BRADLAUGH, Charles (1833-1891)

Scope and Content

Personal and political correspondence to and from Bradlaugh, 1853-1891; drafts and articles by Bradlaugh, 1850-1891; press cutting relating to Bradlaugh, his life and activities, 1860-1969; printed material, including handbills, circulars and other material relating to Bradlaugh and organisations with which Bradlaugh was involved, 1854-1891; family and personal material, including papers, note and photographs concerning family members and his early life, 1824-1891; photographs of Bradlaugh, 1851-1891; papers relating to Prince Jerome Napoleon, 1871; miscellaneous papers on republicanism, 1702-1873; papers on vaccination, 1853-1871; addresses to Bradlaugh on his visit to the Indian National Congress, 1889; artefacts and personal items belonging to Bradlaugh, n.d.; papers concerning Bradlaugh's death and legacy, including correspondence with Hypatia Bradlaugh Bonner, press cuttings, reminiscences, memorials and publications, 1889-1900; paper and correspondence relating to the work and activities of Hypatia Bradlaugh Bonner and later family members, 1878-1969; papers relating to Alice Bradlaugh, 1856-1888.

Administrative / Biographical History

Born Hoxton, London, September 1833, the son of a solicitor's clerk; aged 12 employed as an office boy in his father's company; during his early years, Bradlaugh increasingly became influenced by the ideas of Richard Carlile who was sent to prison for blasphemy and seditious libel in 1819, and he began to question Christian ideals. Due to religious disputes with his family, Bradlaugh left home in 1849 and shortly after joined the Seventh Dragoon Guards, although he was to obtain a discharge in 1853, finding work in a law office. Now a committed republican and freethinker, he joined Joseph Barker, a Sheffield Chartist, to form The National Reformer in 1860.

During the 1860s, Bradlaugh published a series of pamphlets on politics and religion becoming one of Britain's leading freethinkers. He helped in the establishment of the National Secular Society in 1866. Shortly after, Bradlaugh met Annie Besant, who he employed on The National Reformer. In 1877, Bradlaugh and Besant published Charles Knowlton's book The Fruits of Knowledge concerning birth control and, as a result, both were charged and sentenced to six months in prison, although at the Court of Appeal, the sentence was quashed.

In 1880, after several previous attempts, Bradlaugh was elected Member of Parliament for Northampton and, due to his beliefs, sought permission to affirm rather than to take the oath of office; request was refused and he was expelled from the House of Commons; campaigned to allow atheists to sit in the Commons, attracting support from Non-Conformists and some important figures, such as William Gladstone, although it angered many in the clergy and members of the Conservative Party. Attempts to take his seat in June 1880 and April 1881, met with resistance, including a spell imprisoned in the Tower of London. After being refused access in August, a petition was presented to Parliament and, in May 1883, an Affirmation Bill, headed by Gladstone, was defeated in the Commons. Bradlaugh was re-elected in 1884 and again tried to affirm and take his seat, including voting three times for which he was later fined. A further attempt to affirm in January 1886 was accepted by the Speaker, Sir Arthur Wellesley Peel, and he was allowed to sit remaining a fervent republican and critic of British foreign policy, most notably in South Africa, Sudan, Afghanistan and Egypt. Bradlaugh died in January 1891.


The collection is arranged broadly chronologically.

Access Information


Acquisition Information

Deposited at the Bishopsgate Institute by Bradlaugh's daughter, Hypatia Bradlaugh Bonner.

Other Finding Aids

Copy of handlist available in Library Reading Room.

Alternative Form Available

The Bradlaugh collection was commercially microfilmed by E.P.Microform Ltd,. in 1975.

Archivist's Note

Entry compiled by Stefan Dickers.

Conditions Governing Use

Documents cannot be photocopied at present. 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.

Related Material

The Bodelian Library, Oxford holds Bradlaugh correspondence, 1859-1898 (MS Eng lett d 180); Hackney Archives Department hold miscellaneous papers, 1870-1891 (D/F/BRA); The National Archives hold papers relating to Regina v Bradlaugh and Besant, 1877-1878; the House of Lords Records Office holds correspondence with Sir Henry Brand, 1880-1884 (BRA); the British Library, Asia, Pacific and African Collections hold correspondence with William Digby, c1889 (MSS Eur D 767); Gloucester Record Office hold correspondence with Sir Michael Hicks Beach, 1884-1886 (D2440); and the National Co-operative Archive hold correspondence with George Jacob Holyoake, 1861-1874 (MM/96636/1-12).


Published handlist, The Bradlaugh Papers: A Descriptive Index by Edward Royle (E.P.Microform Ltd., Wakefield, 1975). Handlist also available online at: