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Barker, Joseph (1806–1875), Methodist minister and politico-religious controversialist, was born on 11 May 1806 at Bramley, near Leeds. His ancestors, originally of Keighley, had been settled in this area for several generations as farmers and manufacturers. The identity of his parents has not been discovered, though it is known that his father was employed in woollen manufacture and served for some time in the militia, and that ...

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Maker: John Cochran

Joseph Barker (1806–1875) by John Cochran, pubd 1880 © National Portrait Gallery, London

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Annie Besant (1847–1933) by Hayman Selig Mendelssohn © National Portrait Gallery, London

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Besant [née Wood], Annie (1847–1933), theosophist and politician in India, was born at 2 Fish Street Hill in the City of London on 1 October 1847, the only daughter of William Persse Wood (d. 1852), underwriter, and his wife, Emily Roche Morris (...

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Bonner, Hypatia Bradlaugh (1858–1935), freethinker and radical, was born in London on 30 March 1858 at 3 Hedger's Terrace, Hackney, the second child of Charles Bradlaugh (1833–1891), politician and freethinker, and Susannah Lamb Hooper (d. 1877). Her elder sister, Alice Bradlaugh (...

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Charles Bradlaugh (1833–1891) by Walter Sickert, exh. New English Art Club 1890 © Estate of Walter R. Sickert. All rights reserved, DACS 2010; National Liberal Club; © reserved in the photograph

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Bradlaugh, Charles (1833–1891), politician and freethinker, was born on 26 September 1833 at home at 31 Bacchus Walk, Hoxton, London, the eldest of seven children born to Charles Bradlaugh, a solicitor's clerk, and his wife, Elizabeth Trimby, a former nursemaid. He was baptized at ...

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John Chilembwe (c. 1870–1915) by unknown photographer [with members of his family] © reserved / London Library

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Chilembwe, John (c. 1870–1915), Baptist minister and anti-colonial rebel, was probably born at Sangano, Chiradzulu, in modern Malawi, of a Yao father (reportedly called Kaundama), and a Mang'anja or Cewa slave mother (reportedly called Nyangu). Very little is known of his early life. He acquired a basic knowledge of English from one of the earliest outposts of Scottish Presbyterian missionaries. In 1892 he became ‘cook boy’ to the recently arrived independent English missionary ...

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Codd, Clara Margaret (1876–1971), suffragette and theosophist, was born on 10 October 1876 at Pill House, Bishops Tawton, Barnstaple, north Devon, the eldest of ten children of Henry Frederick Codd (d. 1899) and his wife, Clara Virginia, née Botto (1853–1927). She was educated at home by governesses, and at fifteen rejected Christianity and declared herself an atheist. When she was twenty-three her father, a school inspector, died and the family moved to ...

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Cooper, Thomas (1805–1892), Chartist and religious lecturer, was born on 20 March 1805 in Leicester, the illegitimate son of a dyer. His mother continued working as a dyer after the early death of Cooper's father, which indicates that the relationship was more than transitory. Living in ...

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Cotton, Sir Henry John Stedman (1845–1915), administrator in India and positivist, was born in Kumbakonam, Madras presidency, south India, on 13 September 1845, the first of two sons of Joseph John Cotton (1813–1867), East India Company servant, and his wife, Jessie Minchin, daughter of a ...

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Detrosier, Rowland [formerly Rowley Barnes] (1800?–1834), freethinking radical and popular lecturer, was born in London, the son of a Manchester merchant, Robert Norris, and a Frenchwoman named Detrosier. His parents abandoned him soon after his birth and he was adopted by a Swedenborgian tailor from ...

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Foote, George William (1850–1915), radical journalist and secularist, was born at 2 How Street Cottages, Plymouth, on 11 January 1850, the son of William Thomas Foot, customs officer, who died when he was about four. He was brought up an Anglican by his mother, ...

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George Jacob Holyoake (1817–1906) by Walter Sickert, exh. New English Art Club 1892 © Estate of Walter Sickert / National Portrait Gallery, London

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Holyoake, George Jacob (1817–1906), freethinker and co-operator, was born at 1 Inge Street, Birmingham, on 13 April 1817, the second of thirteen children and eldest son of George Holyoake (1790–1853), a printer, and Catherine Groves (1792–1867), a horn-button maker. He received a basic education at a dame-school and ...

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Martin [née Bullock], Emma (1811/12–1851), socialist and freethinker, was born in Bristol, the fourth child of William Bullock, a cooper, and his wife, Hannah Jones, whose family owned a tea-dealing business in the city. Emma's father died in her infancy, and a year later her mother married her second husband, ...

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Snell, Henry, Baron Snell (1865–1944), politician and secularist, was born on 1 April 1865 at Sutton-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire, the son of Mary Snell, formerly Clark. His father's name was not registered; he was brought up by his mother and stepfather. His education at the village school was sporadic and rudimentary, and from the age of eight he was a cattle minder and bird scarer. By his tenth birthday he was working a twelve-hour day as a farm labourer. When aged twelve he was engaged at ...