Charles Bradlaugh


Charles Bradlaugh : biography

26 September 1833 – 30 January 1891


At that point Bradlaugh was summoned back to the table to be told the outcome of the debate; having relayed it, the Speaker then ordered him to withdraw. Bradlaugh "respectfully refused" to obey an order of the House which was "against the law". The Conservative leader Sir Stafford Northcote successfully moved a motion that Bradlaugh be required to withdraw (agreed on a division by 326 to 38, Liberal MPs being unwilling to challenge a motion which sustained the House’s legal authority) but Bradlaugh "postively refused to obey". The Serjeant at Arms was sent for and led Bradlaugh out to the Bar of the House, but Bradlaugh then immediately returned to the table claiming to take the Oath. At this Sir Stafford Northcote moved that Bradlaugh be taken into custody. The House agreed, on a division by 274 votes to 7 and Bradlaugh was taken to the small prison cell located under Big Ben in the Clock Tower.Arnstein, p. 76-77.

Lord Randolph Churchill roused the Conservatives by leading resistance to Bradlaugh.

Because Members had to take the oath before being allowed to take their seats, he effectively forfeited his seat in Parliament. His seat fell vacant and a by-election was declared. Bradlaugh was re-elected by Northampton four times in succession as the dispute continued. Supporting Bradlaugh were William Ewart Gladstone, T. P. O’Connor and George Bernard Shaw as well as hundreds of thousands of people who signed a public petition. Opposing his right to sit were the Conservative Party, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and other leading figures in the Church of England and Roman Catholic Church.

On at least one occasion, Bradlaugh was escorted from the House by police officers. In 1883 he took his seat and voted three times before being fined £1,500 for voting illegally. A bill allowing him to affirm was defeated in Parliament.

In 1886 Bradlaugh was finally allowed to take the oath, and did so at the risk of prosecution under the Parliamentary Oaths Act. Two years later, in 1888, he secured passage of a new Oaths Act, which enshrined into law the right of affirmation for members of both Houses, as well as extending and clarifying the law as it related to witnesses in civil and criminal trials (the Evidence Amendment Acts of 1869 and 1870 had proved unsatisfactory, though they had given relief to many who would otherwise have been disadvantaged). Bradlaugh spoke in Parliament about the London matchgirls strike of 1888.


Bradlaugh’s statue, Abington Square, Northampton UK, on his birthday 2004 Bradlaugh’s funeral was attended by 3,000 mourners, including a then 21-years-old Mohandas Gandhi.Chatterjee, Margaret (2005). Gandhi and the challenge of religious diversity: religious pluralism revisited . New Delhi/Chicago:Promilla & Co./Bibliophile South Asia, p.330Payne, Robert (1969). The life and death of Mahatma Gandhi. New York: E.P. Dutton, pp.73.Arnstein (1983), p.322. He is buried in Brookwood Cemetery.

A statue to Bradlaugh is located on a traffic island at Abington Square, Northampton and he is remembered annually on the Sunday closest to his birthday, 26 September. The commemoration starts at 3pm and attendees are invited to speak about Charles Bradlaugh. The commemoration started in 2002 and 2012 was its eleventh year. The statue points west towards the centre of Northampton, the accusing finger periodically missing due to vandalism. Various local landmarks are named after Bradlaugh, including Bradlaugh Fields nature reserves, The Charles Bradlaugh pub, and Charles Bradlaugh Hall at the University of Northampton.