Jorian Jenks - Angmering's Blackshirt farmer

(by John Phillips)

With the death of Diana Mosley on 11 August 2003, a latent curiosity in the British Union of Fascists (BUF) may have arisen. Diana was the most beautiful of the six Mitford sisters and widow of Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the BUF, and totally enamoured with Adolf Hitler.

Most of us today would reject the BUF cause and its more odious policies but that was not always the case. Indeed, certain elements of its policies, such as protection of the British farming industry from cheap and inferior imports, still currently elicit sympathy with a significant proportion of the electorate. Even in 1937, the general tone of correspondence in the Worthing Gazette was that Fascists as individuals were essentially loyal and patriotic but the system of government they advocated was not. But with war clouds gathering and the government and press engendering "fifth columnist" hysteria, attitudes towards the BUF were to change. Following the outbreak of war, 800 leading Fascists were imprisoned without trial as the Habeus Corpus Act was suspended.

So much for the background, but was there much local support for the BUF? The answer is that of all the counties in the UK, West Sussex was seemingly a hotbed of BUF activity and it probably drew the greatest support and sources of finance from the county. In the south, the main centres of all this activity were the towns of Chichester, Selsey, Bognor, Littlehampton, Worthing, Midhurst, Petworth, Horsham, Cuckfield, East Grinstead and, biggest of all, Brighton. These people were not the skin-head followers that today we rightly or wrongly associate with the BUF's successor, but respectable men, women and knights of the realm, many having become disaffected with the Conservative Party. They were not necessarily disloyal people - many had fought during WW1 and others were to fight for their country against Hitler and his policies during WW2.

Worthing had a well-established Party HQ and was one of the few towns to elect a BUF councillor - WW1 veteran, Captain Charles Bentinck Budd. The vicar of Rustington was also a Party member. To illustrate the depth of support in West Sussex, the BUF's well attended Summer camps were openly held at Selsey and Pagham between 1933 and 1937 and, of the 800 leading supporters of the Party detained without trial in 1940 under Defence Regulation 18B, approx. 100 of them came from this county.

But who was Jorian Jenks and what connections did he have with Angmering?

Jorian Edward Forwood Jenks was born in Oxford in 1899, the son of a solicitor and later prominent academic and constitutional history writer. Jorian himself was educated at Haileybury, the Harper Adams Agricultural College in Shropshire, and later at Balliol College, Oxford. Prior to Oxford, he had gained experience as a farm manager in Berkshire and had travelled to New Zealand, Canada and Australia working, studying and lecturing, and gaining valuable experience in land management and soil erosion. After Oxford, he spent a year as an agricultural lecturer in Devon and during this time married Australian, Sophie Isobel Chester, by whom he later had two children. Jenks then realised his life ambition - to farm on his own account - and took over the tenancy of Ecclesden Farm in Angmering.

As regards his political consciousness, Jenks was attracted to the only Party which supported the cause of home agriculture and therefore joined the BUF. But Jenks was not an ordinary member; he soon became one of the trusted lieutenants of Sir Oswald Mosley and was quickly appointed the BUF's agricultural advisor. He developed the Party's agricultural policy and became a prolific writer in BUF publications and other periodicals - sometimes writing under the pen-name "Virgilius". Jenks advocated farming by organic methods and was convinced that many of the modern diseases and the rise of cancer statistics were the result of the use of chemical fertilisers.

He was adopted as the prospective MP for Worthing and Horsham and was introduced to his constituency at Worthing Town Hall on 12 April 1937, Sir Oswald Mosley himself giving a 1½ hour talk in support. There was a large police presence but no demonstrations took place. Jenks was essentially a studious man and occasionally wrote to the local press answering criticisms of the BUF and insisting that they were a Party advocating freedom and peace. Jenks seems to have been a low-key candidate and appeared happy farming at Ecclesden and continuing his writing. Possibly his best known book "Spring comes again" was launched in mid-1939 and was reviewed by the Littlehampton Gazette who referred to him as the "Prospective Fascist Candidate for this Division". The intended 1940 election never took place due to the outbreak of war.

It must have been a severe blow to Jenks that he was fined £1 in June 1939 for working a horse at Ecclesden while lame because this would have been against all his principles. Shortly after, he gave up the farm at Ecclesden and moved to Forest Row where he bred "Tuberculin-tested pigs". This, however, was not to last long as he was rounded up and detained as a leading Fascist. As to why, this is not exactly known as Jenks's file, like that of many other BUF detainees, appears to have been "lost" or is not available for public scrutiny in view of its sensitive nature!

After his release in July 1941, Jenks moved back to his mother's house near Banstable, Devon, for the rest of the war although he became deeply involved with the organisation Kinship in Husbandry. By 1946 he surfaced again with appointments with the Rural Reconstruction Association, the Soil Association and the Council for Church and Countryside. But it was the Soil Association which became the most important to him becoming its Editorial Secretary. In this position he wrote prolifically, and actively promoted his beliefs in organic farming and his view that Britain should be self-supporting in the production of basic foods.

When Sir Oswald Mosley formed his new Party, the "Union Movement" in 1948, it advocated European union and development of Africa by the principal European countries. Jenks did not appear to favour this policy and did not join the new Party although he did assist it in preparing its policy statement. Jenks wrote numerous books and pamphlets between 1950 and 1959, most of them advocating organic husbandry, better land use and decrying the exhaustion of non-renewable natural resources. He also returned to his earlier theme of health and nutrition and the dangers of chemical fertilisers and insecticides.

With two failed marriages behind him and in poor health, principally due to asthma, he had a heart attack and died on 20 August 1963 at the age of 64.

Even in the 1930s, Jenks, Angmering's Blackshirt farmer, was probably never a wholly committed Fascist but was driven by his own beliefs in organic farming and for Britain to be self-sufficient in its own food production. He has been described as a latter-day William Cobbett and, almost certainly, was influenced by the lasting problems that beset British agriculture following the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846.

Had Jorian Jenks not have had associations with the British Union of Fascists, he may well have been regarded today as father of the Green Party. Notwithstanding that, he nevertheless influenced many people with his views on organic farming and good husbandry and for those reasons alone is worthy of our attention.

John Phillips
August 2003

Worthing Gazette 1937-39
Littlehampton Gazette 1937-38
The Daily Telegraph 13.8.03
"Blackshirts-on-Sea" (JA Booker)
Lodestar - "Jorian Jenks: A Keeper of the Agrarian Tradition" (Peter Wallis)
"Servants of the Soil: The Lonely Furrow of the Soil Association 1946-2000"