This ten-inch bronze bust depicts one of the commanding figures of Victorian radicalism, Charles Bradlaugh.
Bradlaugh (1833-1891) was a republican, an atheist, an advocate of birth control, a champion of Irish and Indian nationalism – and as a Parliamentarian, campaigned for MPs to be allowed to affirm, rather than take the oath, when taking their seat.
For his troubles, he was detained briefly in the clock tower of the House of Commons having being physically evicted from the chamber.
Bradlaugh was an impetuous and energetic figure, a tireless and talented orator and pamphleteer, who developed a mass following.
There’s a statue of him in Northampton, the town he represented in Parliament, and a pub there is named after him.
I bought this bust at an auction of political memorabilia – a collection built up by Tristan Jones – about twenty years ago. It bears the name of ‘F. VerHeyden’ and was cast in Brussels. Francis Verheyden created the bust which adorned Bradlaugh’s grave at Brookwood cemetery, a monument erected in 1893 – I’ve included a photograph published in a book to mark the centenary of Bradlaugh’s birth in 1933, Champion of Liberty: Charles Bradlaugh.
The Brookwood website says the bronze on the memorial disappeared in about 1938. For a moment, I feared that I had bought looted goods. But this bust is much too small for such a commanding memorial, and to my eyes the look of the face is a little different. It must have been based on the larger work, however, and I imagine dates similarly from the early 1890s.
My children grew up knowing this bust as ‘hoo baba’ – a colloquial Hindi term which might translate as ‘bogey man’. That doesn’t do justice to Charles Bradlaugh, who – while having a remarkable knack for attracting controversy – was a campaigner of courage and integrity.