The Red Dean – another milestone

The pamphlets from the Hewlett Johnson Collection have now been fully catalogued. The items can be searched via the main library catalogue.

Hewlett Johnson was Dean of Canterbury from 1931 to 1963 and became infamous for his outspoken support of socialism. His life (1874-1966) saw turbulent times, experiencing the end of the Victorian era, two world wars and the heightening of tensions in the Cold War. Controversy dogged his public and private life, but unlike many of his contemporaries, Johnson never became disilussioned with Communism as the twentieth century progressed. Dean of Manchester, then Canterbury, he worked for social change in Britain as well as writing books and pamphlets to support the cause of a global socialism. He saw his deeply held Christian beliefs as complimentary to the Communist cause, rather than at odds with it. With critics and supporters in equal numbers, Johnson saw Canterbury through the Second World War, although his wife, Nowell, and children were evacuated to Harlech in North Wales.

Fidel Castro talking to Hewlett Johnson

Fidel Castro talking to Hewlett Johnson

During his lifetime, Hewlett Johnson became a global star for Communism, travelling to Russia and China several times and publishing books and articles about his journeys. The material for his later visits was largely drawn from his wife’s diaries. At the age of 90, he visited Cuba for the first time: one spur-of-the-moment photograph in the collection shows Johnson talking to Fidel Castro. In 1951, Johnson became the second person to be awarded the Stalin Peace Prize and, despite the hostility from the Canterbury Cathedral Chapter, continued to advocate socialism throughout his tenure.

Some of the pamphlets were written by Johnson, for example I Appeal, which Nowell illustrated, about germ warfare allegedly carried out on China by America during the Second World War. There is also an obituary for Joseph Stalin, in the form of a memorial address to the British Soviet Friendship Society in 1953. Other topics related to socialism include social credit and the distribution of food during the Second World War. There are numerous pamphlets from and about Johnson’s tours to Communist countries. It is also clear that Johnson’s unsuccessful attempts to become a missionary did not stop his interest in the global development of Christianity; there is a pamphlet about Ugandan Christians, a copy of a sermon in support of the observance of the Sabbath, a short article on Christian fellowship and an exhaustive pamphlet supporting the theory of divinecreation, rather than evolution.

While these pamphlets are only a small part of the Hewlett Johnson Collection, they do display the wide variety of interests and influences of the extraordinary man who became known as the Red Dean of Canterbury.

For more information about Hewlett Johnson, and the collection, please visit the Special Collections Website.

Coming up next, the continuing cataloguing of the Bigwood wartime cinema and theatre programmes, and more entries on Archives Hub. Watch this space!

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