Church, State, and Nation: The Journals of Herbert Hensley Henson, 1900-1939.

Lead Research Organisation: Durham University
Department Name: Government and International Affairs


Hensley Henson (1863-1947), Bishop of Durham, 1920-39, was a famously trenchant public moralist, and his unpublished journals are masterpieces of commentary and opinion - indeed, one of the greatest of English diaries. Research on Henson and his journals will make a large contribution to the political, intellectual, and ecclesiastical history of Britain during the early 20th century. For the most part, these historical sub-disciplines exist in relative isolation from one other, hindering deeper understanding of important elements in modern Britain. Henson's journals offer a unique means to overcome these limitations. He was a leading controversialist not only on religious and ecclesiastical issues - he was the first bishop to advocate disestablishment of the Church of England - but across wide areas of social, political, industrial, moral and even medical debate. He fulfilled this role as a prolific preacher, speaker in the House of Lords, author, and contributor to newspapers. So far no systematic use has been made of the journals, because of the neglect of crucial modern intersections between politics, thought, and organised religion. The journals reveal the fluid boundaries between political and religious institutions, and the dependence of these institutions on a common set of ideas about the state, a national church, the free churches, nationhood, and community.

Following a pilot project during 2014-15 funded by Durham University, the research will create a digital scholarly edition of two-thirds of the journals, the 63 volumes from 1900 to 1939 when Henson was most prominent as a public moralist and as a commentator on the great events and great figures of these turbulent years. The journals provide exceptional insight not just into all aspects of the Church (institutional, episcopal and pastoral), but also national and regional politics; social issues concerning the metropolitan elite at one extreme and the Durham coalfields at another; social and religious thought and literary life; and international affairs. The research potential of the journals will be demonstrated in scholarly articles that cut across these concerns. The digital edition will enable Henson's literary gifts and unique insights into his age to be enjoyed by a wide readership.

The questions that will guide the research include the following. How far has secularisation in British public life been affected by shifts of power between institutions, and by changes in public attitudes towards religion? What were the implications for Church-State relations of the growth of democracy during the early 20th century? Which voices, lay and clerical, were most prominent in the debates about the place of religion in national life? How effectively did leading figures within the Church engage with public, political, and intellectual opinion on issues of public policy? What authority - cultural, moral, spiritual, and political - did the Church command, both locally and nationally? What contribution did the Church make to shaping English and British national identity, both in partnership with and in opposition to other churches in the UK? To what extent were alliances and conflicts within the Church shaped by wider networks of influence in public life?

The research has many benefits for scholarship in British history, political thought, life-writing, religious studies, and literary history. It will generate new perspectives on the secularisation of British society during the 20th century, and the effectiveness of the Church in countering it. The subtleties of Henson's individualism and Unionism will enhance understanding of Conservative political thought. The journals will bring new insights on the modern relationship between clergyman and parish, dean and chapter, bishop and diocese, and changing styles of preaching. They also contain a wealth of biblical and literary discussion of value to literary historians. The edition will prove of enduring importance.

Planned Impact

The main beneficiaries of this research outside the scholarly community will be members of cathedral and diocesan communities and a wider public interested in the religious heritage of the United Kingdom, including its relationship to national politics. More broadly, it will attract readers of diaries as a literary and political genre, as well as local history groups.

These members of the public will benefit directly as follows. First, they will be able to access the journals of one of the most articulate, independent-minded and prominent churchmen of the 20th century. In doing so, they will be able to enjoy Henson's acerbic commentary on people and institutions; and his eye-witness accounts of general elections, Parliamentary debates, wars, industrial and political crises, and royal events. They will find Henson's records of private conversations with powerful public figures - from archbishops and bishops to prime ministers and royalty - especially revealing. Moreover, they will be moved by Henson's use of the journals to record his sense of personal disappointment, thwarted ambition, despair at what he imagined were the shortcomings of his ministry, and constant need of divine guidance. The attention of readers will be held by a sense of intimacy with, yet distance from a diarist who was at the heart of national affairs; more broadly, the journals will develop their historical and literary imagination.

Second, free exhibitions based on the research will enhance the experience of visitors to Durham Cathedral and Auckland Palace. The displays will mark the centenary of Henson's return to Durham as Bishop in 2020 and will feature extracts from the journals and other sources.

The exhibition at the Cathedral will focus on Henson's connection with it as Dean and Bishop and will be staffed by volunteers working on the project; they will also lead 'spotlight talks' on Henson's life and work as a controversialist and renowned preacher at the adjoining Priors Hall. At the talks, audiences will be invited to debate the value of political intervention by the Church, past and present, reinforcing the annual Henson lecture established jointly by the Cathedral and the University in 2015 on 'The Church in Politics'.

The exhibition at nearby Auckland Castle, home of the Bishops of Durham until recently, will emphasise the pride and pleasure Henson took in his official residence and include some of the famous guests he entertained there. Talks by members of the research team will also accompany this event.

There will be a strong regional interest in a Dean and Bishop who engaged intensely with Durham City and the north-east of England, and who won the respect of miners, despite his political differences with them. But aspects of his life and work as a national figure will also feature in the displays, ensuring that the exhibitions appeal to visitors from the rest of the UK and beyond, too.

The journals will also be the centre of public discussion at a panel in the annual Durham Book Festival.

Other organisations which might benefit from this research are ecclesiastical establishments with a strong Henson connection outside of Durham. Examples are Westminster Abbey, where Henson's sermons drew large crowds between 1900 and 1913, and Hereford Cathedral following his controversial appointment as Bishop of Hereford in 1917. Permission will be sought to place a display stand at these venues publicising the journals and their account of the activities that once took place there by a well-placed but detached 'insider'.

In organising the events, researchers involved in the project will gain valuable new writing, communication, and technical skills which can be applied to other public engagement work subsequently.

The research will begin to make an impact from the end of the grant period when the exhibitions and Book Festival panel will take place. The journals will be of enduring interest to a growing body of readers.


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Description We have now incorporated into the digital edition all of Henson's journals covering the years 1900 to March 1917. These include the twelve years he spent at Westminster and his first four years as dean of Durham. We have also edited, although not yet ingested, the two journals that follow in the series. This takes the journal to date to April 1918, and Henson's move to Hereford as bishop. We continue to build databases for the numerous persons, places organisation, events, and publications mentioned in the journal; the 'persons' file already exceeds 4000 entries. We have identified a large number of minor as well as major figures using census, genealogy, and other records. The annotation contains broad profiles of the Anglican community in and around Westminster and the very different congregation of a prominent Cathedral community in the Northern province. In addition, we have collected an abundance of Henson's surviving letters held in other repositories outside of Durham; these are assisting the work of annotation as well as the writing of scholarly articles.

We have made numerous findings in the Journals edited to date. They include the following.

First, the diversity of Henson's congregation in St Margaret's, Westminster. As well as being the 'parish church of the House of Commons', the regular parishioners and the officers of the church represented a broad range of the social spectrum, not just the political and social elite.

Second, the close links between the Church of England and other protestant churches in Britain, as well as with sister churches in Canada and the USA. The Journals illustrate vividly the early attempts to promote unity between the protestant churches and the opposition this provoked, both from within and outside of the Church.

Third, the politically engaged nature of the Church during the first decade of the twentieth century. The Journals provide a wealth of insight into the Church's active role in public debate concerning issues such as religious education, marriage and divorce, unemployment, and social reform.

Fourth, the power struggles within the Church. These were played out in Church bodies such as Convocation and the Representative Church Council, and in Church committees such as the Archbishops' Committee on Church and State (1913-16) chaired by Lord Selborne. The report of the Selborne Committee was central to the Enabling Act of 1919, which created the Church Assembly. The Journals amplify the differences between the parties within the Church that supported and opposed the legislation. While Henson remained wedded to a concept of the Church as the spiritual voice of the nation expressed in parliament, his High Church opponents and some on the Evangelical wing of the Church sought the transformation of the Church into a narrower ideal of a 'gathered Church'. The Journals contain detailed accounts of the resulting conflicts within the Church. They also contain valuable accounts of relevant conversations between leading Churchmen. These emphasise the pressure exerted by members of the Committee for the speedy implementation of the Report.
Exploitation Route Our findings will be taken forward in scholarly activity within the project as we undertake research for scholarly articles. Our proposed articles are as follows:

a. 'Hensley Henson and modern Churchmanship: the "liberal" years', c. 1902-17'

b. 'National, moral, and religious duty: the Church of England and the 'responsibility' of empire, 1901-36'

c. 'English political pluralism and the Archbishops' Committee on Church and State, 1913-19'

d. 'Church and Parliament: the English Enabling Act of 1919'

Other scholars will find much of interest in these journals of the early-twentieth century, as will non-specialists concerned with the history of Church at both national and parish level, and with the events that shaped Britain in the years that bracketed the outbreak of the First World War.
Sectors Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description Display boards in the Monks' Dormitory Library marking the centenary of Henson's return to Durham as bishop. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Three large foamex display boards went on display at the entrance to the Monks' Dormitory at Durham Cathedral on 29 January 2020, the starting-point of the new 'Open Treasure' exhibition at the Cathedral which commenced on that date. They will remain there until 31st May 2020, when they will be removed following the next exhibition changeover. In August/September, they will be placed in the Church, at the entrance to the Chapel of the Nine Altars where Henson is buried, in readiness for a commemoration Evensong for Henson and his wife on Wednesday 14th October 2020. The display will then return to the Monks' Dormitory, for the remainder of the year.

The display has two main purposes. The first is to draw the attention of exhibition visitors to Henson as 'a bishop of national significance' in the centenary year of his return to Durham. The second is to draw attention to his Journal as one of the treasures of the Cathedral Library and an historical resource of outstanding interest and value. The boards contain illustrative material concerning Henson's installation, photographic images of Henson from Lambeth Palace, and images from the Journal text. Details are provided of the project's work in creating a digital edition of the Journal from 1900 to 1939 in partnership with the Cathedral Library. The three logos of AHRC, Durham Cathedral, and Durham University are at the foot of each board.

Between 29 January and 28 February 2020 - the first month of the exhibition - 1,966 visitors to the Exhibition will have passed the boards.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
Description Workshop included in the Durham Book Festival, October 2019: 'Courting controversy: Hensley Henson, bishop of Durham' 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This archive-focused workshop was organised in association with Durham Cathedral Library, a partner of the project, as part of the annual Durham Book Festival in October 2019. It was held in the Refectory Library of the Cathedral, which is only open to the public for special events. It was a fitting setting, as one of the project's two PDRAs who led this project explained in introducing the event, for, as Dean of Durham, 1912-18, Henson spent much time there with the collections.

Twenty visitors could be accommodated comfortably within the Library as they moved around a long, central table. This contained samples of Henson's Journals and letterbooks (in which he copied many of his outgoing letters), laid out at selected pages. Guidance notes for each exhibit were placed alongside each exhibit, prepared by the PDRA. The central principle of selection was the close interaction between the local and the national throughout Henson's long association with Durham, both as dean and as bishop, 1920-39. Topics covered included the First World War, the General Strike, the rise of Nazism, housing, unemployment, women's rights, as well as material that provided insight into Henson's complex personality. The display gave prominence to Henson's fearlessness as a controversialist in Church affairs, public debate, and local industrial disputes, but also to his self-doubt.

The primary aim of the workship was to enable members of the public to engage closely with archival sources and to stimulate discussion among themselves and with project members about the material, both its content and the physical impression of Henson's distinctive script. It opened a window into the past that participants were keen to explore, particularly as many of the place names were familiar.

Some of the participants were volunteers on the project, working on transcriptions of the journals in the Cathedral Library. The event enhanced their interest in Henson.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019