Josiah Gimson was the most prosperous of the 19th century secularists in Leicester, and the main force behind the building of Leicester’s Secular Hall. He was a longtime friend of G. J. Holyoake and like him was an active supporter of the ideas of Robert Owen. In the 1850s the Owenites adopted Holyoake’s secular rationalism, or ‘secularism’.
It was Gimson who engaged the architect of the hall, Larner Sugden, and the sculptor for the five busts, Ambrose Louis Vago, and was responsible for the controversial inclusion of a bust of Jesus. Two of his lectures to the Society had the titles: ‘Jesus Christ: a Witness for Secularism and against doctrinal Christianity’, and ‘The Ethical Teachings of Christ testify to the all-sufficiency of Secular Conduct’.
Gimson’s wealth came from founding a successful engineering company. His Vulcan Works building, on Humberstone Road and Nedham Street, is still in use for commercial purposes. The company provided the engines (still to be seen working on occasion) at the Abbey pumping station, now a museum.
Gimson had eleven children, six of whom survived to maturity including Ernest William who became a furniture designer and architect.
In 1877 Gimson was elected to represent West St Mary’s Ward on the Town Council as a Liberal, and became vice-chairman of the Floods, Highways and Sewerage Committee. He is buried in the Gimson family grave in Welford Road cemetery.