture. In reply to a question he suggested that "the deity should be put on half-pay" and added that "I flee the Bible as a viper, and revolt at the touch of a Christian." His reward was six months' imprisonment for blasphemy in Gloucester.

While in prison Holyoake was visited by Richard Carlile. This greatly amused him: the authorities had told him that Carlile had suffered a ghastly death and recanted all his principles before he died. The prison authorities made successive, unsuccessful attempts to convert Holyoake to Christianity.

The Reasoner: A Weekly Journal, Edited by G.J. Holyoake

Holyoake emerged from prison a radical hero. He settled in London and founded and edited various progressive newspapers, most notably the Reasoner (1846-50). He did much to secure the freedom of a cheap press, available to all – although during his struggles against "the taxes on knowledge", he paid a great price in fines.

In 1845 Holyoake presided at the opening of the Rochdale Co-operative Store. This served as a successful model imitated by subsequent co-operative societies and was a trigger to the rapid growth of the co-operative movement. He became a leading champion and authority of the co-operative movement. The Co-operative Union still occupies Holyoake House in Manchester, which was built in his memory and opened in 1911.

By 1851 Holyoake began to use the word "secularist" to describe himself and his followers. He defined secularism as "a code of duty pertaining to this life, founded on considerations purely human". To Holyoake the term was more positive than atheism.

George Jacob Holyoke (13 April 1817 – 22 January 1906)

Holyoake continued to lecture throughout the country and as time passed his views began to mellow. By the late 1850s his leadership of the secularist movement was being challenged by the young and hugely energetic Charles Bradlaugh, who was more eloquent, more radical and a better organiser.

In 1858 Bradlaugh was elected president of the London Secular Society. Matters finally came to a head in 1877 when Holyoake opposed Bradlaugh and Besant's publication of Fruits of Philosophy and helped found the British Secular Union as a rival to the National Secular Society.

Holyoake later rejoined the National Secular Society after Bradlaugh's death and the demise of the British Secular Union. In his later years he also took a zealous part in the foundation of the Rationalist Press Association (RPA) of which he was the first Chairman.

Holyoake died in Brighton on 22 January 1906. His contribution to the rise and success of secularism and progressive causes was immense. In his long life he saw the rise of the Chartists, the growth of co-operation, the years of struggle for a free press and Bradlaugh's campaigns to enter parliament.

He fought for the rights of women, political reform, arbitration, education and other reforms. Finally his promotion of secularism as a positive philosophy for life and political and social action is a rich and instructive legacy for the National Secular Society.

Who has just been liberated from Six Months Imprisonment in Gloucester Gaol for the alleged offence of BLASPHEMY, will deliver a Course of
SUBJECT: "An attempt to explain MORAL CHARITY -- a theme much talked of but little understood and practised."
"Christianity, as displayed in the recent Prosecution for Blasphemy -- or a SHORT and EASY METHOD with the SAINTS."
"The Formation and Publication of Opinions."
"The Character of CHRISTIANS and the Duty of INFIDELS."
Admission to each Lecture 1d.
N.B. -- A BALL will be held on TUESDAY, (SHROVE-TUESDAY EVENING,) at which Mr. H. Will be present, and deliver a short Address.

Blue plaque commemorating Holyoake

4 Woburn Walk in the Bloomsbury area of London

On Friday 17 September 2018, NSS CEO Stephen Evans and the deputy mayor of the London borough of Camden, Maryam Eslamdoust, unveiled a blue plaque commemorating Holyoake.

The plaque is part of the Marchmont Association's commemorative plaques scheme which raises awareness of the area's rich social history.


Reform in the 1800s

Secularists were on the frontlines of campaigns against the Church rates as can be seen in this illustration of 62 Fleet Street. The premises were once Richard Carlile's Temple of Reason and it was from here he sold Paine's works which he had republished "Every Woman's Book", the first publication in this country to advocate birth control and sexual liberation. Richard and Jane Carlile were pioneering feminists who thought the current Christian sexual morality repressed women. During their lives the Carlile's were both imprisoned for their efforts, along with many shop-workers who sold his publications.
"Thine own mouth condemneth thee, and not I: yea, thine own lips testify against thee." -- Job, Chap. 15, ver. 6
"And when he had made a Scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the Temple." -- Acts of Christ.
No. 9. SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 29, 1834. [Price One Penny.]

The 1800s saw an increase in religious dissent and a series of reforms which weakened the constitutional power of the established church. The emerging reform movement included non-believers, as well as religious minorities and liberal Christians.

• The Sacramental Test Act (1828) removed the requirement for public officials to be members of the Church of England.
• The Roman Catholic Relief Act (1829) codified the emancipation of Catholics, allowing (inter alia) members of the Catholic Church to take seats in the Westminster Parliament for the first time.
• The Tithe Commutation Act (1836) abolished the system of tithes under which the Church had claimed one-tenth of land produce as payment for its services.
• The Marriage Act (1836) and the Births and Deaths Registration Act (1836) introduced civil marriage and the civil registration of births, marriages and deaths.
• The Bishopric of Manchester Act (1847) limited the number of Bishops entitled to sit in the House of Lords to 26 (its current figure).
• The Matrimonial Causes Act (1857) took the issue of divorce away from the jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical courts, making divorce more widely available and accessible (especially for women).
• The Court of Probate Act (1857) passed control of probate administration (including the collection of death duties) from the ecclesiastical courts to a newly established government department (the Court of Probate).
• The Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act (1860) further reduced the jurisdiction of church courts to those 'in Holy Orders'.
• The Compulsory Church Rate Abolition Act (1868) made the payment of church rates voluntary instead of compulsory.


Chartism: the Church and establishment

Photograph of the Great Chartist Meeting on Kennington Common, London in 1848 (public domain) Image By William Edward Kilburn.

Secularists and freethinkers (as they were generally called at this time) were at the forefront of many early nineteenth century reform and protest movements.

The Stamp Acts

In the years following the French Revolution British governments took highly repressive measures they considered necessary to curb the danger of revolution at home. Among the measures introduced were the Stamp Acts which imposed a punitive stamp duty on cheap, radical newspapers in an attempt to price them beyond the means of ordinary people.

Secularist publishers such as Henry Hetherington (1792-1849) with his Poor Man's Guardian and James Watson (1799-1874) with his Working Man's Friend defied the law and attempted a variety of ruses to get around it. In Hetherington's case this included the pretence that his newspaper was being loaned for the princely price of one penny, not sold. They were unsuccessful in that they both served prison sentences.

A Weekly Paper
No. 26. Saturday, December 17, 1831. Lent to Read, without deposit, for Six Months. CHARGE ONE PENNY.
Friends, Brethren, and Fellow-Countrymen,
The "not less efficient Bill" is now before the country, and our readers will find the speech of John Russell, who brought it forward, fully reported in our pages.
Our readers are as capable, as ourselves, of judging of its efficiency; and, we, for ourselves, are bound to confess that, as far as "the Bill" itself is concerned, certainly it is "not less efficient;" for, although in one respect it somewhat falls short, in some others it is rather an improvement than otherwise. With respect tot he 10 pound householders, the qualification is not so dependant, and the elective rights of resident freemen are not, as in the last "Bill," condemned to expire with the lives of those who at present possess them (whereby, it will be seen, ...


Chartism was a working-class movement for political reform that existed from 1838. Secularists, such as Henry Hetherington and James Watson and other followers of Thomas Paine, dominated its leadership. They were often particularly incensed by the opposition of the established church to their demands. To freethinkers the Church of England was nothing more than a prop to those who wielded political power which they had no intention of surrendering.

This led to many Christians who supported Chartism to oppose the Church of England, its leadership or establishment. The bishops', who then as now had seats in the House of Lords, were consistent in their opposition to reform.

Chartism took its name from the People's Charter of 1838 and was a national protest movement. Support was at its highest in 1839, 1842, and 1848, when petitions signed by millions of working people were presented to the House of Commons. The strategy employed was to use the scale of support which these petitions and the accompanying mass meetings demonstrated to put pressure on politicians. Chartism thus relied primarily on peaceful and constitutional methods to secure its aims.

The Chartists demands can be summarised as follows.

1. Universal suffrage (the vote for all – later modified to universal manhood suffrage on the insistence of more cautious campaigners).
2. An end to property qualifications for voters and candidates.
3. Annual parliaments (general elections each year).
4. Equal representation (each constituency to be roughly the same size).
5. Payments of members (so ordinary people could become MPs).
6. Vote by ballot (secret voting, on paper).

In their own era, the Chartists failed and the movement suffered a serious blow in 1848 when a mass meeting held on Kennington Common was prevented from crossing the Thames and marching on Parliament. When examined, the petition itself was found to be far smaller than its organisers had claimed and carried many false names.

However, secularist aspirations for reform remained. In the 1860s electoral reform was again a key issue with the Reform League being established in 1865. Charles Bradlaugh was one of the League's founders and was ultimately to benefit from the extension of the franchise which it helped bring about when he was elected to Parliament in 1880.

See also: Peterloo's heroes represented the finest traditions of secular democracy.

Unknown. Signed by John Arnott (1799 - 1868) - Scanned from Rodney Mace, British Trade Union Posters: An Illustrated History - Public Domain
Fellow Men, -- The Press having misrepresented and vilified us and our intentions, the Demonstration Committee therefore consider it to be their duty to state that the grievances of us (the Working Classes) are deep and our demands just. We and our families are pining in misery, want, and starvation! We demand a fair day's wages for a fair day's work! We are the slaves of capital -- we demand protection to our labour. We are political serfs -- we demand to be free. We therefore invite all well disposed to join in our peaceful procession on
MONDAY NEXT, April 10,
As it is for the good of all that we seek to remove the evils under which we groan.
The following are the places of Meeting of THE CHARTISTS, THE TRADES, THE IRISH CONFEDERATE & REPEAL BODIES:
East Division on Stepney Green at 8 o'clock; City and Finsbury Division on Clerkenwell Green at 9 o'clock; West Division in Russell Square at 9 o'clock; West Division in Russell Square at 9 o'clock; and the South Division in Peckham Fields at 9 o'clock, and proceed from thence to Kennington Common.
Signed on behalf of the Committee, John Arnott, Sec.


The young Charles Bradlaugh


Charles Bradlaugh was born in Hoxton, East London on 26 September 1833, the eldest of six children. Today his birthplace is marked by a London Borough of Hackney brown plaque.

Bradlaugh's origins were humble, his father (also Charles) being a solicitor's clerk. He was always to think of himself as being of the poor and speaking on their behalf.

His upbringing was orthodox and as a youngster he attended Saint Peter's Church, Hackney Road. He was soon identified as one of the brightest pupils and appointed as a Sunday School teacher by the Reverend John Graham Packer.

During his studies of the four gospels the young Bradlaugh wrote to Packer for advice and explanation of biblical inconsistencies. He was met with an unexpected and unfriendly response. Packer condemned Bradlaugh to his parents and removed him from his post as a Sunday School teacher. Matters developed rapidly after this with Bradlaugh renouncing his religious beliefs.

The Reverend Packer persuaded Charles Senior to give his son three days to change his mind. Bradlaugh did not hesitate or compromise and at the age of 16 left home and took up lodgings with Eliza Sharples, the former mistress and co-worker of Richard Carlile. As such he had philosophically and physically joined the ranks of radical freethought.

In the years that followed he began to write and lecture although he struggled to make a living, eventually enlisting in the army for the bounty. He was sent to Ireland where the misery he saw made a lasting impact. However, army life did not suit him and he was bought out, returning to London and the editorship of freethought newspapers, eventually assuming control of the National Reformer which was to be his mouthpiece for the rest of his life. By now Bradlaugh was well-known as a popular, radical, republican and freethought speaker attracting large crowds wherever he spoke.

Find out more

Bradlaugh's founding of the NSS, his prosecution for publishing information on birth control, his long struggle to claim his duly elected seat in Parliament, as well as his great successes once in Parliament, and his early death are a remarkable part of the Society's history.

As well as exploring the other sections in our history pages, you may be interested in our review of Bryan Niblett's definitive biography, Dare To Stand Alone: The Story of Charles Bradlaugh.


The Society's early years

British secularism was essentially a working-class movement strongly influenced by the French revolution. In the mid Nineteenth Century the secularist movement was widespread, with many local society's being founded. However the radical and freethought leadership was fragmented and, in Bradlaugh's opinion, insufficiently positive.

This would change with the founding of the National Secular Society in 1866. However deep divisions would remain, between opponents and supporters of birth control, and between those dedicated to challenging the Church's abuse of temporal power, and those dedicated to challenging its very existence.

Founding the NSS

On 15 July 1866, The National Reformer announced plans 'to place the Secularists of Great Britain who, during the past few years have enormously increased in numerical strength, in more intimate communication with each other'. Bradlaugh's objectives were always political and were initially closely related to the radicals' attempts to broaden the franchise.

On 9 September Bradlaugh used the columns of his newspaper to proclaim the programme and principles of a new National Secular Society with him as temporary President pending a national conference. This eventually occurred in Bradford in November 1867 when Bradlaugh's presidency was confirmed.

Bradlaugh now had the backing of a network of loyalists and a national organisation to support him in the great struggles that were to follow.

Bradlaugh and Besant

Bradlaugh was helped by his close friend and colleague Annie Besant – a pioneering feminist – and hundreds of active supporters. His new national society emerged to play an important part in British politics. The NSS stood against religious privilege and demanded a secularised society, including an end to all political support for religious purposes and especially the disestablishment of the Church of England. Bradlaugh was a passionate republican who sought to bring about far-reaching changes by strictly constitutional means. This side of his work gave the secular movement a central position in English radical activity during the lean years of working-class history following the collapse of Chartism.

Bradlaugh's early struggles and his political and social work taught him the need for freedom of speech and publication. He was also a convinced neo-Malthusian who believed that grinding poverty could only be relieved if families were smaller. In 1877, when he and Annie Besant republished a pamphlet explaining contraceptive techniques, The Fruits of Philosophy, they were prosecuted and convicted. The two were arrested, tried and sentenced to six months' gaol, but appealed and won on a legal technicality. Although the trial divided secularists, it represented a crucial victory in the battle for free speech and a free press. The years after 1877 also saw a marked decline in the birth rate in the UK.


An early NSS membership certificate of the man who was to become the Society's first full-time paid secretary. Note the legend "We Seek for Truth" at the top and the portraits of Thomas Paine (top left) and Voltaire (top right)

The significance of 1866

Even apart from the founding of the NSS, 1866 was a significant year in the history of radical British politics, seeing the foundation of the Howard League and the Fawcett Society. Together these three are the oldest radical campaigning organisations in the UK, with a continuous history since their foundation.


Fruits of Philosophy trial

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