George Bedborough

George Bedborough Higgs[note 1] (10 January 1868 – 7 August 1940) was an English bookseller, journalist and writer who advocated for a number of causes, including sex reform, freethought, secularism, eugenics, animal rights, vegetarianism, and free love. He was the secretary of the Legitimation League and editor of the League's publication The Adult: A Journal for the Advancement of freedom in Sexual Relationships. Bedborough was convicted for obscenity in 1898, after being caught selling a book on homosexuality; the case of Regina v. Bedborough, has also been referred to as the Bedborough trial or Bedborough case.[2]

George Bedborough
Portrait of Bedborough from the Legitimation League's journal The Adult
George Bedborough Higgs

(1868-01-10)10 January 1868
Died7 August 1940(1940-08-07) (aged 72)
Cambridge, England
EducationDulwich College
Occupation(s)Bookseller, journalist and writer
Known forRegina v. Bedborough
Criminal chargesPublication of an obscene libel
Criminal penaltyFined £100
SpouseLouie Bedborough


Early life and education

George Bedborough Higgs was born in St Giles, London, on 10 January 1868.[3] His father was a retired Church of England preacher and his mother was a poet.[4] He was educated at Dulwich College and began work at the age of 16, founding the Workhouse Aid Society with W. T. Stead.[4] Bedborough later attended university.[5]

In 1887, Bedborough was present at Bloody Sunday, in Trafalgar Square. He later wrote for a number of publications including the Sunday Chronicle, Shafts (a feminist magazine), University Magazine, the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle and South London Mail.[4][6] Bedborough was a close friend and collaborator with Henry S. Salt, Bertram Dobell and Ernest Bell.[7]

From 1891 to 1892, Bedborough was a member of the National Society of Lanternists. He also occasionally worked as a lantern operator and gave lectures.[3]

Bedborough was a member of the Legitimation League and edited its journal The Adult between 1897 and 1898;[8] the League advocated for the legitimation of illegitimate children and free love.[9] He married for the sake of his family and had an open relationship with his wife Louie.[10] She was the treasurer of the League.[11]

Regina v. Bedborough

On 31 May 1898, Bedborough was arrested, along with the sex-radical feminist Lillian Harman and charged with obscenity for attempting to "corrupt the morals of Her Majesty's Subjects".[8][12] He was indicated on 11 counts, including selling a copy of Studies in the Psychology of Sex Vol. 2, a book on homosexuality, by Havelock Ellis, to an undercover agent, as well as selling other pamphlets considered to be indecent, including one by Oswald Dawson, the founder of the Legitimation League.[8][12] He was also indicated for his articles published in The Adult.[8] Bedborough had been under surveillance because of the suspected anarchist connections of the League;[13] Bedborough, himself, was not an anarchist.[14]

A Free Speech Defence Committee was formed to attempt to fight the case; members included Henry Seymour, Frank Harris, Edward Carpenter, George Bernard Shaw, G. W. Foote, Mona Caird and Grant Allen.[8][15] Just before being prosecuted, Bedborough collaborated with the police and pled guilty on three counts. This led the committee to denounce him and publish the details of the case.[8] On 31 October 1898, Bedborough was fined £100 (equivalent to £11,851 in 2021), for selling Ellis' book.[16] He agreed to no longer be associated with the League or The Adult,[15] writing in the December issue "I adhere to my resolution not to excuse myself. I am a coward […] I thank Henry Seymour, Mr. Foote, and others with all my heart and soul for their work, which I have requited illy indeed".[17]

Later life and career

Bedborough became a vegetarian, in 1902, after Moses Harman visited his home and suggested they visit meat-packing houses to see if Bedborough would remain a meat-eater.[18] In 1906, Bedborough became the editor of The Children's Realm, a children's magazine published by the Vegetarian Federal Union and London Vegetarian Society, remaining as editor for the majority of its existence;[19] the magazine ceased publication in 1914.[20]

Bedborough was a contributor to the American Journal of Eugenics, published between 1907 and 1910.[12] He was also an active member of the discussion circles of the feminist journal The Freewoman, which was published between 1911 and 1912.[6]

Bedborough published three books of aphorisms, Narcotics and a Few Stimulants, Vacant Chaff Well Meant for Grain and Subtilty to the Simple and one book of Epigrams, Vulgar Fractions.[21] In 1914, Bedborough published Stories from the Children's Realm, a children's story book with animal rights, anti-vivisection and vegetarian themes; it contained several illustrations by L. A. Hayter, former illustrator and contributor to The Children's Realm.[22] Bedborough published The Atheist in 1919, a poem which advocated for atheism and was critical of the killing of animals for human consumption; it was dedicated to Anatole France.[23]

During the 1920s and 30s, Bedborough reconnected with the secular movement, writing for The Freethinker, he published an attack on the Ku Klux Klan in 1936 and a reflection on Havelock Ellis after his death in 1939.[14] He also contributed to the Birth Control Review.[24] In 1934, he published Arms and the Clergy, a compilation of clerical declarations made during the First World War.[25] His last work Prayer: An Indictment, published in 1938, was a secular criticism of prayer.[26]

Bedborough died in Cambridge, on 7 August 1940.[3]

Selected publications

  • Narcotics and a Few Stimulants (1913)
  • Vacant Chaff Well Meant for Grain (1914)
  • Stories from the "Children's Realm" (Vegetarian Federal Union, 1914)
  • Wordsworth: A Lecture (Letchworth: Garden City Press, 1913)
  • The Bright Side and Other Verses (Letchworth: Garden City Press, 1915)
  • The Dogs of War, and Other Stories (Letchworth: Garden City Press, 1915)
  • Vulgar Fractions (Letchworth: Garden City Press, 1915)
  • Subtilty to the Simple (Letchworth: Garden City Press, 1916)
  • Harmony or Humbug? An examination of Mr. Ralph Waldo Trine's book "In Tune with the Infinite." (Letchworth: Garden City Press, 1917)
  • Love and Happiness: Letters to Tolstoy, Written in 1897 and Now First Published (Letchworth: Garden City Press, 1917)
  • Sayings of George Bedborough (Letchworth: Garden City Press, 1917)
  • The Will to Love (Letchworth: Garden City Press, 1917)
  • Dark Sayings, with Some Fair Ones (Letchworth: Garden City Press, 1918)
  • Not Only Men (Letchworth: Garden City Press, 1918)
  • The Atheist (Letchworth: Garden City Press, 1919)
  • Arms and the Clergy, 1914–1918 (London: Pioneer Press, 1934)
  • Prayer: An Indictment (London: Pioneer Press, 1938)


  1. Bedborough's father, a clergyman, is said to have detested his son's advocacy of free love; Arthur Calder-Marshall speculated that Bedborough abandoned his surname to avoid embarrassing his father.[1]


  1. Calder-Marshall, Arthur (December 1971). "Havelock Ellis & Company". Encounter: 8–23.
  2. Ellis, Havelock (1940). My Life. London: William Heinemann Ltd. pp. 306–314.
  3. "HIGGS, G. Bedborough (1868-1940)". Lucerna Magic Lantern Web Resource. Archived from the original on 2 November 2021. Retrieved 2 November 2021.
  4. Laytone, Sidney (25 June 1898). "Truth in Extremes". Lucifer, the Light Bearer. 11 (25).
  5. Sears, Hal D. (1977). The Sex Radicals: Free Love in High Victorian America. Regents Press of Kansas. p. 256. ISBN 978-0-7006-0148-6.
  6. Jones, Sarah Lyndsey (October 2015). Constructing 'Free Love': Science, Sexuality, and Sex Radicalism, c. 1895-1913 (PDF) (Doctor of Philosophy in History thesis).
  7. Edmundson, John (5 November 2013). "The Isle of Vegetariana by G. Bedborough". HappyCow. Retrieved 2 July 2020.
  8. Goldman, Emma (2008). Falk, Candace (ed.). Emma Goldman, Vol. 2: A Documentary History of the American Years, Volume 2: Making Speech Free, 1902-1909. Champaign, Illinois: University of Illinois Press. p. 114. ISBN 978-0-252-07543-8.
  9. Hunt, Karen (2002). Equivocal Feminists: The Social Democratic Federation and the Woman Question 1884-1911. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 107. ISBN 978-0-521-89090-8.
  10. Greenway, Judy (25 September 2013). "Speaking Desire: anarchism and free love as utopian performance in fin de siècle Britain". Judy Greenway. Retrieved 3 July 2020.
  11. Dawson, Oswald (1897). Personal Rights and Sexual Wrongs. London, Leeds: WM. Reeves. p. 3. Retrieved 3 July 2020.
  12. Longa, Ernesto A. (2009). Anarchist Periodicals in English Published in the United States (1833-1955): An Annotated Guide. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press. pp. 20, 158. ISBN 978-0-8108-7255-4.
  13. Jones, Derek (2001). Censorship: A World Encyclopedia. Abingdon: Routledge. p. 733. ISBN 978-1-136-79864-1.
  14. Humpherys, Anne (1 April 2003). "The Journal that Did: Form and content in The Adult (1897-1899)". Media History. 9 (1): 63–78. doi:10.1080/1368880032000059980. ISSN 1368-8804. S2CID 144979532.
  15. Brake, Laurel; Demoor, Marysa, eds. (2009). Dictionary of Nineteenth-century Journalism in Great Britain and Ireland. Gent: Academia Press. p. 4. ISBN 978-90-382-1340-8.
  16. Cook, Matt (2003). London and the Culture of Homosexuality, 1885-1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 73. ISBN 978-0-521-82207-7.
  17. Bedborough, George (December 1898). The Adult: 331.
  18. Gregory, James Richard Thomas Elliott (2002). "Biographical Index of British Vegetarians and Food reformers of the Victorian Era". The Vegetarian Movement in Britain c.1840–1901: A Study of Its Development, Personnel and Wider Connections (PDF). Vol. 2. University of Southampton. p. 11. Retrieved 2 October 2022.
  19. Edmundson, John (9 September 2014). "Some of The First Ever Magazines For Vegetarian Children". HappyCow. Retrieved 2 July 2020.
  20. Gregory, James (2007). Of Victorians and Vegetarians: The Vegetarian Movement in Nineteenth-Century Britain. London: I. B. Tauris. p. 248. ISBN 978-1-84511-379-7.
  21. "Bedborough, George". WorldCat Identities.
  22. Edmundson, John (19 September 2013). "100 years old plant-eating identical twins! The Ernest Bell Memorial Library". HappyCow. Retrieved 2 July 2020.
  23. Bedborough, George (1919). The Atheist. London: Garden City Press. Retrieved 2 July 2020.
  24. Bedborough, George (November 1932). "G. K. Chesterton versus Birth Control" (PDF). Birth Control Review. 16 (9): 286.
  25. Brierley, Michael W.; Byrne, Georgina A., eds. (2018). Life after Tragedy: Essays on Faith and the First World War Evoked by Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy. Bristol, Connecticut: ISD LLC. p. 11. ISBN 978-0-7188-4761-6.
  26. Bedborough, George (1938). Prayer: An Indictment. London: Pioneer Press.

Further reading

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