Remembering Mahatma Gandhi: the first statue of an Indian unveiled in Parliament Square

This post was originally published on The Conversation by Dr Maya Parmar, Postdoctoral Research Associate in English at The Open University, and Dr Florian Stadtler, Lecturer in Global Literature at the University of Exeter. Stadtler has received funding from the AHRC for the research behind this article.MAHATMA GANDHI : SALT LAWS 1930

Gandhi in 1930. PA/PA Archive.

A new monument of political activist and leader of the Indian independence movement Mahatma Gandhi has been unveiled in London’s Parliament Square. Gandhi’s statue will join that of his famous adversary in the independence campaign, Winston Churchill, as well as others, among them Nelson Mandela and Abraham Lincoln. He is the only person never to have been in public office to be honoured with a statue in the square, and the first Indian.

The memorial’s inauguration coincides with a season of commemorations that mark the 100th anniversary of Gandhi’s return to India from South Africa to begin the struggle for self-rule. Yet the statue in London is also testament to Gandhi’s profound relationship with Britain: of both the considerable influence and impact Gandhi had in Britain itself, but also the influence Britain had on Gandhi.

Shaping Gandhi

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi first arrived in Britain at the age of 19 on September 29 1888 to study law. He initially found lodgings in West Kensington. His ambition then was to transform himself into an English gentleman – and pictures from the time show him in contemporary Victorian court dress.

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Mahatma Gandhi and friend in South Africa, 1908. PA Photos/PA Archive

He trained as a lawyer at London’s Inner Temple. While in London, Gandhi discovered the Vegetarian Society, a lively London-based reformist movement that originated in the late 19th century. This shaped his own views on vegetarianism and formed part of his political awakening. Non-violence and vegetarianism soon became aligned in Gandhi’s thinking on politics and ethics.

His involvement in the society provided Gandhi with access to some of the notable thinkers of the time. While in London, Gandhi attended meetings of the London Indian Society as well as other organisations that campaigned for greater self-rule. He also got involved with the Theosophical Society.

Gandhi’s three years in London profoundly shaped him and his thinking. After he was called to the Bar in 1891, he returned to India, before moving to South Africa.

The home front

In 1906 Gandhi returned to the UK, travelling to London to campaign for the rights of the Indian community in South Africa as the spokesman for Natal and Transvaal. He again represented the cause in London in 1909.

In August 1914, a longer four-month stay coincided with the outbreak of World War I. While in the city he reconnected with many activists for Indian self-government, including the poet Sarojini Naidu. Gandhi galvanised the local Indian community to support Britain’s war effort. He was a driving force behind the creation of the Indian Ambulance Volunteer Corps and also contributed to the recruitment of Indian medical staff for the hospitals along Britain’s south coast. These hospitals were set up to care for Indian soldiers wounded on the Western Front.

The British working class

Gandhi visited Britain for the last time in September 1931 to attend the Second Round Table Conference on the future of India. By this point, his reputation as a campaigner had grown exponentially and so his visit elicited much interest in the press.

However, his activism and humility also connected him to the British working classes, as archival footage reveals. Rather than staying with other delegates in central London hotels, Gandhi instead resided in lodgings in the humbler area of Poplar, East London.

During this visit the East End doctor Chuni Lal Katial, who acted as Gandhi’s chaperone, arranged for Gandhi to meet with Charlie Chaplin. Gandhi also visited mill workers in Darwen, Lancashire at the invitation of the mill-owning Davies family.

The intention was to alert Gandhi to the impact the Indian boycott of British goods had in north-west England, and in particular the hardship being suffered by the local textile industry and its workers. Though the circumstances of his visit were potentially contentious, he was accorded a warm reception. Gandhi expressed his sympathies with the workers’ plight, though not necessarily the mill owners’. His prominent visit helped to explain the issues of poverty and oppression India and her people faced. It became clear that unless an agreement for Indian self-government could be reached the campaign for independence would continue.

Gandhi’s influence has left a lasting legacy on non-violent resistance struggles across the world. The new London statue is testament to his work, and the ongoing, manifold connections between India and Britain. More than this though, the unveiling of the first statue of an Indian in Parliament Square is a tribute to the broader and complex underrepresented contributions South Asians have made to Britain across the decades.


 

Sex object, germ killer, battleground – the wonderful history of the beard

This post was originally published on The Conversation by Dr Alun Withey, Associate Research Fellow in History at the University of Exeter. Dr Withey receives funding from the Wellcome Trust.

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There have been many incarnations. Photo by Brock Elbank.

Beard styles often reveal a moment in time. In 2015 the hipster beard is, despite repeated and insistent claims that the trend is over, still popular. This current trend has already outlasted many of its pogonophilic predecessors over the past 20 years or so. But perhaps the fact that an exhibition at Somerset House in London has just opened featuring 80 portraits by Brock Elbank of hirsute men indicates that the hipster beard will soon, finally, be ditched.

Looking back through history, beard styles often follow particular eras. In fact, you can roughly identify a historical period by its facial hair. The Tudors had the “spade” beard, recognisable in many a Holbein portrait.

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A highly virile Hans Holbien sitter.

By the time of the Stuarts, big beards were out, supplanted by the “Van Dyke” moustache and pointy chin beard. Georgian men were clean-shaven, while the Victorians embraced the beard again, the bigger the better. There were variations on styles from goatees to “Dundreary Whiskers” – or “Piccadilly Weepers” – which were huge side-whiskers and a moustache, but without the beard.

All have something to tell us about the story of masculinity. But they also cut across a wide range of other themes in history.

Hirsute health

Beards have always been closely linked to health. The Tudors and Stuarts believed that facial hair was the result of male sexual heat, bubbling away in the “reins” (the area around the lower abdomen). A hirsute man was therefore regarded as highly virile, and wore his beard as a mark of pride. To pull a man’s beard in Tudor England was a huge insult.
By the 19th century, doctors encouraged men to grow beards to act as a filter against germs. A big beard was believed to stop harmful substances from getting into the mouth and throat, and attacking the teeth. This relationship between hair and health still exists today (although perhaps in an inverted form). Shaving is part of daily routines, which are part of health and, especially, hygiene.

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In high health. Photo by Brock Elbank.

The ability to grow a beard has also been viewed as an index of health. A report into the working environment of employees in a 19th century Derbyshire mill noted that the poor working conditions meant that many men were left with scanty facial hair. Across time, thin or scraggly beards (or worse still the inability to grow one at all) have been seen as a symptom of bodily weakness.

But by the end of the 1800s, some also began to see beards as germ magnets, which trapped bacteria in an unhygienic nest all around the mouth and nose. This is perhaps one time period where you could feel quite good about not being able to sport facial hair.

A close shave

Technology is another factor. Today, we live in a world where men’s personal grooming is commonplace. It’s easy to see the metrosexual man as a modern phenomenon. But, in fact, the Georgians got there first.

It was 18th century razor makers who first began to target men who shaved themselves, rather than visit a barber. In the 1780s, Georgian perfumers marketed all manner of new products for men, from lavender and rose aftershaves, to pastes and lotions to soothe smarting skin.

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Moustache trainer? Photo by Brock Elbank.

The invention of the true safety razor in the 19th century, followed later by electric and disposable models, certainly made shaving easier and more efficient. But it’s not actually clear though whether the availability of new technology was that big an incentive to shave. The penchant for beards was at its height around 1850.

To help men unable to grow their own beard, various sorts of false beards, moustaches and products have been patented to help them. In 1865 one Henry Rushton patented “a certain kind of goat’s hair” for the manufacture of false whiskers and moustaches.

Other products were inspired by the problems sometimes associated with beards. Victorian patents included moustache “trainers” to grow them to a desired shape, and “protectors” to stop errant whiskers from dipping into the soup.

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Victorians would have admired this example. Photo by Brock Elbank.

The mark of a man?

Facial hair has particularly been an issue when masculinity was also a concern. In the 1750s, Georgian man was a more elegant and refined creature than his stubbly predecessors, his face smooth and clean-shaven.

At a time of fears about “effeminacy” and especially the effects of Frenchified fashions upon British men, to wield a razor indicated control and self-mastery, despite the fact that the shaved face was actually more feminine in appearance. Shaving also opened up the face, in turn symbolising a mind that was open to new ideas. Here, the lack of facial hair was the ideal.

A century later there was another change – literally a volte-face. Victorian men viewed their beards as the God-given signs of man’s authority over nature, and indeed over women. They were, as John Arbuthnot put it, “an ornament by providence”. Only men, they supposed, had evolved to grow a beard, and this mighty edifice simply reinforced the fact that men were superior.

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Tennyson sporting his God-given superiority.

The mark of a man?

Facial hair has particularly been an issue when masculinity was also a concern. In the 1750s, Georgian man was a more elegant and refined creature than his stubbly predecessors, his face smooth and clean-shaven.

At a time of fears about “effeminacy” and especially the effects of Frenchified fashions upon British men, to wield a razor indicated control and self-mastery, despite the fact that the shaved face was actually more feminine in appearance. Shaving also opened up the face, in turn symbolising a mind that was open to new ideas. Here, the lack of facial hair was the ideal.

A century later there was another change – literally a volte-face. Victorian men viewed their beards as the God-given signs of man’s authority over nature, and indeed over women. They were, as John Arbuthnot put it, “an ornament by providence”. Only men, they supposed, had evolved to grow a beard, and this mighty edifice simply reinforced the fact that men were superior.

Beard at Somerset House is open until March 29.


Dr Alun Withey, Associate Research Fellow at the University of Exeter. If you would like to learn more about his research, please visit his profile page, or follow his account on Twitter.

For more information about the Beard Exhibition, please visit the Somerset House website.

 

 

Frank Barlow’s The Feudal Kingdom of England: 60 years in print

Written by University of Exeter alumnus David Bates (BA History 1966; PhD 1970)

2015 marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of The Feudal Kingdom of England, Exeter Historian Frank Barlow’s influential account of the Anglo-Norman world, a text which has been instrumental in the study of the subject ever since. Frank Barlow (1911-2009) is among the most distinguished of the academics who have worked for the University of Exeter and its previous incarnation, the University College of the South West of England. The recipient of many honours, his recent inclusion in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography elevates him to the status of being one of the men and women identified as having made an outstanding contribution to British national life over the last two millennia.

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Professor Frank Barlow at his desk. Photograph courtesy of Marjorie Bowen and Bob Higham.

First appointed at Exeter as Lecturer in History in 1946, while holding the rank of Major after war service, he became Professor of History and Head of the Department of History in 1953, holding both positions until his retirement in 1976. For those who studied History at Exeter in those days, the predominant memory will probably be of Frank striding into the Queen’s Building Lecture Theatre to lecture to the Medieval British History class, often held at 9 o’clock on a Tuesday morning. A tall man, he would arrive in the Lecture Theatre standing bolt upright, exuding seriousness of purpose, and always wearing a gown. Spell-bindingly brilliant and on those Tuesdays a magnificent antidote to residual sleepiness, the lectures would be laced with anecdotes that illuminated the distant past through the use of modern analogies and jokes at the expensive of the academic stars of his day. Each one of these would be accompanied by an infectious high-pitched laugh.

Probably less apparent to those who studied History as undergraduates was that Frank was an extremely productive and highly original historian. That his text-book, The Feudal Kingdom of England, first published in 1955, is still in print may well constitute some kind of record. Its incisiveness and its clear exposition of complex themes have inspired many towards the study of the Middle Ages. His three biographies of Edward the Confessor (1970), William Rufus (1983), and Archbishop Thomas Becket (1986), also all still in print, have dominated interpretation of their subjects ever since. There is surely a remarkable irony in the fact that Frank was writing royal biographies during the supposedly revolutionary 1960s and 1970s. A first impression might be that this was old-fashioned, but in fact he was doing it in a way that now seems very modern and far ahead of its time. His capacity to explore personality and contextualise a life places his books in the forefront of the genre. Also a magnificent editor of difficult Latin texts, he continued to publish outstandingly important work into his nineties. He was a dedicated servant of the University of Exeter, serving as Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Public Orator. He also continued to be active nationally as a Fellow of the British Academy and regionally in the Devonshire Association in his nineties. The continued and present high standing nationally and internationally of Exeter’s History Department owes a huge amount to his skilful use of the opportunities for expansion presented by the post-Robbins expansion of universities in the 1960s and early 1970s.

The recent deposit of Frank Barlow’s papers in the University Archives makes accessible to the wider world not only the record of the career of an outstanding scholar and academic, but also a remarkable witness to the life of the University during a very important period.


Those who wish to know more about Frank Barlow should consult, David Bates, ‘Frank Barlow (1911-2009)’, Proceedings of the British Academy, 172 (2011), 3-24.