About us

About the Edinburgh Secular Society

A small group of Scottish members of the National Secular Society (NSS) had been meeting informally in Edinburgh since August 2010. Wide-ranging discussions, largely led by NSS council member Prof. Norman Bonney, centred around specific aspects of the undue influence of religion in the public domain as it manifests itself in Scotland. Some of these discussions led to direct lobbying of both the City of Edinburgh Council and the Scottish Government, stressing the need for a more open, secular approach to certain policies and procedures.

In early 2012, the group, now with more members, felt the need to formalise and strengthen their activities and campaigning within Scotland, thus leading, in October of that year, to the formation Edinburgh Secular Society (ESS) in the Carlton Hotel, where meetings were held until October 2013.  The ESS is not a branch of the National Secular Society (the NSS does not have branches), but it is affiliated to the latter. Members of the ESS may also be members of the NSS, but that is not a requirement for membership of ESS.

Substantial progress has been made by the group so far, and it is hoped that the new Edinburgh Secular Society will be able to continue this positive momentum, campaigning for a secular Scotland.

We are a varied group of individuals; however we are united in our vision for a secular state, with freedom of and freedom from religious belief.

We hope that you will consider becoming a member and support our campaigns. Alternatively, you may like to come along to one of our meetings to join in our discussions.

Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions or comments.  You can view our constitution here;

The Constitution of Edinburgh Secular Society

History of the Edinburgh Secular Society

The current ESS was established on 28 October 2012, though we have learned that an earlier society of this name was active in the mid 19th Century.

The exact origin of that earlier Edinburgh Secular Society are unknown, but it appears to have been active in 1866-89, 1891-94, 1896-1903, 1906-09 (Radicals, Secularists and republicans popular freethought in Britain1866-1915, Edward Royle 1980, Manchester University Press).

In historical documents, it is often referred to as the Edinburgh ‘branch’ of the NSS. It is believed they met in Trades Hall, Carruther’s Close (now Carrubber’s Close), Edinburgh. An 1857 notice in The Reasoner lists their weekly meetings on Sundays at 6.30 pm. However, they appear to have been ‘ejected’ by the Christian ‘Carrubber’s Close Mission’ in 1859. Present-day ESS members were surprised to learn that the Carlton Hotel, where we first met, stands on the site of the original Trades Hall, which was demolished to make way for a new development.  In September 2013, Edinburgh Secular Society met for the last time in the Carlton Hotel, before moving to new premises at the Royal Over-Seas League on Princes Street.

John MacKinnon Robertson was very active in the original ESS, before going to London to assist Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Bessant.  Charles Bradlaugh often addressed the ESS

John MacKinnon Robertson also addressed the Leicester Secular Society (the first secular society in the world — formed 1851). It was led by George Holyoake, who is credited with introducing the term ‘secularism’ in 1851 (Holyoake, G.J. (1896). Origin and Nature of Secularism, London: Watts & Co., p.50).

John Lees took over as president of the ESS and later vice-president of the NSS.

If you have any further information relating to the earlier history of Edinburgh Secular Society, please contact sec-tres@edinsecsoc.org