Romantic Radicals & Intellectual Barbarians; John Hargrave, the KibboKift & Beyond by Anne Fernie


Romantic Radicals & Intellectual Barbarians; John Hargrave, the KibboKift & Beyond by Anne Fernie

Kibbo Kift
Kibbo Kift

Bullet points of Presentation content:

  • A brief history of the English ‘modern, sad passion for nature’ 1880s -1920s. Its sources, influence of the German experience. Influence of class re. the English ‘back to nature’ pioneers.
  • Camping Pioneers & changes in class distinctions: Dr William Stables, Thomas Holding, Edward Carpenter
  • Country vs Town: Letchworth Garden city: Cranks & Faddists
  • Nudism in Britain
  • The roots of the Woodcraft Movement: ‘Black Wolf’ Ernest Seton, ‘Grey Owl’ Archie Belaney, Ernest Westlake
  • The taint of proto-Fascism: Rolf Gardiner’s Kinship in Husbandry group.
  • Lesley Paul and The Woodcraft Folk
  • John Hargrave and The Kibbo Kift
  • John Hargrave and the Green Shirt/Social Credit Movement.

A few paragraphs on the subject:

This talk is in effect a ‘companion piece’ to the ‘Countercultural Imperative’ talk presented in April 2015. The focus is now upon movements and individuals in England during the period 1880-1935. We noted before how German ‘life reformers’ spread their influence directly to the counterculturalists in the USA during the 40s and later 1960s and how many of their ideas (e.g. vegetarianism, spa baths, outdoor pursuits) became mainstream even during their lifetimes. The English experience forms an interesting contrast in that the English as a whole proved less tractable than their German cousins in adopting ‘ruralist’ ideas that were viewed overall as ‘crankish’ and ‘faddist’.
The close relationship that many of the English pioneers had with their German counterparts also inevitably led to suspicion in the years following WW1 and especially in the late 1920s and 30s casting a further pall of ‘Eco-Fascist’ ignominy over the cult of health, wellbeing and folk revival ‘Blood and Soil’ movements. We will review some early manifestations of the cult of the outdoor/alternative lifestylers such as the early carvanners, the fetishisation of Native North American culture, the Garden City movement then examine a selection of the more outstanding ‘cranks’ and ‘faddists’ such as John Hargrave, Rolf Gardiner, Ernest Westlake, Archie Belaney and Ernest Seton who are now largely and unfairly forgotten.
The Woodcraft and ensuing Kibbo Kift groups will be discussed in more detail, the latter being an wonderful example of a very English response to the cult of the outdoor and how it too was drawn into the spirit of the age, transforming itself by 1935 into The Green Shirt Movement for Social Credit, the largest unformed paramilitary street-army of 1930s Britain. They hated the Fascist Black Shirts and ‘fat cat’ financial institutions espoused a ‘Third Way’ beyond Capitalism and Marxism – ideas very prescient to the contemporary social and political discourse.
As with the German experience one concludes that whilst the hegemonies of the age are now ancient history, it is the outsiders and counter-culturist’s ideas that have endured and become mainstream. The fun is discovering where these apparently ‘age old’ ideas actually originated – often from the most surprising and unexpected sources.

A few paragraphs about you:

I work as a study skills tutor with under & post graduates on the autistic spectrum or with mental health issues. Do love the whole urban exploration thingy, architecture and photography. I am a bit of an old counter-culturalist/’bohemian’ myself and lived in various parts of Europe until the age of 15 and then another 3 years in Austria in my early twenties. My under and post-graduate work also pertained to Austrian/German culture, specifically to that of the Weimar Republic & dying days of the Hapsburg Empire so I have always been aware of the startlingly radical ideas both artistic and cultural that were coming out of the ‘Mitteleuropa’ region from the late 19thc onwards.


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Cupers, K. (2008): ‘Governing through nature: camps and youth movements in interwar Germany and the United States’. Cultural geographies 2008 15: 173–205
Guide to communal living in Britain website:
‘History of Woodcraft’ [documentary]:

History of Utopian Communities in England. Online at:
Holt, Y. (u.d.): ‘The Camden Town Group and Early Twentieth-Century Ruralism’. Online at Tate Gallery website:
Huck magazine dedicated to radical grassroots counterculture. Article on contemporary alternative communities e.g. Tipi Valley (founded 1976):
Laity, P. (2006): ‘A Brief History of Cranks’. Cabinet Magazine. Issue 20 Ruins Winter 2005/6. Online at:
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The KibboKift: a tale untold [documentary].

The KibboKift Foundation (homepage):
‘The KibboKift’ (1923) | BFI National Archive [film footage].

The ‘Tinkers Bubble’ eco-community in Somerset. Online at:
Usbeck, F. ( 2015) Fellow Tribesmen: The Image of Native Americans, National Identity, and Nazi ideology in Germany (New York, NY: Berghahn Books.[*Chapter 3: ‘Relatives, Allies or Subjects? Applications of Nazi ideology in through Indian imagery in popular media and academia’]
Zimmerman, M.E. (u.d.): ‘Dark Green II: Roots of Eco-Fascism’. Encyclopaedia of Religion and Nature. Online at:
Tyldesley, M.; Jefferies, M. [eds]. (): Rolf Gardiner: Folk, Nature and Culture in Interwar Britain. Online at:
BOOK. ‘A New England? Peace & War, 1886-1918. p.151 re youth movements in Edwardian England.

Contacts and websites:

Flickr (
Linked-In: Under name ‘Anne Fernie’

This talk was given on 11th Feb 2016 at The Castle Hotel in Manchester at 7pm