Born in Midhurst, Sussex, into an itinerant Quaker family, Hargrave was the son of painter Gordon Hargrave and his wife Babette Bing. He joined the Boy Scouts in 1908. He soon became a devotee of the naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton, and one of the leading Scout authorities on Woodcraft. He was educated at Hawkshead Grammar School and initially followed in his father's artistic footsteps, working as a cartoonist for C. Arthur Pearson Ltd whilst still in his teens.
When World War I broke out, Hargrave joined the Royal Army Medical Corps, and saw action at the Battle of Gallipoli. Hargrave's Quaker pacifism was reinforced by the horrors of war. He became a Scout Commissioner, but broke with the founder of the Scouts, Robert Baden-Powell, who, in his view, was increasingly drawn to militarism, to form his own movement, the Kibbo Kift in 1920. Intended as a movement for all ages and genders, the Kibbo Kift remained fairly small, although some of its members were influential. The group took its name from an old Kentish term for a feat of strength and it attracted the likes of H. Havelock Ellis, Julian Huxley, H. G. Wells, and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence to its ranks.
Hargrave met C. H. Douglas in 1923 and was convinced of the benefits of Social Credit, whilst Douglas admired the discipline and spirituality of the Kibbo Kift. Hargrave gradually incorporated the social credit theory into the Kibbo Kift, completing the process in 1927. In 1925, some south London co-operative groups challenged Hargrave's authoritarian tendencies over his refusal to recognise a local group called "The Brockley Thing" and broke away from the Kindred, forming the still active Woodcraft Folk. This move resulted in a dramatic fall in membership. The split was also driven by Leslie Paul's desire to make the Kindred into the youth wing of the Co-operative Party, a group now firmly attached to the Labour Party.
The remaining Kibbo Kift began to become more militaristic in nature. Hargrave set up a Legion of the Unemployed in Coventry in 1930, and furnished them with green shirts and berets. By 1932, the Kibbo Kift were also in the green uniform, until finally Hargrave disbanded the Kibbo Kift and the Legion and renamed them the Green Shirt Movement for Social Credit. The movement soon became part of the street politics of the 1930s, engaging in battles with both Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists Blackshirts and the supporters of the Communist Party of Great Britain.
Initially staying out of the electoral arena, Hargrave was impressed by the success of the Social Credit Party of Alberta (Canada), and reconstituted the Greenshirts as the Social Credit Party of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in 1935. Douglas opposed the entry of the movement into partisan politics. The party proved largely unsuccessful, and Hargrave soon travelled to Alberta, frustrated at the lack of progress that the Social Credit government there was making. He was appointed an economic adviser to the Government of Alberta, and was disowned by Douglas. He left Canada in 1936, returning to find the Social Credit Party in disarray after the Public Order Act 1936 banned the wearing of uniforms by non-military personnel.
Hargrave and the party went on hiatus during World War II. Hargrave did not serve in the war because he was too old for military service. During this time, he became convinced that he had the power of healing by the laying on of hands, and developed a variety of healing techniques.
He returned to politics after the war and stood as a candidate in Hackney North and Stoke Newington in the 1950 general election. The 551 votes he received convinced Hargrave to give up, and by 1951 he had disbanded the Party.
Largely retiring from public life, Hargrave resurfaced when he was commissioned to write the entry on Paracelsus for the Encyclopædia Britannica (Hargrave had published The Life and Soul of Paracelsus in 1951). In 1976, he also forced a Public Enquiry by claiming that a moving map display fitted into the Concorde infringed on a prototype he had developed in the 1940s. Hargrave was largely proven correct in his assertion, although he was denied money on a technicality. Hargrave died on 21 November 1982, aged 88 at his home in Branch Hill Lodge, Hampstead.
Hargrave married Ruth Clark, the daughter of the engineer William Clark on 28 November 1919. Their marriage produced one son although the couple were divorced in 1952. He remarried in 1968, his new wife being the actress Gwendoline Florence Gray.
Key published works
- Lonecraft (1913)
- At Suvla Bay (1916)
- The Wigwam Papers (1916)
- The Totem Talks (1918)
- Tribal Training (1919)
- The Great War Brings It Home (1919)
- The Confession of the Kibbo Kift (1927)
- The Alberta Report (1937)
- Words Win Wars (1940)
- Social Credit Clearly Explained (1945)
- The Life And Soul Of Paracelsus (1951)
- The Paragon Dictionary (1952)
- The Suvla Bay Landing (1964)
- The Facts of the Case Concerning the Hargrave Automatic Navigator for Aircraft (1969)