Gandhi Chaplin Memorial Garden opened in Canning Town
12:00 21 May 2015
In 1931, two of the world’s most celebrated and influential men met in a house in Canning Town.
Despite coming from completely different worlds, Mahatma Gandhi and Charlie Chaplin were brought together by a shared understanding of the struggles of the poor and the working classes.
Now the historic meeting has been marked with a specially created garden near to the site where it took place, a since demolished house in Beckton Road that belonged to a friend of Gandhi.
The Gandhi Chaplin Memorial Garden is the culmination of a community project on a disused piece of land between Chandler Avenue and Hayday Road.
There to witness its opening on Wednesday, May 20, was Oona Chaplin, granddaughter of the famous film-maker and a well-known actress in her own right, having starred in popular shows such as Game of Thrones and The Hour, as well as a number of films.
She said she was “really proud” to see the garden take shape.
“I love the fact that it’s right next to a highway, just reminding people in their cars that actually there is peace to be found,” she told the Recorder.
“It’s beautiful, I love the fact that there’s such a close connection with kids and with nature.”
The actress explained that the meeting was always in the back of her mind growing up.
“There’s two meetings that I’ve always wondered about, one of them is the meeting with Gandhi and the other is a meeting with Einstein,” she said.
“The three most admirable men, in my opinion, and if only one day they had got in a room together. I wonder if they talked about the weather first, complimented each other’s amazing outfits and then got on to talking about how to save the human crisis.”
Gandhi was in Britain to attend a conference on Indian independence while Chaplin was promoting his latest film, but the meeting very nearly didn’t happen at all according to Gandhi Foundation outreach worker William Rhind.
“Gandhi got a message from Charlie Chaplin saying he wanted to meet and he said, ‘who’s this?’,” he explained. “So someone on his team explained ‘he’s an actor, you don’t want to see him, he’s just a clown’.
“Then the person who was hosting him at Kingsley Hall in Bromley-by-Bow walked past and said ‘oh, but you’ve got to see Charlie Chaplin, Mr Gandhi. He’s the most famous person in the world, except for you, of course’.”
Pupils from Rokeby School, Ravenscroft Primary School and Kier Hardie Primary School, as well as Edith Kerrison Nursery School, donned bowler hats to mark the occasion and helped bury a time capsule.
Opening the garden, which was created in partnership with Groundwork London, the Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales, said: “The story of Gandhi and Chaplin meeting is an extraordinary and inspirational one.
“However, it is typical of life in Newham where people from all different backgrounds come together. The aim of this garden is to provide residents with the opportunity to meet, share ideas, build friendships as well as inspire and influence the world.”