Documenting Fascism in 1930s West Sussex

You may not have considered that the sleepy South coast of West Sussex had to confront fascist activity head on during the decade prior to the Second World War. Yet, we recently stumbled across some records held in the archive which tell a very different story, and prompted further exploration into what else we hold on fascism.

This blog gives brief account of fascism in the county, and takes a look at some revealing records documenting its rise in the 1930s.

The rise of Fascism in Europe

You may be familiar with the name Oswald Mosley, the Labour politician turned British Union of Fascists (BUF) founder and leader, who rose to notoriety during the late twenties and early thirties. The BUF was founded when Mosley became disillusioned with Labour’s perceived inaction on mass unemployment during the late 1920s. In response to his feelings about this, he turned to far right politics.

During this period, Europe was experiencing the effects of fascist rule in three countries; Italy under the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini, Spain under Francisco Franco, and Germany under Adolf Hitler. Whilst the British general public, including the press, largely condemned the ideological implications of these political stances, there were a growing number of supporters closer to home.

Fascists in West Sussex local government

There were several notable West Sussex residents who were prominent BUF members, including local Worthing resident Charles Bentinck Budd, once a Captain in the British Army, who had his eye on joining the political scene. He became a West Sussex County Councillor in March 1930.

Signatures in an attendance register. This recorded members who attended council meetings.
Charles Bentinck Budd’s signature in the West Sussex County Council attendance register, 13th March 1931.
WOC/CC3/2

Budd had met Oswald Mosley earlier in 1933, becoming convinced of Mosley’s aspirations. Bringing this enthusiasm to Worthing, Budd set about helping to organise pockets of BUF supporters in West Sussex.

Budd became a Worthing Borough Councillor in November 1933. Throughout this election, he was open about his support of a fascist government. In December 1933, the BUF held it’s first public meeting in Worthing.

British Union of Fascists in West Sussex

But it didn’t stop at Worthing, several BUF meeting places were established along the West Sussex coast, including Chichester, Bognor, Rustington, and Worthing. Frequent visitors to Chichester may unknowingly walk past the old headquarters which was located at 36 East Street. The Sussex and Hampshire area HQ was located at 27 Marine Parade, Worthing.

Newspaper articles, primarily from the Worthing Gazette, report of numerous visits from Mosley and his deputies to the county. Mosley appears to have addressed crowds of people, many of them curious but critical of his message, many others were supporters. His first major address was on the 9th October 1934, and took place at Worthing Pavilion.

Newspaper headline announcing a visit to Worthing from Oswald Mosley.
Another visit from the BUF leader.
Worthing Gazette, Wednesday 14th April, 1937

BUF summer camps

As fascism gained traction across the country, Mosley and the BUF decided that West Sussex was the perfect place to hold camps, namely at Pagham, Selsey, and West Wittering from 1934 to 1937. These camps were a party-led tactic to highlight the party’s beliefs and further spread them throughout Britain. People from all over the country paid a modest amount for these summer holiday camps and if you weren’t a fascist beforehand, you were expected to be by the end. Mosley championed these camps as morale boosters, and made appearances at the 1935, 1936, 1937 camps in West Sussex.

A book focusing on this specific event can be found in the searchroom – Blackshirts on Sea by J A Booker (Lib 14066).

Letters to Miss Lilian Parsons (AM 641)

In addition to newspaper articles and books, we hold a variety of other original documents relating to fascism in West Sussex and beyond. A particularly interesting example is a set of letters addressed to ‘Lilian’.

Purchased by the Record Office in 1994, these letters contain the political thoughts and feelings about fascism in Britain prior to the Second World War in 1939. Sent from various people to Lilian, they provide a unique insight into the private – yet firm – ideologies of British fascists. Unfortunately, nothing is known about Lilian, but she was most likely an active member of the Bognor branch for some time.

Extracts below give you some idea as to the contents:

“I first became a Fascist many years ago – in 1926 if I remember correctly when we wore a round badge of black and silver with an F. on it… I came to the conclusion that there was to[o] much talk and not enough action”

From Humphrey N. Loch, March 1939

“We have been very busy at the branch [Wembley] all last week getting ready for the cup final when we had to disperse piles of leaflets… altogether over 20,000 leaflets went out… very few were left behind”

From Bertie, May 1939

“We are stewarding the Mosely meeting at Horsham next Wednesday, 20 of us from here…”

From Bertie, c1939
Section from a letter concerning a meeting with Oswald Mosley.
Letter from ‘Bertie’ to Lilian about a meeting with Oswald Mosley in Horsham, c1939.
AM 641/1/1/6

Adverts in local newspapers

To further promote their significant presence in West Sussex, the BUF published adverts promoting the party in local newspapers during the 1930s. Language such as “triumphant” and “marching” echoed the military-style uniform and organisational methods that appealed to many party members.

Propaganda

We also hold material concerning fascism outside of West Sussex specifically. These two documents are Nazi propaganda leaflets which were dropped on Britain by plane, including on West Wittering. These leaflets, in English, were intended to spread demoralising information about the war. The Nazi party hoped this would ultimately lead to a loss of support from the British population in the war effort. For some, however, the Nazi party’s far right ideologies reflected their own.

Two black and white propaganda leaflets created by the Nazi party.
Left: A propaganda news sheet by the Nazi Party. Right: Propaganda flyer by the Nazi party
MP 715

This leaflet is for the Schaffendes Volk (The Reich’s Exhibition of a Productive People) which took place in 1937 in Dusseldorf, Germany. The exhibition was a way of boosting national support for the Nazi party. It attracted several million people between May and October 1937.

Black, red, and white propaganda leaflet created by the Nazi party.
Leaflet for the Great Exhibition of a Productive People, made under the Nazi regime, 1937.

If you have found the above interesting and would like to explore more of our collection, you can search our online catalogue by following this link: Search Online, or pop into the Record Office to find out more.

By Alice Millard

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