The Reckitt Papers

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

In addition to a small number of personal papers, the documents in the collection reflect all aspects of Reckitt's public life between 1915 and 1970. Substantial quantities of Reckitt's own writings survive, particularly articles, lectures, reviews and contributions to books. Many files record the activities of the organisations of which he was an active member. Others contain letters from correspondents who shared his interests.

Administrative / Biographical History

Maurice Benington Reckitt (1888-1980) was born at Beverley, Yorkshire, into a prosperous family whose fortune was founded in the chemical industry. He was educated privately and at St John's College, Oxford (1907-10), where he read history with Ernest Barker, H. A. L. Fisher and others. After teaching at Ipswich Grammar School for two years (1911-13), he was able through personal wealth to devote himself to the causes he believed in. Liberal-minded in politics and Christian in belief, he sought to live a life of social concern and enlightened churchmanship.

As a Socialist and an early defender of the welfare state, Reckitt wrote and spoke in many of the debates on Socialist thought and action which occupied the left between 1910 and 1930. In 1913 he contributed the first of a series of articles and reviews to New Age , which had been re-founded in 1907 under the editorship of A. R. Orage and Holbrook Jackson to educate a Socialist readership. He assisted G. D. H. Cole in 1915 when he founded the National Guilds League to propagate a more formal expression of the new doctrines of guild socialism, and at the same time enrolled as an unpaid assistant in the Fabian Research Department. After the war Reckitt was active in a succession of groups which aimed to create a more just and equitable society. The Social Credit Movement founded by Major C. H. Douglas aimed to create and distribute increased prosperity by the control of credit and sound fiscal methods in contrast to contemporary capitalist practice. G. K's Weekly, founded by G. K. Chesterton in 1925, propagandised for Catholic ethics and economics, in particular for the redistribution of the nation's wealth as a means of creating a class of owner-producers and of strengthening small shopkeepers in the fight against big business. The Distributist League, founded in 1926, had similar objectives. The Chandos Group (1926) sought to revive the ideas of social credit, and through its activities Reckitt met among others W. T. Symons, Philip Mairet and V. A. Demant. When in 1932 New English Weekly succeeded New Age , Reckitt continued to write for it regularly until its demise, first as a contributor (1932-34), later as editor and leader-writer (1934-49).

In religion Reckitt was influenced by his mother who educated him in a mixture of Tractarian principles and contemporary Anglo-Catholic practices, and by Fr J. N. Figgis who about 1910 introduced him to the Christian Socialist writings of F. T. Maurice, Scott-Holland, and Charles Gore. In 1909 Reckitt joined the Church Socialist League which had inherited from Headlam's Guild of St Matthew a mixture of Maurice's theology and Tractarian practice which embodied the principal expression of Socialist teaching within the church. At the annual conference of the League at Coventry in 1913 Reckitt met P. E. T. Widdrington, a Christian deeply convinced of the role of the church in achieving social justice, and he began to contribute articles to Church Socialist. When the Russian revolution split the League Reckitt, with Demant and others, followed Widdrington into the 'League of the Kingdom of God' (1923). The search for a specifically Christian method of social analysis raised within the group questions being debated by members of the official Anglo-Catholic community, and the two circles met regularly at the Summer School of Theology at Oxford (1925-45). Among the most active supporters of the school were Demant, Ruth Kenyon, W. G. Peck and Reginald Tribe.

The belief within the group that it was essential to revive indifferent industrial man with the enthusiasm of faith allowed in the influence of creative Christian writers, principally of T. S. Eliot, and through him the ideas of the leading European religious thinkers. Through the 1930s the group drew fresh stimulus from the new generation of clerics, particularly Patrick McLaughlin, E. L. Mascall, J. V. L. Casserley, David Peck, George Every and D. M. Mackinnon. These and like-minded writers found a forum in the journal Christendom , which Reckitt founded in 1931 and edited until 1951, and in such co-operative works as Prospect for Christendom, edited by Reckitt in 1945. Reckitt's own most important book, Faith and Society, was published in 1934. On the demise of the group Reckitt established the Christendom Trust (1971), which sought through its meetings and through the sponsorship of a research fellowship to promote Christian social thinking. The Trust survived Reckitt's death in 1980.

See M. B. Reckitt, As it happened: an autobiography (1941); Christendom Trust, M. B. R. (1978); J. S. Peart-Binns, Maurice B. Reckitt: a life (1988); D. Howell-Thomas, Bibliography of the writings of Maurice B. Reckitt, 2nd ed (1980).

Conditions Governing Access

Items in the collection may be consulted for the purpose of private study and personal research, within the controlled environment and restrictions of The Keep's Reading Rooms.

Acquisition Information

Deposited (boxes 1-26) by the Christendom Trust in 1980 and (boxes 27-29) by J. S. Peart-Binns in June 1988.

Note

Prepared by John Farrant, September 2002.

Other Finding Aids

An online catalogue is available on The Keep's website.

Conditions Governing Use

COPIES FOR PRIVATE STUDY: Subject to copyright, conditions imposed by owners and protecting the documents, digital copies can be made.

PUBLICATION: A reader wishing to publish material in the collection should contact the Head of Special Collections, in writing. The reader is responsible for obtaining permission to publish from the copyright owner.

Custodial History

The contents of boxes 1 to 26 came from the Christendom Trust. Boxes 27 to 29 contain papers unearthed by J. S. Peart-Binns during research on his biography of Reckitt (particularly papers of the Anglo-Catholic/Church Union Summer Schools and letters from Maurice Reckitt to Patrick McLaughlin). The identifying, sorting, describing and listing of the collection was largely undertaken by Miss Dorothy Howell-Thomas.

Related Material

Related journals, particularly Christian Socialist, Christendom, G. K's Weekly, New Age, New English Weekly, are held in the Library's main collection.