Rationalist Association

Scope and Content

Papers of the Rationalist Association, formerly the Rationalist Press Association, as well as affiliated companies and bodies including CA Watts and Company Limited, Pemberton Publishing Company Limited, Rationalist Benevolent Fund, Rationalist Trust, New Humanist publication, and Thinker's Book Club, (28 January 1872 - 17 September 2006). Includes: Papers of CA Watts and Company Limited, Rationalist Press Association and Rationalist Association, including: Committee minutes, papers and agendas (1929-2005), Financial papers (1895-1994), Legal papers (1872-2005), Papers regarding publishing and promotion (1919-2004), and Papers regarding administration and activities of the organisation (1881-2006). Papers of Pemberton Publishing Company Limited, including: Committee minutes, agendas and papers (1954-2000), Legal and financial papers (1948-2000), Papers regarding publishing and distribution (1962-1982), and Correspondence (1965-1972). Papers of Rationalist Benevolent Fund and Rationalist Trust, including: Committee minutes, agendas and papers (1941-2004), Legal and financial papers (1921-2004), and Correspondence (1960-2004). Papers of the Thinker's Book Club, including: Committee minutes, agendas and papers (1945-1960). Papers of the New Humanist, including: Committee minutes, agendas and papers (1971-1996), General papers and correspondence (1995-2006), and Images used in the publication (1980-2006).

Administrative / Biographical History

The Rationalist Association, known as the Rationalist Press Association until 2002, was founded in 1885 by radical publisher Charles Albert Watts from his print works, CA Watts & Company Limited at Johnsons Court, London. Watts was part of a group of freethinkers who felt that the British secularist movement had become too political in nature, and had started to abandon its intellectual tenor. Watts was also looking for a way to circumvent the mainstream booksellers and publishers who often refused to handle secularist material. Watts first established the Propagandist Press Committee in 1890, appointed George Jacob Holyoake as President. Shortly afterwards the committee changed its name to the Rationalist Press Committee, and by 1899 the Rationalist Press Association had been formed.

The Association began issuing reprints of serious scientific works by Julian Huxley, Ernst Haeckel and others, as well as establishing the CA Watts & Co Thinker’s Library book series (under the leadership of Fredrick Watts), published from 1929 to 1951.

The link between the Rationalist Press Association and CA Watts & Company Limited remained strong and in 1930 the Association agreed to place all their printing and publishing business with the Company for a period of 21 years. The close relationships continued and in 1953 it was agreed that the publishing policy of CA Watts & Co would be decided by the Rationalist Press Association Board. Additionally, a single Editor General would be responsible for obtaining books for publication by both CA Watts & Co and the Rationalist Press Association, and the Association was granted the rights to appoint five directors to the Board of CA Watts & Co. The minutes record that, "In brief, free initiative should be given to Watts & Co to run the publishing side of the business, as well as that of booksellers and printers, and to build up income to assist the Rationalist Press Association in its propaganda work”.

Pemberton Publishing Company was a subsidiary of the Rationalist Press Association, being fully owned by the Association. Pemberton had a specific interest in producing radio and television programming, trading under the name Human Horizons. From 1962, Pemberton handled all the publishing affairs of the Rationalist Press Association.

The Rationalist Benevolent Fund was a registered charity, established by the Rationalist Press Association in 1928 for the relief of distressed rationalists. The Trustees of the Fund were also Directors of the Rationalist Press Association. Similarly, the Rationalist Trust was established as a charitable body affiliated to the Rationalist Press Association. It operated until 2004, after which it was removed from the Charities Register and incorporated into the Rationalist Association.

The New Humanist is the magazine of the Rationalist Press Association and is published on a bi-monthly basis.


The Rationalist Association Archive is divided into the following ten sections:

  • RA/1: Committee Papers
  • RA/2: Financial
  • RA/3: Legal
  • RA/4: Publishing and Promotion
  • RA/5: Administration and Activities
  • RA/6: Pemberton Publishing Company
  • RA/7: Rationalist Benevolent Fund
  • RA/8: Thinker's Book Club
  • RA/9: New Humanist
  • RA/10: Rationalist Trust

Access Information


Acquisition Information

Transferred to Bishopsgate Institute by the Rationalist Association in June 2011.

Other Finding Aids

Adlib catalogue and copy of handlist available in researcher's area.

Archivist's Note

Entry compiled by Grace Biggins.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopying and digital photography (without flash) is permitted for research purposes on completion of the Library's Copyright Declaration form and with respect to current UK copyright law.