Thompson, Edward John
1886-1946; e.m. 1910

WM missionary and writer, born on 9 April 1886 at Hazel Grove, Stockport, the son of John M. Thompson (1854-1894; e.m. 1876), who had been a WM missionary in India. Because of family poverty after his father's early death, in 1902 he left Kingswood School for a London bank. He trained as a missionary candidate at Richmond College in 1908-1910, and took an external London BA in 1909. While teaching English literature at the Wesleyan College, Bankura, Bengal, he studied Bengali poetry and became friendly with Rabindranath Tagore, whose life he later wrote. After service as an army chaplain in the Middle East (for which he received the MC) he returned to Bankura in 1920 as Acting Principal. His interest in Indian politics led to a passionate advocacy of independence. Returning home to Oxford in 1923, he left the ministry, though continuing to worship at Islip chapel. He became a prolific novelist, poet and historian and a close friend of Robert Bridges and University Lecturer in Bengali. He was appointed Leverhulme research fellow, 1934-1936, and Spalding Senior Research Fellow in Indian history at Oriel College, 1936-1946. He revisited India several times and counted Nehru and Gandhi among his friends. His novels, especially Introducing the Arnisons (1935) and John Arnison (1939), contain much autobiographical material. He died at Bledlow, Bucks on 28 April 1946.

His younger son Edward P. Thompson (1924-1993), born on 3 February 1924, was educated at Kingswood School and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and became a social historian. His influential The Making of the English Working Class (1963) depicts Methodism largely as an anti-radical force preaching submission to government and internalizing a submissive work ethic which fitted pre-industrial labourers into the disciplines of the factory system. He died on 28 August 1993.

  • Times, 4 May, 1946
  • Methodist Recorder, 2 May 1946; 9 Sept 1993
  • Mary Lago, India's Prisoner: a Biography of Edward John Thompson (2001)
  • David Hempton and John Walsh, 'E.P. Thompson and Methodism', in Mark A. Noll (ed.), God and Mammon: Protestants, Money and the Market, 1790-1860 (Oxford, 2002)
  • John Munsey Turner, 'The Ghost of E.P. Thompson: 'many Methodisms' and social change, in Richard Sykes (ed.), God's Own Story? Some trends in Methodist historiography (Oxford, 2003) pp.13-21
  • Oxford DNB