Charles Bradlaugh

Charles Bradlaugh was born on 26th September 1833 into a large family in Hoxton and became famous as a Freethinker. He was an atheist and socialist, and as such made himself unemployable, so he sought refuge in the army. In December 1850 he joined the 7th Dragoon Guards who were serving in Ireland. He was a tough, well-built 17 year-old and had shown himself to be a bit of a barrack-room lawyer on the boat over from Liverpool. His CO, Colonel Ainslie wrote of him: 'His military career was by no means brilliant, for it very soon appeared that his qualities did not lie in that direction, especially as a horseman, since it was the month of October 1852 ere he could be dismissed the riding school - nearly two years! Being so poor a dragoon, and possessing a fair classical education, he was employed for some time in the garrison school at Ballincollig, and subsequently in the orderly room at Cahir.'

He had excellent hand-writing and was able to read Latin and Hebrew. However after 3 years in the regiment he inherited a large sum of money and bought his discharge, in December 1853. He worked in a solicitors office in London where he learned much about the law. This stood him in good stead because he was to become embroiled in lawsuits brought about because of his confrontational nature and antipathy towards the establishment. He was an iconoclast and champion of the working class.

He married in 1855 and had 3 children but from 1874 he spent much of his time with Annie Besant, a socialist and theosopher. They edited a pamphlet called the National Reformer which became notorious for promoting sedition and blasphemy. He also founded the National Secular Society. He stood for parliament, at first unsuccessfully, but in 1880 became MP for Northampton. It was, however 6 years before he was allowed to take the oath. As time went on his views mellowed to the point where he was almost a Conservative. He died on 30th Jan 1891 and was buried at Brookwood in Surrey.

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by Stephen Luscombe