George Holyoake

George Jacob Holyoake was mainly self-educated and a vigorous campaigner for secularism and freethought during the 19th century. He wrote 160 books and pamphlets and edited several magazines, including The Movement and The Reasoner. Holyoake was the last person in England to be imprisoned on a charge of atheism, for saying at a public lecture in Cheltenham in 1842 (at a time of economic hardship): “If I could have my way, I would place the deity on half pay as the Government of this country did its subaltern officers.”

It was Holyoake who suggested the term `secularism’ and organised the early Secular Societies, becoming Vice-President of the National Secular Society.  Bradlaugh was preferred as President because he was a much more eloquent speaker. He campaigned with Bradlaugh for secular affirmations. Some of the other causes Holyoake championed were a free press, the rights of women and the liberation of oppressed nationalities.

In 1899 he presided at the inaugural meeting of the Rational Press Association which went on to publish books such as the cheap reprints of The History of Science series and The Thinker’s Library, in order to undermine religious superstition and help the spread of rational principles.