Muriel Lester had met Mahatma Gandhi many times in her role as Travelling Secretary of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation.
In September 1931, Gandhi attended the (Second) Round Table Conference in London as the representative of the Indian National Congress Party, whose sole aim was Indian independence. The British government laid on a suite of rooms at the Hilton Hotel and a fleet of Rolls Royces for Gandhi’s entourage, but Gandhi rejected these arrangements saying that he would rather stay with his friend Muriel Lester at Kingsley Hall in Bow.
He was accommodated in a ‘cell’ on the roof and was able to live in the same simple style in which he lived in India. Kingsley Hall, Bow became the centre of world attention during his three months’ stay and many famous people came to see him, but he was more interested in meeting and getting to know the East Londoners.
Whilst he was staying at Bow he was accompanied by children on his early morning walks. One such child was Bill Saville a lifelong member of Kingsley Hall at Bow and then Dagenham.
He wrote an essay about meeting Gandhi (age 11). This was syndicated in newspapers across India.
Gandhi visited Bill’s home in Eagling Road whilst his mother was ironing. To hear his sister’s account click here. Muriel Lester recorded the incident in her book “It Occurred to Me”
Muriel Lester took Gandhi out to visit Kingsley Hall, Dagenham on numerous occasions – the first of which was particularly memorable! Many local dignitaries, the local Mayors and M.P.s turned out to welcome him. Gandhi, wearing his familiar loin cloth, arrived in Muriel’s Austin A7 .
He was shown into the Old Hall where he sat cross-legged on the floor to listen to the many speeches of welcome that greeted him. When it was his turn to respond, he motioned for a pencil and piece of paper on which he wrote, “Thank you very much; Monday is my day of silence upon which I never speak”! Muriel explained that Gandhi’s weekly day of silence enabled him to listen better, think better and pray better. She added, “You need not be shy of talking to him, however” and that he liked little children very much. Kingsley Hall, Dagenham children christened the Mahatma “Uncle Gandhi” and “The Dumb Man”!