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Atheist Charles Southwell was imprisoned in Bristol Gaol for blasphemous libel in 1842. Southwell had written an article in his periodical, the Oracle of Reason, criticising the Bible. For this he was sentenced to a year in Bristol Gaol and fined £100, an enormous sum. He served the full sentence and was released on 6 February 1843.

While in prison he wrote a pamphlet entitled Paley refuted in his own words, and probably wrote the autobiographical The Confessions of a Freethinker. George Jacob Holyoake, himself charged with blasphemous libel in 1842, took over editorship of Southwell’s Oracle of Reason.

The gaol was closed in 1883 and largely demolished in 1898. All that remains to mark the site today is the granite front entrance on Cumberland Road, Bristol. It resembles a small castle complete with its rusting mock portcullis and a small section of outer wall.

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Main image: Entrance to the Cumberland Road Gaol by GloomyCorp. Licensed CC BY-NC 2.0

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