Page last updated at 23:37 GMT, Sunday, 4 May 2008 00:37 UK

The parish gossip and the fascist vicar

By Dan Bell
BBC News

National Archive document
The National Archive files on Tibbs's case have only just been declassified

In the summer of 1940, the sleepy parish of Teigh, barely a smudge on the map of Rutland, denounced their vicar as a traitor and a fascist.

The Reverend Henry Stanley Tibbs, who had ministered to his 72-strong flock for 15 years, was sent to prison accused of being a foaming-at-the-mouth anti-Semite who promoted Hitler from the Harvest Festival pulpit.

Their vicar, parishioners said, was a member of the British Union of Fascists, harboured German spies, denounced Churchill and pledged allegiance to the Fuhrer.

The case against Mr Tibbs, just revealed in newly declassified National Archive files, did not look good.

But there was also another side to the story - a tale of small-town grudges, back-biting gossip and anti-fascist fervour.

Dad's army fascist

The 63-year-old was not only accused of harbouring two Gestapo agents in the parish rectory - and genially introducing one of them to a local farmer - but of helping the spies draw sketches of a bomb silo at nearby Cottesmore Aerodrome.

He was said to have described Germany as "our natural friend" and that a local clergyman caught the Reverend telling his children "that Hitler and Goering were the finest men in the world".

One witness said he heard him describe Churchill as "a drug addict and a dictator of the vilest kind, in fact the worst dictator in the world and in the pay of the American Jews".

The charges were extraordinary - a Dad's Army fascist preaching hate from a Church of England pulpit. But were they true?

'Nazi views'

Writing from his cell in Liverpool Prison, Mr Tibbs admitted he had indeed, years before, belonged to the British Union of Fascists. They had an excellent agricultural policy, he said.

He admitted that one of his sons, who had also been imprisoned, had joined the party. But he said it was the uniform, rather than the fascism, that appealed to him.

He also conceded he had subscribed to the British Union newspaper, Action.

But, under cross-examination during his appeal, he strenuously denied all other accusations.

[A] vindictive type of man, quite capable of bearing tales about, or putting the worst interpretation on the words of anyone against whom he harboured a grudge
Detention appeals panel

Had he expressed "Nazi views" to his parishioners? He replied: "I never did. I have never talked politics to my parishioners, and I have never preached a political sermon in my life."

Did he admire Hitler? "I think he is a very clever man, but I think he is a most horrible person," he said.

But, after 15 years as the vicar of Teigh, what he did know about was village gossip.

For a start, there was the clergyman who said he caught Mr Tibbs praising Hitler and Goering to his children.

Once close friends, the two had fallen out, and Mr Tibbs accused his former friend of being the source of the rumours.

In their report, the appeals panel named another clergyman, from nearby Market Overton, "who had at one time been a great friend of Tibbs, but had some time ago had a quarrel with him".

National Archive document
Mr Tibbs was reported to have looked forward to Hitler's invasion

"Enquiries have been made locally," the panel added. And Mr Tibbs's former friend "appears to be an ill-natured and vindictive type of man, quite capable of bearing tales about, or putting the worst interpretation on the words of anyone against whom he harboured a grudge".

Then there was the local gossip among the farmers and down at the village post office about the German spies hiding out in the village rectory.

But in a parish of 72 souls, could he really have harboured two Gestapo agents? And if so, would he have introduced them to his neighbours?

According to the farmer's wife who lived opposite him, he could not. She told the panel there had never been two young men living at the rectory.

'Slippery-tongued'

The appeals panel ordered Mr Tibbs to be released, with the proviso that he remained within his parish, and he returned home in December 1940.

"The committee feel that whilst Tibbs' detention was fully justified, a mass of rumour and some exaggerated reports have been built up," they wrote. "Tibbs has now learned his lesson"

Eight months later the restrictions were revoked and a Home Office official described him as "harmless."

There were many people in the 1930s who admired Germany and admired Hitler and most of them were sensible enough to keep their heads down when war broke out
Reverend James Saunders

In another letter, the Bishop of Peterborough wrote: "Mr Tibbs is, in my opinion, a foolish, slippery-tongued fellow, but a harmless one."

Nearly 70 years later, there are even fewer people living in the village of Teigh.

What does the current vicar think of the accusations?

The Reverend James Saunders said: "There were many people in the 1930s who admired Germany and admired Hitler and most of them were sensible enough to keep their heads down when war broke out."

But he added: "There's always a possibility for vicars to fall out with members of the congregation.

Broken man

"At the moment Teigh is a very friendly and easy-going village, but then you are dealing with tiny populations which in those days were much more isolated.

"You lived on top of your neighbours all your life, they are tight-knit communities where rumours and gossip and fallings out arise very easily."

So what happened in the end to the hapless Mr Tibbs?

According to Mr Saunders, he returned to the village a broken man, slipped into obscurity and died shortly afterwards. The parish was declared vacant in 1943.

"For understandable reasons, he kind of dropped from the village's memory."




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