About this Archive
George Jacob Holyoake (1817–1906) was an enthusiastic educationalist who worked as a ‘social missionary’, lecturing on socialism, atheism and Owenite co-operation before being charged with blasphemy in 1842 and spending six months in prison. This was the last trial by jury for atheism in Britain. Following his release, Holyoake invented the inoffensive term 'secularism' to describe his opinions and worked as an editor on several working-class rationalist periodicals, most importantly The Reasoner. He was also the last person indicted for publishing an unstamped newspaper, although the prosecution was dropped upon the repeal of the tax.
Holyoake wrote the first histories of the co-operative movement and is best remembered for his active promotion of social progress through co-operation. The collection at Bishopsgate, donated by Holyoake's daughter, includes over 300 books and pamphlets by and about Holyoake, relating to the co-operative movement and secularism. These include transcripts of Holyoake's debates and lectures as well as material relating to Joseph Mazzini and Guiseppe Garibaldi and their campaign for a unified Italy which Holyoake supported.
Holyoake's later years were chiefly devoted to the promotion of the cooperative movement among the working classes. He wrote the history of the Rochdale Pioneers (1857), The History of Co-operation in England (1875), and The Co-operative Movement of To-day (1891). He also published (1892) his autobiography, under the title of Sixty Years of an Agitator's Life, and in 1905 two volumes of reminiscences, Bygones worth Remembering. He died at Brighton on the 22nd of January 1906.