Who Were the Kibbo Kift?
So who were the Kibbo Kift? The figure of John Hargrave tends to dominate the story of the Kindred and the Green Shirts, but the movements attracted many talented and some well-known individuals. It perhaps gives a flavour of the movement to know who some of these people were.
Ruth Clark (1899-1964) was a member of an early woodcraft group The Camp Fire Girls before she met Hargrave. Her woodcraft name was Minobi - "Glad Heart". She wrote Camp Fire Training For Girls, the first book to address the topic of woodcraft for girls. The book, published in 1919, when she was just 20, bears testament to her already extensive experience as a woodcrafter. The photograph on the left shows a 14 year old Ruth Clark outside her tipi dressed in full Native American ceremonial robes in her garden in Kings Langley, Hertfordshire. Her status in British woodcraft circles made her a significant co-founder of the Kibbo Kift, together with John Hargrave and Cecil Mumford (Lone Wolf), and of course her own followers swelled the ranks of the nascent Kindred. She married Hargrave in 1920.
Always a woodcrafter at heart, she was one of the Kindred who found the transition to Green Shirt a step too far and she and Hargrave parted company in the early thirties.
The daughter of an architect, Vera Chapman (1898-1996) joined the Kibbo Kift while an undergraduate at Oxford in 1920, where she was one of the first women to be granted full membership of the University.
She was a dedicated member of the Kibbo Kift throughout the 1920s and early 1930s, her travels in Africa with her clergyman husband doing nothing to cool her enthusiasm. She was another woodcrafter who drifted out of the movement in the thirties when Social Credit became the main focus of the movement. Her woodcraft name was Lavengri - "Woman of Letters".
Her woven Kinswoman’s leather belt and her personal woodcraft logbook are in the Kibbo Kift collection at the Museum of London.
In later life she was Pendragon of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, the founder of the Tolkien Society and a successful author, her best known work being the Arthurian Trilogy; The Three Damosels, The Green Knight and King Arthur’s Daughter, published in the 1970s.
Angus MacBean/McBean (1904-1990) joined the Kindred in his late teens, before he became famous for his theatrical photography, taking the woodcraft name Angus Og in honour of his Celtic ancestry. However, the large number of his photographs and glass negatives in the Kibbo Kift collection at the Museum of London show that he was already developing the skills which were to provide his livelihood and fame in later life. His propensity for handicrafts, developed at an early age, stood him in good stead in the Kindred.
Although in later life his homosexuality was an open secret, these were different times and his marriage to Miss H. Wood is recorded in the September 1927 issue of the Kibbo Kift Broadsheet.
His profession of theatrical photographer bought him considerable fame and his photographs of Hollywood stars in surreal, almost Dali-like surroundings, became iconic. His first and favourite photograph of Vivien Leigh, taken in 1936 was featured on a British postage stamp in 1985. He photographed many of the leading actors and actresses of the time, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor would only be photographed by him and he was responsible for the covers of the Beatles' Please Please Me and some years later their Greatest Hits L.P.
Angus MacBean is the tall young man with the receding hairline in the centre of the back row in the group photograph above.
Historian, author, pacifist, campaigner for Women’s Rights, anti-slavery activist and outstanding journalist, Henry Nevinson (1856-1941) was a founder member of the Kibbo Kift as well as being on its Advisory Council.
A reporter for the Daily Chronicle and the Manchester Guardian Nevinson travelled as far afield as South Africa, Portuguese Angola and India. His book A Modern Slavery, published in 1906 was a withering exposure of slavery in southern Africa. He reported on the Boer and the Balkan Wars and from the Western Front and the Dardanelles. He was wounded at Gallipoli and, like Hargrave, witnessed the debacle of the Sulva Bay evacuation.
Nevinson and his his first wife, Margaret, were both strong supporters of the women’s rights and were members of the Women's Social and Political Union and later the Women's Freedom League.
Nevinson married Evelyn Sharpe (see below) after his first wife died in 1932. He was closely involved with the foundation of the National Council for Civil Liberties (nowadays known as Liberty) and became its president in 1939. He died in 1941.
He was the father of the artist Christopher Nevinson, also a pacifist, who refused combat duties in WW1, volunteering to work instead for the Red Cross on the Western Front.
It may well have been Henry Nevinson who was responsible for introducing one or more of the "suffragette wing" of the Kibbo Kift. Be that as it may, there were a number of high profile women who, no doubt attracted by the co-educational ideals of the Kindred, were full and active members.
Perhaps the most high profile of these was Emmeline Pethick Lawrence (1867-1954), socialist, suffragette, peace campaigner, co-operator and campaigner for women's birth control. Her political Damascus was working as a social worker at a Methodist Mission in London where where she witnessed the depredation and grinding poverty of working class life in big cities. In 1895, together with Mary Neal (see below), she formed a dressmaking co-operative called the Esperence Club to assist working class women.
Emmeline Pethick had married the lawyer Fredrick Lawrence in 1901. They both joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WPSU) in 1906 and within six months she had been arrested and imprisoned for making a speech in the lobby of the House of Commons. Subsequently they both disagreed with the policies of window smashing and arson, which eventually led to them being expelled
Pethick Lawrence continued to support the women’s suffrage movement and was a leading light in the Women's International League for Peace during WWI. She stood for parliament, unsuccessfully, after the Qualification of Women Act was passed in 1918.
She joined the Kibbo Kift in 1921, no doubt attracted by many of the ideals and concerns she shared with the movement:- her Quaker background, her pacifism, the unique co-educational nature of the Kibbo Kift and her own observations of the hardship and poor conditions of urban life for the vast majority of people.
She took the woodcraft name Lotosta, "Looking towards the Stars", and the title Exponent of the Erce Legends. She brought status and resources to the Kindred, the large house in Old Square being used for meetings of some of the London lodges. She translated several of Hargrave’s books into German.
May Billinghurst (1876-1953) was an active member of the suffrage movement and the Kibbo Kift Despite the fact that she had been paralysed and confined to a wheelchair since childhood . Photographs in the MOL collection show her with her wheelchair at Kibbo Kift camps and gatherings (see left).
Her forced feeding in Holloway prison evoked widespread public revulsion, but it should be noted that despite her frail condition and disability, it took 3 doctors and 5 wardresses to hold her down and force her submission.
Mary Neal (1860-1944) was as pivotal a figure in the Kibbo Kift as she was in the women’s suffrage movement and the English Folk Dancing movement. She was responsible for many of the influential contacts of the KK, from Clement Atlee, the future Labour Prime Minister to Rolf Gardiner, who played a key role in the revival of the English Folk Dance tradition and was a friend of D.H. Lawrence.
A pioneering youth and social worker, Suffragette and founder of the Esperance Club and the tailoring co-operative Maison Esperance for poor working-class women, she later breathed new life into the English Folk Song and Dance movement, for which she was awarded the CBE in 1937. There is a women’s Morris crew named in her honour in Islington
She was a leading figure in setting up the first purpose built play centre at Passmore Edwards Settlement, Tavistock Square, London.
Evelyn Sharp (1869-1955) was a socialist and a key figure in two of the major women’s suffrage societies in Britain, the militant Women’s Social and Political Union and the United Suffragists. She was twice imprisoned in the campaign for women’s suffrage and became a tax resister.
A pacifist, Sharp was active in the Women's International League for Peace during WWI.
The daughter of a Slate Merchant, the ninth of eleven children, she received only a couple of years of formal education, but still passed several university local examinations.
An established author who had published in The Yellow Book, she was especially well known for her children’s fiction.