Our history

The Group first met in the former Victorian gothic Lewisham Town Hall building in 1960.   The first meeting was called by the Ethical Union, forerunner of the British Humanist Association – now Humanists UK.  Among the founders was Barbara Smoker – Chair for many years and now our President.

The word ‘Humanist’ had gained popularity in the post-war years, and at that time humanist group were springing up in many towns and  in universities.  Barbara Smoker was quoted in the ‘South London Press’ in early 1960:  “Humanism is the outcome of rejecting doctrinaire systems based on supernatural revelation, and demands no ultimate reality beyond human purposes and values.  It teaches that as humans we are responsible for making the  world a better place to live in”. She added it is ‘morality without religion‘.

Initially formed as the South East London, it soon became the Lewisham Humanist Group.  Since its inception it has supported many national campaigns: abortion law reform, provision of family planning facilities, legislation for voluntary euthanasia, greater tolerance of ethnic minorities, rights for homosexuals, opposition to worship in state schools and the abolition of faith schools.

Locally there have been protests against racism and local church attacks on gays.  There was an unsuccessful campaign to save the last cinema in Lewisham from becoming a property of the sect – the United Church of the Kingdom of God.  More successful was the seven year opposition to the prominently displayed cross at Lewisham Crematorium, finally removed in 1989.

The Group has held regular monthly meetings at various venues in Catford: from 1973 – 2006 at the Unitarian Meeting House in Bromley Road, briefly at The Goose pub in Rushey Green, and then back to the Unitarian Meeting House from 2013 – 2017. From September 2017 the monthly meetings are held at New Cross Learning.

From 1986-2002 there was a stall at the  annual Lewisham People’s Day, and more recently we have a regular stall at Nunhead Cemetery Open Day and participate in the Annual Lewisham Interfaith Walk for Peace.

In 1998 Hon Secretary Denis Cobell was chaplain to the then Mayor of Lewisham  Mark Nottingham. Appropriately the Borough Motto reads ‘Salus Populi Suprema Lex’  (the welfare of the people is the highest good) – quotation from the early humanist Cicero.


You can find a copy of our constitution here: SELHuG Constitution