GANDHI, Mahatma (1869-1948)
Plaque erected in 1986 by Greater London Council at 20 Baron's Court Road, Barons Court, London, W14 9DT, London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham
Philanthropy and Reform, Politics and Administration
MAHATMA GANDHI 1869-1948 lived here as a law student
The ‘Father of India’, Mahatma Gandhi, visited London several times. His longest stay was as a law student between 1888 and 1891, during which time he lived for several months at 20 Baron’s Court Road in West Kensington.
When Gandhi arrived in London as a 19 year-old law student, he was still known by his birth name, Mohandas Karmchand Gandhi. His political philosophy and the addition of the name, ‘Mahatma’ – meaning ‘great soul’ – came much later.
He was staying at 20 Baron’s Court Road by 6 November 1888, the date of his formal admission to the Inner Temple. The widowed landlady, Elizabeth Fanny Turner – who charged him 30 shillings a week for board and lodging – had herself lived in India, but struggled to cater for his meatless diet. Gandhi had promised his mother before he left India that he wouldn’t touch wine, meat or women. The dinners provided at number 20 were, he recalled, ‘third rate’, and he was often left hungry. Mrs Turner did however tell him of vegetarian restaurants in London, where he became a regular customer.
He initially adopted a European lifestyle, taking lessons in dancing, elocution and French, and wearing the smart dress of an aspiring lawyer – including a top hat. Before long however he began living more frugally and started studying both Hinduism and Christianity. He moved on from number 20 after 8 or 9 months, for reasons of economy and his dietary preference, but it was apparently the London address where he stayed the longest.
LONDON AND BEYOND
Gandhi’s subsequent addresses in the capital included 15 St Charles Square, northern Kensington, and 52 St Stephen’s Gardens (formerly St Stephen’s Square), Bayswater.
He returned to India in June 1891 and went on to spend many formative years in South Africa. However he came back to England on four occasions and declared in 1909 that ‘next to India, I would rather live in London than any other place in the world’.
Gandhi was first commemorated with a blue plaque within six years of his death at an address in Tower Hamlets where he stayed in 1931. In 1983 it was decided that a second plaque was justified, given the distance and time gap between Gandhi’s first and last London sojourns. Neither plaque bears a descriptor, as it was felt that ‘any attempt to describe his achievements in the usual short phrase would be superfluous’.