3.3.2 Captain Herbert Shove

  • Born 1886; died 1943.
  • Local resident, supporter of the Guild
  • Naval Officer, Distributionist writer.

Life

Shove, playing his pipe, reportedly made from a bicycle pump, while standing by the arch which passes through the St Dominic’s Press building

Born in Faversham, Kent, England, in the Canterbury parish, he lived as a child with his farming family on Queen Court Farm, in Ospringe. Shove joined the British Navy at a young age and eventually served as a Lieutenant Commander, as commander of Royal Navy Submarines during World War I as a result of which he was awarded the DSO. Also during the War, he was received into the Catholic Church by a Dominican Naval Chaplain. At the end of the war he purchased at Hallett’s Farm from Hilary Pepler and became a founder member of The Ditchling Chapter of the Dominican Tertiaries, associating closely with Gill and Pepler. His brother, Gerald Shove, was an economist and a close associate of Maynard Keynes, and may loosely be described belonging to the outer circle of the Bloomsbury set.

At Hallett’s, Shove looked after a smallholding, kept bees, dabbled in metalwork and ran an occasionally open sweet and tobacco shop, which incidentally, my own father still remembered in 2020. He was also a leading Distributist thinker and devoted much of his mental energy to economic theory, the best expression of which can be found in his book on the history of trade and manufacturing, The Fairy Ring of Commerce, which was published in 1930 by the Birmingham Branch of the Distributist League. The book also discusses his thesis on the close and inevitable association between Industrialism and soil erosion with general exhaustion as well as the rise of the wage system out of the cottage industries of rural England, stemming from the changes in England, going back to the Reformation, for the profit of the textile industries. It is considered the most thorough and scholarly treatment of the subject to come out of the Distributist circle, and the 1,000 copies printed were soon sold out.

After the foundation of the Distributist League (specifically entitled the “League for the Defence of Liberty Through the Distribution of Property”), Shove collaborated with Hilaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton. Shove also worked with land-movement activists like K. L. Kenrick, Fr. McNabb, and Harold Robbins, and served as Chairman of the South of England Catholic Land Association. As a senior figure in the movement, in 1934 he contributed an essay to its manifesto, entitled “Flee to the Fields, The Rise and Fall of Industrialism”.

Halletts, a small farm in between Ditchling and Ditchling Common where Shove lived and kept a tiny shop. The property was formerly owned by Hilary Peper and is only a few hundred yards from Hopkins Crank

Brocard Sewell reports that, like certain other Distributists around this time (especially Sewell), he was drawn to fascism; indeed, he met with Mussolini who impressed him greatly and was drawn to the repellent Oswald Moseley. This alarming tendency is partly explained by Fascism at this time being, in some minds at least, more associated with a rejection of capitalism and socialism rather than with totalitarianism and anti-Semitism. At all events, when WW2 broke out, Shove went to great lengths to conceal his previous sympathy, perhaps out of regret, perhaps out of self-preservation.

Shove in WW2 uniform. He scrubbed up well

Notwithstanding his intellectual, naval and practical gifts, he seems to have been, even by the standards of the Guild, a true eccentric. In civilian life, he presented a dishevelled and unkempt appearance and was once arrested on Ditchling Common as a vagrant. Other reports tell of him keeping a pet rat in his jacket while serving in submarines in WW1, not the most hygienic of practices. At Ditchling (like some Guild members) he maintained an illicit still; this once caught fire, requiring a visit from the Fire Brigade. He also seemed to struggle with his mental health on occasions, possibly as a result of his WW1 service, at one time developing the conviction that he was spontaneously changing sex and insisting on sitting down to urinate.

He must have recovered because he was re-called to Naval service during World War II, promoted to Captain and, according to Brocard Sewell, put in charge of organising the defences of the Port of London. For achievements in this position he was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1940 and was promoted to Captain in 1942. I must admit, I find it hard to comprehend this development. One day he is struggling to run the proverbial part-time sweet shop, fulminating a still, dressing like a vagrant and suffering severe mental health problems. The next, he is appointed to be in charge of a vital war defence operation, despite fascist sympathies, a lack of relevant experience and middling rank – then he is awarded the OBE. It makes very little sense – if anyone can enlighten me further, I would be grateful.

He was later transferred to the Gold Coast where he suffered severely from the climate, such that he had to return to England in 1943 where, shortly afterwards he died, aged 57. He is buried in the cemetery at Arnos Vale, Bristol.

Shove’s essay – The Rise and Fall of Industrialism

Flee to the Fields was a collection of essays published in 1934 by the Catholic Land Movement, an offshoot of Distributism that emphasised the need to re-establish an agrarian economy based on a widespread distribution of land among the population. Shove’s critique on The Rise of Industrialism begins the collection which also includes essays from Fr McNabb and George Maxwell.

The essay considers how industrial processes have become embedded in Capitalist countries and the damage he perceives this to have caused. He is deeply mistrustful of ideas like international trade and division of labour and believing any advantage accruing from such concepts will be short-lived and rapidly disappear. Indeed, given the economy of the 1930’s he cannot be blamed for believing that this process was underway. In essence, he seems to be proposing a kind of self-sufficiency, something he at least tried to reflect in his own life, and an idea independent minds frequently return to. Indeed, given the current environmental crisis, he can claim to have been ahead of contemporary thinking in that respect at least..

Overall though, his forecast of an imminent decline in industrialism and the growth in what he calls primary production was hopelessly wide of the mark. He had completely failed to recognise the massive advantages industrial processes could bring in terms of making luxury goods widely available to general population and the demand that existed for such enhancements to the general quality of life.

Obituary by Fr Brocard Sewell

Press Obituary