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The Hewlett Johnson Papers
The Hewlett Johnson Papers, one of the fascinating historical collections held within the University of Kent’s Special Collections and Archives in the Templeman Library, have recently inspired two separate research works by Kent academics.
John Butler’s The Red Dean of Canterbury: The Public and Private Faces of Hewlett Johnson (Scala Publishers, September 2011) is a biography of the controversial Dean of Canterbury, while David Ayers’s chapter ‘Hewlett Johnson: Britain's "Red Dean" and the Cold War’ will be published in Religion and the Cold War (ed. Phil Muehlenbeck: Vanderbilt University) in June 2012.
'Red Dean of Canterbury'
Hewlett Johnson was a highly divisive figure throughout his time as Dean of Canterbury. A champion of social reform and ahead of his time in many of his theological views, he also spoke and wrote in support of communist ideals and regimes. He travelled widely in communist countries, visiting rural China, the USSR and Eastern Europe, meeting personally with Stalin, Mao, Chou En-Lai, and being invited to Cuba by Fidel Castro in 1964, at the age of 90. John Butler’s book highlights Johnson’s links to a shadowy Soviet group known as ‘VOKS’, which arranged visits and tours for influential Western figures and provided them with facts and figures, as well as 'happy memories', to take home with them.
The Dean’s political views led to strained relationships within the Cathedral precincts, and his invitations for figures like Mahatma Gandhi and high-ranking Soviet politician Georgy Malenkov to visit the Cathedral caused consternation and friction. There were clashes between Johnson and two of the four Archbishops of Canterbury whom he served. But he also gained wide support from the general public and was feted abroad.
The Hewlett Johnson Papers, an archive of photographs, correspondence, notes, diaries, cuttings, postcards, and many other items, were given to the University in 2007 by Johnson’s daughters, Kezia Nowell-Paton and Keren Barley.The Archbishop of Georgia, Malkhaz Songulashvili, visited the archive in 2010 following his own interest in the ‘Red Dean’ whom he believes to have been highly influential in the limitation of the persecution of Christians in the USSR during the 1940s. The Hewlett Johnson Papers are available for all to consult in Special Collections and Archives, managed by Information Services and held in the Templeman Library.
More about the authors
John Butler had a distinguished career at the University of Kent. He retired in 2001 from his post as Professor of Health Services Studies in the School of Social Policy, Social Research and Sociology, having served as Head of Department, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, and Director of the Centre for Health Services Studies. A resident of Canterbury for 40 years and a guide at Canterbury Cathedral, he is the author of another book related to Canterbury Cathedral, The Quest for Becket’s Bones (Yale, 1995).