More 3,200 Baha’is met in London for the Regional Conference taking place between 3–4 January 2009
|National Assembly||United Kingdom|
|Number of Bahá'ís|
|-||Outside source||29,415 |
|-||Local Bahá'í||George Townshend
|-||Local Assembly||London, 1922|
|How to contact:|
|-||nsa [at] bahai.org.uk|
|-||Address||27 Rutland Gate, London SW7 1PD|
The Bahá’í Faith in the United Kingdom started with the earliest mentions of the predecessor of the Bahá’í Faith, the Báb, in British newspapers. Some of the first British people who became members of the Bahá’í Faith include George Townshend and John Esslemont. Through the 1930s, the number of Bahá’í in the United Kingdom grew, leading to a pioneer movement beginning after the Second World War with sixty percent of the British Bahá’í community eventually relocating. Currently there are about 5000 Bahá’ís in the UK.
Before there were any Bahá’ís in the United Kingdom, the first newspaper reference to the religious movement begun by the Báb occurred in The Times on 1 November 1845, only a little over a year after the Báb first stated his mission. There was then a British mission in Tehran, Persia and it reported on the events regarding Babism during that period. Furthermore Bahá’u’lláh himself wrote a tablet to Queen Victoria commenting favourably on the British parliamentary system and commended the Queen for the fact that her government had ended slavery in the British Empire. She, in response to the tablet, is reported to have said, though the original record is lost, that "If this is of God, it will endure; if not, it can do no harm." In addition to newspaper coverage and official communications, in April 1890, Edward G. Browne of Cambridge University was granted four interviews with Bahá’u’lláh and left the only detailed description by a Westerner.
The first person in England to become a Bahá’í was Mrs. Mary Thornburgh-Cropper (d. 1938) who lived in London; she was an American by birth. She became a Bahá’í in 1898 and this year is therefore regarded as the founding of the British Bahá’í community. The second person to become a Bahá’í, and the first native person in the country to do so, was Miss Ethel Rosenberg (d.1930), who became a Bahá’í in 1899. Dr. Frederick D'Evelyn was an Irishman who moved to the United States and became a Bahá’í in 1901 and who served on the forerunner to the United States Bahá’í National Spiritual Assembly. The next and more distinguished Bahá’í of the British Isles is Lady Blomfield of Ireland, the first Bahá’í of Ireland in the British Isles and second wife to architect Sir Arthur Blomfield. Lady Blomfield was a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the British Isles for 8 years, an accomplished author and humanitarian who assisted in founding the Save the Children Fund and Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child and its adoption by the League of Nations; she joined the Bahá’í Faith in 1907.
In 1955 Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith, posthumously described three individuals of the British community as the "three luminaries of the Irish, English and Scottish Bahá’í communities".
- Thomas Breakwell was well born in Woking, England and heard of the Baha'i Faith at the age of 29 while in Paris in the summer of 1901 while on one of his regular vacations from the United States where he was working. After a pilgrimage to ‘Akká, he remained in Paris at the request of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá quitting his job in the cotton mills of the American south out of a sense of sin where child labour was still the norm. Breakwell died in 1902 of tuberculosis. Heartbroken at his passing ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote a moving and inspiring tablet.
- John Esslemont was from Scotland and he was the author of the well-known introductory book on the Bahá’í Faith, Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, which was originally published in 1923 and has been translated into numerous languages and remains a key introduction to the Bahá’í religion. He was named posthumously by Shoghi Effendi as the first of the Hand of the Cause he appointed, and as one of the Disciples of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. He was also an accomplished medical doctor and linguist becoming proficient in western and eastern languages.
- George Townshend was born in Ireland, and began his advocacy of the Bahá’í religion around 1920 though an Anglican Church clergyman. Ultimately he tendered a very public renouncement of his orders to the Anglican Church in his 70th year in 1947 during a period of massive expansion of the Bahá’ís across the British Commonwealth and later he became a Hand of the Cause. He was the author of numerous works like Christ and Bahá’u’lláh.
Pre First World War
Other mentions of the Bahá’í Faith included the Archdeacon Wilberforce mentioning the religion in a sermon at the Church of St. John in Westminster in March 1911. Due to this mention, great interest was generated and a Bahá’í reading room was opened.
Then in 1908, the Young Turks revolution freed all political prisoners in the Ottoman Empire, and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, then head of the Bahá’í Faith, was freed from imprisonment. With the freedom to leave the country, in 1910 he embarked on a three year journey to Egypt, Europe, and North America, spreading the Bahá’í message. During his travels, he visited England in the autumn of 1911. On September 10th he made his first public appearance before an audience at the City Temple, London, with the English translation spoken by Wellesley Tudor Pole. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá returned to the British Isles, visiting Bahá’ís in Liverpool, London, Edinburgh, Oxford, and Bristol in 1912-13.
In 1914, the Bahá’ís present in England had organised themselves into a Committee though it lapsed after February 1916. Also the co-editor of the Encyclopaedia Biblica, Thomas Kelly Cheyne became a member of the religion by 1914, though he was to pass away the next year.
Post First World War
Following the events of the First World War and the knighting of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá by the British Mandate of Palestine for his humanitarian efforts during the war, the administration for the United Kingdom started to form. In 1921, while Tudor Pole was Secretary of the Local Spiritual Assembly in London, the telegram announcing the passing of `Abdu'l-Bahá by his sister, Bahíyyih Khánum, arrived at Tudor Pole's home in London and it was there read by Shoghi Effendi. A Bahá’í Spiritual Assembly for England (also called All-England Bahá’í Council) was set up in May 1922 and held its first meeting in London on 17 June 1922 with the first Local Spiritual Assemblies being formed in London, Manchester and Bournemouth. On 13 October 1923, in London, the National Spiritual Assembly of England came into being; In 1930 this became the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the British Isles. Hasan Balyuzi came to England in 1932 and was immediately elected the National Assembly and was annually re-elected until 1960, as well as named a Hand of the Cause in 1957. Local Assemblies were founded in Bradford and Torquay in 1939.
A Bahá’í Spiritual Assembly for England (also called All-England Bahá’í Council) was set up in May 1922 and held its first meeting in London on 17 June 1922 with the first Local Spiritual Assemblies being formed in London, Manchester and Bournemouth. On 13 October 1923, in London, the National Spiritual Assembly of England came into being; In 1930 this became the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the British Isles. Hasan Balyuzi came to England in 1932 and was immediately elected the National Assembly and was annually re-elected until 1960, as well as named a Hand of the Cause in 1957. Local Assemblies were founded in Bradford and Torquay in 1939.
During this time notable Britons who became Bahá’ís include Richard St. Barbe Baker, forester, environmental activist, and author became a Bahá’í around 1924. Mark Tobey, an American artist, who stayed in Britain from 1930-38, held Bahá’í study classes in Dartington Hall in Devon, and lectures in Torquay. As a result of this activity two famous artists became Bahá’ís: Bernard Leach, the world famous potter, in about 1940, and Reginald Turvey, a prominent South African painter in 1936. Also in the 1930's a whole host of activities began - a Bahá’í theatre group was formed in London, the Bahá’í Journal was instituted, Bahá’í summer schools began, and the tradition of a winter Bahá’í conference was established. Local Spiritual Assemblies were then formed in Bradford and Torquay in 1939 while the National Assembly achieved legal standing with its incorporation. John Ferraby became a Bahá’í in 1941 and was named as a Hand of the Cause - the 4th of the nations' history - in 1957. Furthermore British Bahá’í families moving to Australia helped found the Bahá’í Faith in Australia during the 1920's.
Post Second World War
In 1946, a great pioneer movement began with sixty percent of the British Bahá’í community eventually relocating. Internationally this effort would take the Bahá’í Faith to Scotland, Wales, and Ireland and raising the numbers of Local Assemblies in the British Isles from five to twenty-four, the four being in the large cities of Edinburgh, Belfast, Dublin, and Cardiff. In 1950-1 the Baha'is of the British Isles pioneered to Tanganyika, Uganda, Kenya and in 1953 the comparatively nearby islands of the Channel, Orkney, Shetland, and Western islands were reached.
Resting place of Shoghi Effendi
On 4 November 1957, Shoghi Effendi, Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith, died in London and thus the city has become a centre to which Bahá’ís from all over the world come. His mortal remains lie in the New Southgate Cemetery in London. Directions to his resting place are posted online.
First Bahá’í World Congress
In 1963, the number of Bahá’í Local Spiritual Assemblies in the United Kingdom was 50, and the British community hosted the first World Congress held in Royal Albert Hall and chaired by Enoch Olinga where approximately 6,000 Bahá’ís from around the world gathered. It was called to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the Declaration of Bahá’u’lláh, and announce and present the election of the first members of the Universal House of Justice with the participation of over 50 National Spiritual Assemblies' members.
Period to the second Bahá’í World Congress
The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the British Isles was registered as a charity in 1967 and in 1972 the single National Spiritual Assembly was reformed into two - one of the United Kingdom, and one of the Republic of Ireland established that year. In 1973 there were 102 Local Spiritual Assemblies in the United Kingdom. In 1978 the marriage ceremony was recognised in Scotland and in 1978 the Holy Days were recognised by local education authorities throughout the United Kingdom. It is estimated that between 1951 and 1993, Bahá’ís from the United Kingdom settled in 138 countries. It is probable that only the Bahá’í communities of Iran and United States have sent out more pioneers than the United Kingdom, and they have much larger Bahá’í communities. There are about 5000 Bahá’ís of the UK.
Currently there are over 5,000 Bahá’ís in the United Kingdom. Recently, British Bahá’ís have been involved in Agenda 21 activities in the UK, and have established an Institute for Social Cohesion as an agency of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United Kingdom responding to the challenges of the large diversity of the citizens in the vicinity of Hackney Central, and Britain in general including six Parliamentary seminars and two major conferences from 2001 to 2004.
Greater Manchester became the first cluster in the United Kingdom to institute an Intensive Programme of Growth, followed soon afterwards by Greater London. By 2014, around 30 of the clusters in the U.K. had some form of Programme of Growth. In England, the clusters still to reach that position were in the south-west (Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Hampshire); in East Anglia (Norfolk, Suffolk, Lincolnshire) and the far north-west (Cumbria). In Scotland, many of the more rural parts of the country had clusters still to organise, and the same situation was reflected in both Wales and Northern Ireland. In addition, the territories of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are clusters with very tiny Bahá’í populations.
National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United Kingdom
Registered Office: 27 Rutland Gate, London SW7 1PD
Email: nsa [at] bahai.org.uk
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