Follow Gandhi's footsteps in London
Mahatma Gandhi made five visits to London, spanning 43 years of his life; from young law student in 1888, to representative of the Indian National Congress in 1931. If you are going on a trip to London and want to follow in Gandhi's footsteps to gain an insight into his life, then take a look at these 10 places the great man visited.
- The Grand Hotel — 1888
- 16 Bridge Street — 1888
- The Inner Temple — 1888-1891
- Blavatsky Lodge — 1890
- City Temple — 1888-1901
- Brookwood Cemetery — 1891
- India House — 1906
- Caxton Hall — 1906, 1909, 1931
- Kingsley Hall — 1931
- 88 Knightsbridge — 1931
On Gandhi's first night in London as a nervous 18-year-old law student, he stayed in the luxurious Victoria Hotel near Trafalgar square. Not only was this the first place he stayed in England, it was also where he met one of his dearest friends, Dr. Pranjivan Mehta, who shaped and nurtured much of Gandhi's early work and ideas. The hotel has now been renamed as The Grand, but is still the perfect place to stay for your visit to Gandhi's London.
During his first few weeks in London, Gandhi struggled with the blandness of his vegetarian diet until he found 'Central', a vegetarian restaurant near to where he studied. Sadly the restaurant was destroyed by bombing in WW2, but it still represents a hugely important place in Gandhi's life. Here he finally found solace in London, meeting likeminded individuals who invited him to join the Vegetarian Society and went on to become his closest friends in England. The London council plans to put up a plaque in this location to commemorate its significance in Gandhi's life.
Gandhi studied for the bar in 'The Inner Temple'; one of the main law schools in London. He spent much of his time in the library to save on the heating costs for his room, and passed his examinations for the bar there with flying colours in 1891. Other than the library you should visit the Inner Temple Hall, where Gandhi attended ceremonial dinners every term.
Through his newfound vegetarian friends, Gandhi was introduced to the Theosophical Society in 1890 and there he met Annie Besant and Madame Blavatsky; two key members of the Society whose writings he keenly studied. The teachings of Theosophy struck a chord with Gandhi, who was particularly interested in its call for "universal brotherhood and consequent toleration". Blavatsky Lodge can still be visited in London if you want to find out more about Theosophy and the effect it had on Gandhi.
Throughout his stay in London, Gandhi regularly visited the City Temple in the heart of London to listen to the sermons of famed Theologian Joseph Parker. Theology teaches people to rationally discuss and analyse religious ideas, something Gandhi was keen on exploring when developing his beliefs and values as a young man. If you walk around the Holborn area the City Temple can't be missed because of its distinctive honey coloured exterior.
In 1891 Gandhi attended the funeral of political activist Charles Bradlaugh at Brookwood Cemetery in London. Bradlaugh strongly campaigned for Indian independence and also had ties to the Theosophist Society, which explains why a 21 year old Gandhi felt the need to pay his respects. He is buried in plot 108 of the cemetery with a bronze monument which contains some brief lines about his life and work.
After leaving the country when he had passed the bar in 1891, Gandhi returned to England in 1906. On the first two nights he stayed at India House, which was a hostel for Indian students ran by Shyamji Krishnavarma. The building should be easy to spot as it has a blue plaque on the front dedicated to the freedom fighter Vinayak Damodar Savarkar who frequently stayed there.
This public meeting hall in Westminster was frequented multiple times by Gandhi to listen to speeches and attend meetings regarding India. Upon his return in 1931 he was invited to talk there himself, when he gave a speech calling for an amicable solution to the British army's control of India. Parts of the building have since been converted into offices, but it's still well worth a visit to see one of the places Gandhi developed and later practiced his oratory skills.
When Gandhi returned to England for the final time, it was as a representative of Indian Congress in 1931. Muriel Lester invited him to stay in her settlement for pacifists and those stricken by poverty known as Kingsley Hall, which still stands today and is home to the UK Gandhi foundation, who run tours of the building every day. If you go to the top floor you can even see the room Gandhi stayed in, which is made to look exactly the same as it did when he stayed there.
Even though Gandhi was perfectly happy staying in Kingsley Hall, his friends decided he should be staying somewhere closer to the conferences he was attending and so rented him a house at 88 Knightsbridge. Here he lived with his son Devadas as well as some of his secretaries. This is another part of Gandhi's past that was destroyed in WW2, but you can still see the site where the house used to be.