Completely Googled

While doing some research for a query which seems to be getting increasingly hopeless, I tried using Google to give me some inspiration.

The query in question is about a cutting depicting Hewlett Johnson carrying a suitcase marked with ‘Havana’, ‘Peking’ and ‘Moscow’, with a tag line something like ‘Some Deans stay at home, while there are others who roam’. After some talks with Nick Hiley, Head of the British Cartoon Archive, we suspected that if this cartoon was published in Punch, then it would be part of ‘The Big Cut’ series in the journal. So, in an attempt to find out more, I typed ‘The big cut hewlett johnson’ into the search engine and didn’t even have to wait for the results, now that Google updates as you type.

Unsurprisingly, considering how much I’ve been banging on about Hewlett Johnson lately, the first result to come up was the blog post I wrote about John’s talk a few weeks ago. The second result, however, looked much more interesting:

Canterbury at War…starring Hewlett Johnson…. These were big productions, with full scale orchestras, evil villains, courageous heroes ….. At midnight, still cutting their way through the jungle, they had a narrow escape

Perhaps it is just me, and just because it’s Monday morning, but that seemed worth sharing with everyone!

Sad to say, it’s actually a conglomeration of several different posts from this very blog. No, Johnson didn’t have a play or film produced about his life (I’m not sure whether he would have been the evil villain or the courageous hero), nor did he go on any midnight excursions into the jungle, as far as current research has shown. But I suppose it just goes to show how many exciting stories we have here in these archives, just waiting to be uncovered.

And, let’s face it, the moral of the story is don’t take results from Google literally!

By the way, if anyone has any thoughts on the Hewlett Johnson cartoon I mentioned above, please do let us know!

The Red Dean: book of the year

The good news just keeps coming, this week!

Hewlett Johnson c.1940

Hewlett Johnson c.1940

I am delighted to announce that John Butler’s book The Red Dean of Canterbury has been chosen by Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, as his Book of the Year in the New Statesman. The book was written and researched over a 5 year period by Professor Butler, who is Emeritus Professor of Health Services Studies, about Hewlett Johnson, Dean of Canterbury Cathedral from 1931-1963. John intensively worked through and analysed the Red Dean’s papers, which are held in Special Collections, to create an intimate picture of a man who was infamous in his time for his unswerving and vocal support of Communist regimes, including Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China and Castro’s Cuba.

Dr. Williams describes the communist Dean as ‘champion of Stalin and thorn in the flesh of successive archbishops’ and draws out an important question when considering Johnson’s life: was he simply naive or did he willingly blind himself to the realities of Stalin’s regime? The Archbioshop praises John’s work as offering ‘finely nuanced picture’ of Hewlett Johnson ‘using lots of hitherto unquarried sources’.

Once again, Hewlett Johnson has been drawn onto the world stage and I hope that this will bring people to consider the legacy of the unusual but largely forgotten Dean.

To learn more about Hewlett Johnson and the collection of his papers, have a look at our website.

If you would like to look at any items in the collections, please contact us.

Enthusing archives

I thought I would let you all know that the new Special Collections and Archives Lecture Series was launched with great enthusiasm last night. Thanks to everyone who came along and enjoyed the lively talk – we were thrilled to see so many of you there.

Hewlett Johnson c. 1900

Hewlett Johnson at University in Oxford, c.1900

John Butler talked about his experience of using the Hewlett Johnson Papers to write his book The Red Dean: the public and private faces of Hewlett Johnson. It was intriguing to learn about his ‘three star’ (with exclamation marks for extra special items) system which he used to identify key items while trawling through this vast archive when it was still in the very early stages of organisation. I think that Johnson himself would have been proud of John’s oration, particularly his recreation of Hewlett’s Maddison Square Gardens speech as he read out Alistair Cooke’s first Letter from America. John also outlined his contact with a Russian academic, Ludmilla Stern, who has been instrumental in bringing invaluable information about the shadowy Soviet organisation VOKS to Western researchers and his use of the National Archives to explore Johnson’s MI5 files. We are hugely grateful to John for taking on this daunting task of opening the new lecture series and hope that all of the rest of our lectures will be as enthusiastic and interesting.

The exhibition, Canterbury at War: the Red Dean’s life and times 1939-1945, is now open in the Library Gallery space (left through the cafe in the Templeman Library, just outside the British Cartoon Archive). It will be running until January 31st during normal library opening hours and has already we’ve has some really positive feedback. Please do take the opportunity to have a look and let us know what you think.

It has been a challenge to set up the lecture series and the exhibition, but it’s been well worth the effort. Several thanks are due; firstly to Chris and Hazel for all of their hard work on the exhibition itself and to Nick and Jane of the Cartoon Archive for all of their advice and assistance with putting the exhibition up. Fran Williams and Angela Groth-Seary from IS Publishing have given us a huge amount of support in the printing and mounting of the display and also produced the publicity. Robin Armstrong-Viner and Karen Brayshaw were very willing volunteers on the night and we’d like to thank them for all of their help.

So, what next? Well, aside from the usual, we’re not finished with Johnson yet, as we plan to make the exhibition website live by Christmas – I’ll let you know how we get on with this. And, of course, there are two more lectures to go: Magic toads and twitching frogs: two natural history books from the seventeenth century which will be held in the Cathedral precincts and Doing damage from a distance: the art of British political cartooning which will be held in TR201 in the Templeman Library.

So our task of brining our collections out into the light of day has received an excellent boost – but we’re not finished yet!


Canterbury at War…starring Hewlett Johnson

'Canterbury at War' flyerLast time, I announced the exciting news that the Templeman Library Gallery will be hosting an exhibition of materials from the Hewlett Johnson Papers, called ‘Canterbury at War: the Red Dean’s Life and Times, 1939-1945‘. The exhibition will open at 5.30pm on 22nd November and at 6pm John Butler, author of ‘The Red Dean: The Public and Private Faces of Hewlett Johnson‘, will talk about his experiences of mining the archive and show some of the gems which he found along the way. Everyone is welcome, and we would be delighted for you all to experience some of our exciting collections.

Well, with that advertisement completed, I can give you an update about all of the work we’ve been doing to prepare for this exhibition since last week. As you will have noticed (and our team cannot escape it), it’s only one week until we unveil our first major exhibition using Special Collections material for two years. So, with a little panicking and nervousness along the way, we are now in the final stages of putting the exhibition together.

The first thing which we had to do was put together a narrative. This was ably provided by Steve Holland, Head of Special Collections, after close reading of John’s book. The exhibition will explore Canterbury’s experience of the second world war through the eyes of the Johnsons, tracing the isolation and alienation which Hewlett experienced during the late 1930s (including the infamous Canons’ letter to The Times), through the Canterbury Blitz of May 30th-June 1st 1942, encountering more cheerful events such as the enthronement of William Temple as Archbishop in April 1942 and concluding with VE day in 1945, which Hewlett spent in Russia.

Canons' letter to the Times, 1940

Canons' letter to the Times, 1940

Armed with Steve’s captions which pick out key events during this period, Chris, Hazel and I have trawled the archive to find relevant sources which can illustrate the Johnsons’ family and public life throughout this time. The first and most obvious sources were the wartime letters which Hewlett and his wife Nowell sent to each other. During the war, Nowell and their daughter Kezia were evacuated to Harlech; their second daughter, Keren, was born in Harlech in 1942. They usually wrote at least once a day, often more, and their letters vividly illustrate the challenges not only of living in Canterbury during this time but also of being so far apart. Their correspondence was especially heartfelt at Christmas, with Hewlett writing to Nowell ‘Kez will be playing with her doll and cradle now and tomorrow will be asking for more Christmas!’ on Christmas day of 1941. A year later, on 26th December 1942, Hewlett wrote ‘Christmas Day is over and I’m glad’.The wartime correspondence also gives some excellent descriptions of the bombing raid of May/June 1942, life in the bombed out Deanery and the food parcels which were sent from Wales to Kent and vice versa.

Removal of the stained glass from Canterbury Cathedral

Removal of the stained glass from Canterbury Cathedral, 1939

With Chris exploring and transcribing the wartime letters (Hewlett’s handwriting can be challenging at the best of times), we have also been looking at visual statements of Canterbury during the war and its aftermath. Perhaps most dramatic are the images of preparation for war in 1939, when all of the stained glass was removed from the Cathedral windows and tonnes of soil spread over the nave and quire to protect those sheltering in the crypt from bombing raids. It’s also staggering to see the extent of the damage which Canterbury sustained during the ‘Canterbury Blitz’: one image shows the entire High Street in ruins, with the only feature still recognisable today being St George’s clock tower.

Now that we have all of our materials selected, the major task is to digitise, frame and prepare for exhibiting. We hope to put larger copies of the photographs on the walls, and to frame some of the cuttings, correspondence and other materials. We have 8 cases to play with, and are now in the final stages of confirming the layout.

All in all, there’s still lots to get done, but everyone I’ve mentioned it to (an I’ve mentioned it quite a lot, believe me) has been intrigued – none more so than those standing by the printer when the photographs are printed out! So we look forward to showing off one of our most personal and important collections and hope that you will all enjoy exploring the archive as much as we have enjoyed putting this exhibition together.

I wonder how we will cope once it’s all over….

1:17pm on 17th October 1940

1.17pm on Monday 18th October 2010 marks the 70th anniversary of the bombing of the Deanery at Canterbury Cathedral, while Hewlett Johnson and his guests were at lunch. In his autobiography, Searching for Light, Johnson recalls the ‘sound of a bomb descending directly above us’, which gave enough warning for them all to take cover in the vaulted pantry. Johnson wrote:

‘There was a terrific crash, the walls rocked like a ship in a rough sea and settled again’

All of the occupants of the Deanery were unhurt, and the cook, Mrs. County, even rescued the pudding which had been left in the oven.

Interior photograph of the Deanery after bomb damage, 1940

Bomb damage to the interior of the Deanery

While Hewlett’s recollection is tinged with humour, Nowell’s letter, dated the 19th October 1940, is saddened by the damage to ‘the poor old Deanery.’ Her letter of 27th October, partially written whilst listening to Myra Hess on the wireless, recalls the Deanery:

Our lovely lovely old Drawing room, the evening light, the soft drawn curtains, the lovely colours, all the exquisite beauty of it. And I can hardly believe it has gone.’

Despite this early damage to the Precincts, the Cathedral building itself was undamaged throughout the war, although the city of Canterbury sustained significant damage. Hewlett Johnson’s precautions of having the stained glass removed from the Cathedral, and a thick layer of earth over the quire to protect the crypt beneath, helped to keep the building fabric from harm. Of the Deanery, with all of its windows blown out,  Hewlett recalled ‘the winter gales and dust and dirt from the rubble blew through the shattered house for month after month’, but he remained in Canterbury throughout the war years.