GANDHI, Mahatma (1869-1948)
Plaque erected in 1954 by London County Council at Kingsley Hall, Powis Road, Bromley by Bow, London, E3 3HJ, London Borough of Tower Hamlets
Philanthropy and Reform, Politics and Administration
MAHATMA GANDHI 1869-1948 stayed here in 1931
Gandhi visited England in 1931 to discuss constitutional reform in India with British politicians. While in London he stayed at the community centre, Kingsley Hall in Bow, where he is now commemorated with a blue plaque.
LIVING AMONG THE POOR
Gandhi and his party stayed at Kingsley Hall from 12 September to 5 December. The hall was a Christian Socialist community centre for the East End poor, originally established in 1915 in Eagling Road, Bow, by Muriel Lester and her sister Doris. Gandhi occupied one of the ‘four cell-bedrooms’ – the one nearest the stone staircase – on the top floor, while his son Devadas stayed in another.
Gandhi, who ‘enjoyed living among his own kind, the poor people’, explored the surrounding area on foot in the mornings. His visitors included the social worker and reformer Mary Hughes. Muriel Lester later recalled that the pair were ‘about the same in spirit, and almost the same in stature and fragility (only an apparent fragility)’.
His decision to stay among the poor community reflected the development of Gandhi’s personal and political philosophy since he first came to England to study law in 1888. On that first visit, Gandhi wore western dress and stayed at lodgings in Kensington and Chelsea, where he is commemorated with a second blue plaque.
GANDHI, INDIA AND ENGLAND
The purpose of Gandhi’s 1931 visit to England was to attend the Second Round Table Conference in London to discuss constitutional reform in India. The talks, involving the British political elite and the Indian National Congress, failed. Gandhi did succeed however in capturing the imagination of the British public.
Wearing his characteristic Indian dhoti, he was mobbed by enthusiastic crowds. As well as visiting London’s East End he also met Charlie Chaplin, visited a number of universities, and travelled to the Lancashire cotton mills that had suffered as a result of his campaign for the use of Indian goods. Gandhi’s biographer Robert Payne said of his stay in England that ‘By his mere presence Gandhi had changed the attitude of the English people to India’.
Put up in 1954, Gandhi’s plaque was the first in the scheme to honour an Indian figure. In recognition of ‘one of the greatest men of his time’, the London City Council decided to waive the rule that states the recipient must have been dead for 20 years before being honoured.