Tuesday, 27 March 2012

John Hargrave and the Kibbo Kift Hundred

John Hargrave and the Kibbo Kift Hundred remain largely absent from the collective historical memory of this country; and when the man and his movement do figure it is usually as historical comedic material worthy of the pen of P. G. Wodehouse. Judge Smith, genial co-founder of Van der Graaf Generator, feels this to be an injustice of sorts, and based on the sizeable number of people shoehorned into the room above the Wheatsheaf pub in Rathbone Place to hear him talk on the subject, he is not alone. Judge was speaking to the Sohemian Society, although I am not entirely clear about the precise connection between Hargrave and Soho. Judge offered a succinct history of the KK and its leader, and supplemented his talk with some astounding visuals.

No one should deny that there is much that is comic about this; wearing smocks and stomping about Epping Forest could never be anything other than funny, but there is something else of substance here. To start with Hargrave: he seemed to me to be a familiar figure in some ways - it would be quite wrong to dismiss him as a minor 30s demagogue in an already crowded field, but I have to say that he did seem convinced of the rightness of his cause and was not afraid to use a formidable personality to get his own way. Thus a recognisable personality type, and, on the face of it, a fairly straightforward task to incorporate him into the historical record. Not so the movement he led; it seems to resist the usual analysis, especially in the Green Shirts phase - was it a movement of the Left or the Right? Or both? Judge suggested that among historians the matter was contentious, and I can quite believe it. I personally also detected elements of that long tradition of English pastoralism which persists to this day: think of the Diggers, Thomas Spence and his plans for land reform, William Morris, the Arts and Crafts movement; you might even include the astounding punk band Crass with their commitment to communal living and deep attachment to the land and self-sufficiency.


  1. Hello Andrew

    Thank you for writing about our event on John Hsrgrave and the Kibbo Kift. yes I know the link between the Sohemians and the KK does appear to be tenuous. We started our society 8 years ago with the intention of concentrating on Soho/Fitzrovia and although the area is rich in characters the society felt it would like to spread its remit to include events and characters that are seldom dicussed or written about by the mainstream media.
    David Fogarty

    1. Dear David

      Many thanks for your response. I thoroughly enjoyed Judge's talk, and it seems perfectly reasonable for the Sohemians to extend the Society's remit to include people such as Hargrave, who would otherwise be mostly overlooked. Soho has, after all, often been a haunt of oddballs and misfits. (Not that I would class Hargrave as a complete oddball, though; in many ways he anticipated the rise of Green ideas.) I'll keep a close eye on the website to see if there are any future talks which appeal.

      Kind regards