John Hewetson

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John Hewetson
Photo of Hewetson published in 1945
John Christopher Hewetson

(1913-01-10)10 January 1913
Birmingham, England
Died20 December 1990(1990-12-20) (aged 77)
Surrey, England
  • Physician
  • Writer
  • Editor
    • Peta Edsall
    • Phyllis

John Christopher Hewetson (10 January 1913 – 20 December 1990) was a British anarchist physician, writer and newspaper editor.[1][2] During the Second World War he was an editor of the anarchist newspaper War Commentary, which saw him imprisoned on three occasions. From the 1940s onwards he was active in advocating for freely available contraception and abortions.


Hewetson was born in Birmingham to a wealthy family and was educated at Shrewsbury School before studying medicine at Magdalen College, the University of Oxford.[2] In the run up to the Second War World he became active in the Forward Movement of the Peace Pledge Union with his companion Peta Edsall.[3][4][5] In 1939 Hewetson and Edsall joined the anarchist movement and soon became involved in Freedom Press, editing the anarchist newspaper War Commentary.[6] During the war he worked as a hospital casualty officer.[1][2]

In 1940 Hewetson was imprisoned for a week for selling a "working class paper" outside Hyde Park having refused to pay a £1 fine.[7][8] In 1942 he was imprisoned for two months for refusing to accept a commission in the Royal Army Medical Corps.[6]

In 1945, alongside fellow War Commentary contributors Vernon Richards and Philip Sansom, Hewetson was sentenced to nine months imprisonment for conspiring to cause disaffection among members of the armed forces under Defence Regulation 39a. Coming at the end of the war, the four day trial at the Old Bailey saw significant press coverage and public controversy.[9][10][11][12] The arrests led to the formation of the prominent Freedom Defence Committee. Following lobbying by Dr Charles Wortham Brook and MP Rhys Davies (both unknown to Hewetson) he was released early, on the 12 September 1945, on the condition that he work full time in a hospital.[13] While in prison he wrote Ill-Health, Poverty and the State, arguing that the welfare state fails to address the underlying causes of poverty and poor health, namely capitalism and the state itself.[14][15]

In 1947 Hewetson went into general practice.[16] In the 1950s Hewetson advocated for freely available birth control and safe abortions.[5] He worked to make contraceptives freely available for working-class women to enable them to have freer sex lives.[17] He also helped to supply birth control materials into France where they were illegal.[3][18] He regularly referred women to an illegal specialist for abortions.[1] Initially he did this work alone, but over time formed a group practice.[2] In 1951 he authored Sexual Freedom for the Young: Society and the Sexual Life of Children and Adolescents which drew on the work of Bronisław Malinowski and Wilhelm Reich.[19][17]

Alongside being a GP, Hewetson was a visiting medical officer of the Camberwell Reception Centre (also known as the Spike) from 1951 until his retirement in 1983.[3][2] Hewetson died on the 20 December 1990 in Surrey and was survived by his wife Phyllis, two daughters, two stepdaughters, and a stepson.[2][20]


  • Italy after Mussolini (1945)
  • Mutual Aid and Social Evolution (1946)
  • Ill-Health, Poverty and the State (1946)
  • Sexual Freedom for the Young: Society and the Sexual Life of Children and Adolescents (1951)


  1. ^ a b c Rooum, Donald (2016). What Is Anarchism? An Introduction. Oakland, CA: PM Press. p. 134. ISBN 978-1-62963-295-7. OCLC 960977567 – via Internet Archive.
  2. ^ a b c d e f JMcE (16 February 1991). "J C Hewetson". British Medical Journal. 302 (6773): 405–406. doi:10.1136/bmj.302.6773.404. ISSN 0959-8138. S2CID 220146135. Archived from the original on 10 July 2022. Retrieved 4 May 2022.
  3. ^ a b c Davey Smith, George; Dorling, Daniel; Shaw, Mary, eds. (2001). "John Hewetson, 1913–90". Poverty, inequality and health in Britain: 1800-2000: A reader (1st ed.). Bristol University Press. p. 263. doi:10.2307/j.ctt1t8991k.30. JSTOR j.ctt1t8991k. Archived from the original on 4 May 2022. Retrieved 4 May 2022 – via JSTOR.
  4. ^ Goodway, David (2012). Anarchist Seeds Beneath the Snow: Left-Libertarian Thought and British Writers from William Morris to Colin Ward. Oakland, CA: PM Press. p. 207. ISBN 978-1-60-486221-8. OCLC 767502606 – via Internet Archive.
  5. ^ a b Ward, Colin; Goodway, David (2014). Talking Anarchy. Oakland, CA: PM Press. ISBN 978-1-60486-812-8. OCLC 862611717 – via Internet Archive.
  6. ^ a b "Glasgow calls all workers to defence of the four London Anarchists" (PDF). War Commentary. Vol. 6, no. 10. 10 March 1945. p. 1. Archived (PDF) from the original on 17 September 2021. Retrieved 3 May 2022.
  7. ^ "British Political Police at Work" (PDF). War Commentary. Vol. 6, no. 14. 5 May 1945. p. 4. Archived (PDF) from the original on 17 September 2021. Retrieved 3 May 2022.
  8. ^ London (25 September 1982). "Gaol". British Medical Journal. 285 (6345): 874–875. ISSN 0267-0623. JSTOR 29508050. Archived from the original on 6 May 2022. Retrieved 6 May 2022 – via JSTOR.
  9. ^ Honeywell, Carissa (22 July 2015). "Anarchism and the British Warfare State: The Prosecution of the War Commentary Anarchists, 1945". International Review of Social History. 60 (2): 257–284. doi:10.1017/S0020859015000188. ISSN 0020-8590. S2CID 151669269.
  10. ^ Sansom, Philip (6 June 1985). "1945 - The Victory Against Fascism and Freedom Goes To Jail". Freedom. p. 8. Retrieved 2 May 2022 – via Internet Archive.
  11. ^ Senta, Antonio (2019). "Maria Luisa Berneri Richards". In Guarnieri, Patrizia (ed.). Intellectuals Displaced from Fascist Italy: Migrants, Exiles and Refugees Fleeing for Political and Racial Reasons. Biblioteca di storia. Vol. 34. Translated by Dawkes, Tom. Firenze University Press. doi:10.36253/978-88-6453-872-3. ISBN 978-88-6453-872-3. OCLC 1125084797. S2CID 226874803. Archived from the original on 3 May 2022. Retrieved 4 May 2022.
  12. ^ Goodway 2012, p. 311.
  13. ^ "Dr. John Hewetson" (PDF). The Word. Vol. IV, no. 3. Glasgow: United Socialist Movement. October 1942. p. 29. Archived (PDF) from the original on 4 May 2022. Retrieved 3 May 2022 – via
  14. ^ Parker, Tony; Ferrie, Jane E (26 March 2017). "Health and welfare: rejecting the state in the status quo - examples of an Anarchist approach". International Journal of Epidemiology. 45 (6): 1754–1758. doi:10.1093/ije/dyx001. ISSN 0300-5771. PMID 28538989.
  15. ^ Hewetson, John (1946). Ill-Health, Poverty and the State (PDF). London: Freedom Press. Archived (PDF) from the original on 17 November 2021. Retrieved 4 May 2022.
  16. ^ Hewetson, John (29 October 1983). "Before and after the "appointed day"". British Medical Journal. 287 (6401): 1271–1272. doi:10.1136/bmj.287.6401.1271. ISSN 0007-1447. PMC 1549691. PMID 6416366.
  17. ^ a b Ward, Colin (18 January 1991). "Gentle liberator". New Statesman & Society. Vol. 3, no. 134. p. 27. ProQuest 224412514. Archived from the original on 10 July 2022. Retrieved 4 May 2022 – via Proquest.
  18. ^ Ray, Rob (2018). "John Hewetson (1913–1990)". A Beautiful Idea: History of the Freedom Press Anarchists; The Story of Britain's Oldest Anarchist Publisher (1st ed.). London: Freedom Press. pp. 244–247. ISBN 978-1-904491-30-9. OCLC 1052463857.
  19. ^ Hewetson, John (1951). Sexual Freedom for the Young: Society and the Sexual Life of Children and Adolescents (PDF). London: Freedom Press. Archived (PDF) from the original on 4 May 2022. Retrieved 4 May 2022 – via
  20. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Archived from the original on 20 May 2022. Retrieved 20 May 2022.