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George Holyoake
Born 13 April 1817(1817-04-13)
Birmingham, England
Died 27 January 1906 (aged 88)
Brighton, England
Occupation Secularist; co-operator

George Jacob Holyoake (13 April 1817 - 22 January 1906), English secularist and co-operator, was born in Birmingham, England. He coined the term "secularism" in 1851[1] and the term "jingoism" in 1878.[2]



Holyoake was for a brief time a lecturer at the Birmingham Mechanics' Institute, later becoming a Owenite lecturer.

Holyoake joined Charles Southwell in dissenting from the official policy of Owenism that lecturers should take a religious oath, to enable them to take collections on Sundays. Southwell had founded the atheist Oracle of Reason, and was soon imprisoned because of its contents. Holyoake took over as editor, having moved to an atheist position as a result of his experiences. Holyoake was influenced a great deal by the French sociologist, Auguste Comte, the founder of positivism. Comte, like John Stuart Mill, had himself attempted to establish a secular 'religion of humanity' to fulfil the cohesive function of traditional religion.


In 1842, Holyoake became the last person convicted for blasphemy in a public lecture, held in April 1842 at the Cheltenham Mechanics' Institute, though this had no theological character and the incriminating words were merely a reply to a question addressed to him from the body of the meeting.

It took an intervention by his supporters to stop him being walked in chains from Cheltenham to Gloucester gaol and there was a formal memorial of complaint to the then Home Secretary, which was upheld. He was well supported by the Cheltenham Free Press at the time in his actions, but attacked in the Cheltenham Chronicle and Examiner. Those attending the lecture, which was the second in a series, moved and carried a motion 'that free discussion was equally beneficial in the departments of politics, morals and religion'.[3]


Holyoake nevertheless underwent six months imprisonment, and the editorship of the Oracle changed hands. After the Oracle closed at the end of 1843, Holyoake founded a more moderate paper, The Movement, which survived until 1845. Holyoake then established the Reasoner, where he developed the concept of secularism. He was also the last person indicted for publishing an unstamped newspaper, but the prosecution was dropped upon the repeal of the tax.

Holyoake retained his disbelief in God, but after the Oracle soon came to regard "atheism" as a negative word - hence his preference for "secularism". Holyoake adopted the word "agnostic" when that became available.[4]

Co-operative movement

His later years were chiefly devoted to the promotion of the cooperative movement among lower-class workers. He served as President of the first day of the 1887 Co-operative Congress.[5] He wrote the history of the Rochdale Pioneers (1857), The History of Co-operation in England (1875; revised ed., 1906), 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 22 January 1906, and was buried in Highgate Cemetery in London.[6] The Co-operative Movement decided that a lasting monument should be built to him: a permanent home for the Co-operative Union in Manchester.[7] Holyoake House was opened in 1911, and also houses a collection of Holyoake's papers and publications: a second collection is also held at Bishopsgate Library.[8]


Holyoake coined the term "jingoism" in a letter to the Daily News on 13 March 1878, referring to the patriotic song "By Jingo" by G. W. Hunt, popularised by the music hall singer G. H. MacDermott.[9]

He was the uncle of the independent MP and convicted fraudster Horatio Bottomley and contributed towards the cost of Bottomley's upkeep after he was orphaned in 1865.[10]


See also


  1. ^ Holyoake, G.J. (1896). Origin and Nature of Secularism, London: Watts & Co., p.50.
  2. ^ Feldman, Noah (2005). Divided by God. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, pg. 113
  3. ^ Turner, C M, Thesis (PhD), 'Politics in Mechanics' Institutes 1820-1850', University of Leicester, 1980, and references therein
  4. ^ "Holyoake eventually came to adopt Huxley's label "agnostic" (Berman 1990, p.213); "The later Holyoake felt that the new label "agnosticism" more exactly suited his atheological position." (Berman 1990, p.222)
  5. ^ Congress Presidents 1869-2002, February 2002,, retrieved 2008-05-10 
  6. ^ "George Jacob Holyoake (1817 - 1906) - Find A Grave Memorial". Retrieved 2009-09-03. 
  7. ^ Collection Description of the Holyoake archive, held at the National Co-operative Archive, Manchester, UK
  8. ^ Collection Description of the Holyoake archive, held at the Bishopsgate Institute, London
  9. ^ Martin Ceadel, Semi-detached Idealists: The British Peace Movement and International Relations, 1854-1945 (Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 105.
  10. ^ Matthew Parris, Kevin Maguire, "Great parliamentary scandals: five centuries of calumny, smear and innuendo", Robson, 2004, ISBN 1861057369, p.85


  • Berman, David (1990). A history of atheism in Britain: from Hobbes to Russell, London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-04727-7.
  • McCabe, Joseph (1908). Life and Letters of George Jacob Holyoake (2 vols). London: Watts & Co. [Incorporates A contribution towards a bibliography of the writings of George Jacob Holyoake, by C.W.F. Goss, pp. 329-344.]
  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

External links



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