17 September 2005
Meanwhile I've been doing some research on the history of the Society. We have some microfilms made in 1981 based on material in Leicester Record Office, which I've started to view on the reader in the Central Reference Library. The first Reel contains F. J. Gould's History of Leicester Secular Society written in 1900 (part of which is reproduced on our website), and G. J. Holyoake's eulogy written on Josiah Gimson's death in 1883. Then there are some copies of LSS Minute Books 1852 to 1902.
In a historical introduction, written by Edward Royle of the University of York, there is an account of the Leicester Secular Hall Company. This was set up in 1873 to raise funds to build the Hall, by issuing 1000 shares at £5 each. Half of these were bought by Gimson, 60 by John Sladen and 40 by Michael Wright; these were the main shareholders. The Gimson family later bought more shares as they came on the market. The Company was legally separate from the Society but with overlapping membership. The Company let the Hall to the Society.
The Leicester Rationalist Trust was set up in 1907 (see further details on our website), and the Hall was sold by the Company to the Trust, on behalf of the Society, for £2500 in 1923. At that time Sydney Gimson was president of the Society. In his will (he died 1938) he left £300 to the Rationalist Trust. Sydney Gimson also left a typescript Random Recollections, which is apparently at the LCRO. Thanks to our member Dave Ray I've been able to read a photocopy of Part I of this which covers the period up to 1900. It is rather chatty and drops the names of everyone of any significance who was involved in that era. (I will try to put some extracts on the website.)
One of the names that I'd not come across before, now largely forgotten, is that of Auberon Herbert, at one time a Nottingham MP and advocate of "Individualism" or "Voluntaryism". He died in 1906 (the same year as Holyoake), and Gimson seems to have thought very highly of his ideas. Tom Barclay in his Memoirs and Medleys mentions him, saying: "We annihilated all the arguments of Teetotallers, Co-operators, Malthusians and Individualists like Auberon Herbert and W. H. Mallock." Speaking at Secular Hall in those days must have been a frustrating occupation -- it still can be!