Often confused with one another, both the Charles Watts, father and son, were involved in secularism and publishing. Their story begins with the brother of the first Charles.
John Watts (1834-1866) was born in Bristol and worked as a printer in London. He became an active proselytiser for secularism, assisting Charles Bradlaugh. In 1863 he was appointed editor of the National Reformer, the radical periodical founded by Bradlaugh. His younger brother Charles Watts joined him as assistant editor. In 1864 the brothers formed their own publishing business, Watts & Co. However, John Watts died from tuberculosis at the age of 32. The publishing business was continued by Charles and later by Charles's son Charles Albert Watts.
Charles Watts senior became a prominent freethinker, writer, lecturer and publisher, prominent in the secularist and freethought movements in both Britain and Canada. He was born into a Methodist family in Bristol and came into contact with freethinkers such as Charles Southwell (from Bristol). After John's early death Charles Watts succeeded him as editor and publisher of the National Reformer, and took charge of the publishing business. He helped to found the National Secular Society (NSS) in 1866. He toured the country, delivering hundreds of lectures on religious, social, and political issues, and also wrote and published a wide range of pamphlets on secularism and republicanism, including a history: Freethought: its Rise, Progress and Triumph. His wife, Kate Eunice Watts (the actress Kate Carlyon), shared his views, travelled with him, and wrote on The Education and Position of Women and Christianity and other pamphlets.
In 1877 Charles Watts was prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act, along with Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant, over the publcation of The Fruits of Philosophy, by the American physician Charles Knowlton, which promoted birth control and discussed human sexuality. This was published by Watts & Co, with an introduction by Bradlaugh and Besant. However, Watts dissociated himself from the case and pleaded guilty, claiming that he had not read the document. He was released, resigned from the NSS and joined G. J. Holyoake and G. W. Foote in the short-lived rival group The British Secular Union, for which he edited The Secular Review.
In 1882, he travelled to the United States to lecture, and also visited Canada, where he decided to live. He emigrated to Toronto in 1883, leaving his son Charles Albert Watts in charge of his publishing interests in Britain. Charles Watts then became the leader of the secularist movement in Canada, and also regularly went on lecture tours of the US. He returned to England after Bradlaugh's death in 1891, rejoined the NSS and worked with its new President G. W. Foote on The Freethinker. He returned to the US and Canada, in 1896, and 1899, and died in England in 1906.