John Papworth

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John Papworth (12 December 1921 – 4 July 2020) was an English clergyman, writer and activist against big public and private organizations and for small communities and enterprises.[1]

Life and work[edit]

Born in London in December 1921, Papworth was reared in an orphanage in Essex. After leaving it, he worked as a baker's boy and then a school chef until he joined the British Home Guard during World War II; he served seven years as a military cook.[2]

After the war Papworth trained to be a vicar and became an ordained minister of the Church of England, serving in a number of parishes. In 1997 his comments about the morality of stealing from giant retail corporations resulted in international media attention and he was debarred from preaching.[2][3] Then Home Secretary Michael Howard called the comments "Shameful." Papworth said he was not encouraging theft, only saying he could comprehend it.[3]

During the Second World War he joined the Communist Party but objected to its authoritarianism and was kicked out. He later joined the Labour Party and was its unsuccessful candidate for Salisbury at the 1955 general election. He also found that party too authoritarian and developed an opposition to large state and mass organizations and a preference for the small community.[2] He came to believe democracies dominated by remote party organizations could not meet peoples needs or stop war.[4]

In 1966 he got together with like-minded thinkers E.F. Schumacher, Leopold Kohr and Sir Herbert Read and founded and edited Resurgence magazine.[2][5] After leaving Resurgence he founded "Fourth World Review" magazine which promoted "small nations, governed by small communities".[2] From 1968 the publication sponsored several "Assemblies of the Fourth World"; these brought together people from around the world who envisioned creating a new society of small communities, small enterprises, and self-government in industry, public utilities, universities, etc.[4] Papworth also ran for British Parliament as a "Fourth World" candidate.[6]

In the 1960s, he was imprisoned along with Bertrand Russell for anti-nuclear protests and was also imprisoned in the US during a black rights protest.[7]

Papworth was active as a peace activist and believed small societies were less likely to sacrifice their citizens in nuclear war or afford to pay for such weapons.[6] In the 1970s and early 1980s, Papworth wrote regularly for the pacifist newspaper Peace News.[8]

At age 75 in 1997, Papworth was quoted in the news media as advocating shoplifting by the "poor and hungry" from supermarkets ... "because Jesus said 'Love your neighbour' — he said nothing about loving Marks & Spencer". The Church subsequently barred him from preaching. [9] [10]

Also in 1997, Papworth admitted that he had helped to hide convicted spy and double-agent George Blake at his home in Earls Court after his escape from prison in October 1966. Blake had been aided in his escape by "Ban the Bomb campaigners", including Sean Bourke. He was never charged as a result of the incident.[11]

Papworth was the subject of two BBC documentaries entitled "No Man is an Island" and "Turbulent Priest".[citation needed]

In 2001, Papworth refused to return his census form stating the government had no right to such information. He was fined £120.[12]

A longtime resident of London,[2] he later moved to Purton, Wiltshire.[12] He edited a village magazine called "Purton Today"[13] and was Parish Councillor for Purton.[14]

He died in July 2020 at the age of 98.[15] Papworth's wife predeceased him.

In the obituary, The Daily Telegraph described "the turbulent priest" as being, "at various times, a communist, cook, beggar, editor, presidential adviser, parliamentary candidate and prisoner".[16]


  • The Economics of Humanism
  • New politics, Garlandfold, 1982; Small is powerful: the future as if people really mattered, Praeger, 1995
  • Shut Up and Listen: A New Handbook for Revolutionaries, self-published, 1997
  • Village democracy, Volume 25 of Societas (Imprint Academic), Societas Series, Ingram Publishing Services, 2006, ISBN 184540064X
  • Co-editor with Ernst Friedrich Schumacher, A pair of cranks: a compendium of essays by two of the most influential and challenging authors of the 20th century, (Selected essays by E.F. Schumacher and Leopold Kohr), New European, 2003, ISBN 1872410189.


  1. ^ Yearbook of International Organizations. Union of International Associations. 2007.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Case Study: 85, and still campaigning for local democracy Paul Kingsnorth, The Ecologist, 1 September 2006. Retrieved 6 February 2013.
  3. ^ a b Cleric contorts theft amendment, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - 17 Mar 1997.
  4. ^ a b Cyril Dunn, In this world of Bigness a Move to Remain Small, St. Petersburg Times - 18 Apr 1968 .
  5. ^ E .F. Schumacher: His Life and Thought by Barbara Wood. Harper & Row, 1984. ISBN 0-06-015356-3, (p.348-349).
  6. ^ a b Fighting for the Fourth World, New Internationalist, Issue 97, March 1981.
  7. ^ "Theft vicar linked to Blake escape". The Independent. 23 October 2020. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
  8. ^ Articles of Peace : Celebrating Fifty Years of "Peace News", edited by Gail Chester and Andrew Rigby, Prism Press, 1986. ISBN 0-907061-90-7 (p.22).
  9. ^ "The Rev John Papworth obituary". The Times. 25 July 2020. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
  10. ^ "Theft vicar linked to Blake escape". The Independent. 23 October 2020. Retrieved 29 December 2020. Campaigning clergyman who became known as the ‘shoplifting vicar’
  11. ^ "Priest admits hosting George Blake after 1966 prison escape". Irish Times. 17 March 1997. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
  12. ^ a b Vicar fined for census protest, BBC, 13 September 2001.
  13. ^ "Purton Today", Winter 2013.
  14. ^ Purton Magazine Archived 22 April 2014 at the Wayback Machine, June 2006.
  15. ^ Church Times: Deaths, 10 July 2020
  16. ^ "The Rev John Papworth, 'turbulent priest' with a talent for trouble – obituary". The Telegraph. 25 July 2020. Retrieved 29 December 2020. He was jailed with Bertrand Russell, acted as adviser to Kenneth Kaunda, sheltered a Soviet spy and founded the magazine Resurgence

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