Headington history: People

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John Johnson (1882–1956)

John de Monins Johnson was born on 17 May 1882 at Brocklesbury Rectory in Kirmington, Lincolnshire. He was the son of John Henry Johnson (the Rector) and Anna Braithwaite Savory, who were married at Sunningdale in Berkshire on 20 June 1876.

At the time of the 1891 census John (3) was living at Kirmington with his father John (50), his mother Anna (43), his brother Hubert Braithwaite Johnson (13), and his sister Anna Monier Johnson (11). The family employed a governess, cook, groom, and two housemaids.

John Johnson first came to Oxford when he was sent off as a boarder to Magdalen College School. He then went on to to read Literae Humaniores (Classics) at Exeter College, Oxford. The 1901 census shows him at the age of 18 and described as an undergraduate at Oxford back home for the vacation in Kirmington with his parents and his older sister Anna (21), plus their four servants.

After graduating Johnson learnt Arabic, and he worked in the Egyptian civil service from 1905 to 1907.

He then returned to Oxford and was a Senior Demy (demi-socius, or half-fellow) at Magdalen College from 1909 to 1912. During this period he edited papyri and also conducted explorations in Egypt, and discovering the earliest known manuscript of Theocritus.

He was also a collector of printed ephemera, which he defined as “Everything which would ordinarily go into the wastepaper basket after use, everything printed which is not actually a book”.

Johnson was deemed unfit for active service in the First World War and in 1915 was appointed acting Assistant Secretary to the Delegates of Oxford University Press, and later Assistant Secretary.

On 31 July 1918 at St Peter-in-the-East Church, Oxford, John de Monins Johnson, who was living in Holywell, married Dorothea Cannan, who was living in Magdalen Gate House in the High Street and was the daughter of Charles Cannan, the Secretary to the Delegates of the Clarendon Press. They had two children:

  • Charles Cannan Johnson (born in the Headington registration district on 8 December 1921)
  • Pauline Bolingbroke Johnson (born in Headington in 1930).

In 1925 Johnson was appointed Printer to the University, and remained in this post until his retirement in 1946.

Barton Lane

By 1929 John Johnson and his family had moved to Headington, where they lived in a new house called Bare Acres in Barton Lane. Later numbered 29 Barton Lane, this is the first house to the east of what is now Chestnut Avenue.

At the time of the 1939 Register, however, John Johson was living at the Clarendon Press Printing Works in Walton Street and described as the Controller of the Printing Works. The only other occupant of the house was William Thrussell (born 1912), who was a clerk and telephonist.

The lane was very rural when they moved in, and was the ancient route from the hamlet of Barton to the village of Old Headington; but this changed in the 1930s when Chestnut Avenue, Ash Grove, and Hawthorn Avenues were laid out, followed in 1935 by the completion of the nearby Northern Bypass, and the development of Barton estate in the 1940s. In the early 1950s Joanna Cannan, the sister of his wife Dorothea Cannan, wrote scathingly of the development that had taken place in the Barton Lane area, presumably after paying them a visit.

John Johnson

John de Monins Johnson lived at 29 Barton Lane for the rest of his life. He died at the Radcliffe Infirmary on 15 September 1956 and was buried at Headington Cemetery. His headstone (right) reads:

Printer to the
University of Oxford
Distinguished Collector
Printed Ephemera

His effects came to £25,582 9s. 1d.

Johnson is best remembered today for the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera held by the Bodleian Library.

There is a much fuller entry on John Johnson in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
The ODNB online is available free to many public library users, including those in Oxfordshire:
enter L followed immediately by your library ticket number in the “Library Card Login” box

© Stephanie Jenkins

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