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.