On 28 April 1931 a mass meeting was held in Blackburn to voice concerns about the state of the Lancashire cotton industry, in the light of the Indian National Congress Party's boycott of British goods - particularly textiles.
This boycott had begun because mass-produced textiles, particularly from East Lancashire, had destroyed the Indian handloom industry. Gandhi encouraged Indians to use home-woven cloth, and from the 1920s onwards the spinning wheel and handloom were seen as symbols of freedom.
‘The most important thing', stated a participant at the Blackburn meeting, ‘is that the Government should use every endeavour without delay to restore in India normal conditions of trading'.
Five months later, Gandhi came to London for a conference on India's future, and was invited to travel to Darwen to see for himself the hardship being suffered by the local textile industry. He arrived on the evening of Friday 25 September, and ‘was out of bed by half past six the following morning and meeting groups of unemployed cotton workers as soon as he had had his breakfast' according to the Cottontown Web site. Given how high feelings had been running, and how big the crowds were which he addressed, there could have been trouble. However Gandhi, www.cottontown.org says, in talking of the plight of Indian cotton workers ‘was received with sympathy and affection by the Lancashire cotton workers, even though they were the ones hit hardest by the boycott'.
On Sunday 27 September, before he returned to London, journalists were summoned to hear Gandhi state that the boycott would stay unless there was progress towards independence for India. By the time independence was eventually won, of course, Lancashire's cotton industry was in terminal decline.
This display is dedicated to the memory of stalwart WCML volunteer Cliff Stockton, who died unexpectedly on 20 September 2011. His rich knowledge of local history was shown by the fact that he was keen to point out that Gandhi had also visited Greenthorne in Bolton as part of his Lancashire visit.
Click here for more about India in the library collection
Resources about Gandhi in the library collection
Mahatma Gandhi, An autobiography: the story of my experiments with truth (1949) - Shelfmark: P01
William L Shirer, Gandhi: a memoir (1981) - Shelfmark: P06
Louis Fischer, The life of Mahatma Gandhi (1982) - Shelfmark: I24
Krishna Kripalani, Gandhi: a life (1968) - Shelfmark: H31
L Fischer (ed.), The essential Gandhi - his life, work and ideas: an anthology (1962) - Shelfmark: J41
Interview with WR (Bob) Hill (TAPE/049) in which he recall meeting Gandhi in Darwen