United Kingdom Pop. 57,090,000; area 242,496 sq.km. (93,629 sq.mi.).
Comprised of Great Britain (England, Scotland, and Wales) and Northern
Ireland. The capital is London. As well as Anglo-Saxons, Celts, Lowland
Scots, Norse, and Normans, there are sizeable minorities of Asian, Caribbean,
and Chinese origin. The official language is English, although Gaelic and
Welsh are also spoken. The Anglican Church is the established church in
England. The Presbyterian Church is the established church in Scotland.
Settlers from Scotland took that branch of Christianity to the north of
Ireland, but there remains in Northern Ireland a strong Roman Catholic
minority as well as other Nonconformist adherents and some Church of Ireland.
Wales is predominantly Nonconformist.
1. Early Bahá'í History
2. Bahá'í history, 1921-1953
3. Institutional development
4. Official Recognition
5. Distinctive contributions
9. Northern Ireland
10. Growth of the Bahá'í community
There have been links with these islands from the earliest years of the Bahá'í Faith. The first account of the new religion to be published appeared in the Times of London on 1 November 1845. In July 1848 the Irish physician, Dr. Cormick, attended the Báb in Tabríz. Bahá'u'lláh commented favorably on the British parliamentary system and commended Queen Victoria for the fact that her government had ended slavery. In April 1890 E.G. Browne (q.v.) of Cambridge University stayed five days as a guest at Bahjí (q.v.) and was granted four interviews with Bahá'u'lláh.
`Abdu'l-Bahá visited Britain twice, in 1911 and in 1912-13 and was knighted by the British government in 1920. Shoghi Effendi was in England attending Balliol College at Oxford when he became the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith, upon the passing of `Abdu'l-Bahá in 1921. On 4 November 1957 Shoghi Effendi died in London; his mortal remains lie in the New Southgate Cemetery in London.
1. Early Bahá'í History
Thomas Breakwell (q.v.) is credited by Shoghi Effendi as being the first English Bahá'í. He heard of the Bahá'í Faith in Paris in the summer of 1901 from May Ellis Bolles (later Maxwell, q.v.) while on a vacation from the United States where he was working. After a pilgrimage to Akka, he remained in Paris, where he died in 1902 of tuberculosis.
The first person in England to become a Bahá'í, in 1898, was American by birth--Mrs. Mary Thornburgh-Cropper (q.v.), who lived in London. She had gone to visit `Abdu'l-Bahá in Akka in December 1898, with Phoebe Hearst (q.v.). The second and third Bahá'ís in England were Miss Ethel Rosenberg (q.v.), who became a Bahá'í in about 1899, and Mary Emily Scaramucci (d. 1939). Miss Rosenberg learned Persian and became a leading member of the British Bahá'í community for many years.
Even before Thomas Breakwell, however, an Englishwoman resident in the United States of America, Miss Marion Miller (b. c. 1860), had become a Bahá'í in Chicago in 1984. She was probably the second person to become a Bahá'í in the West (Stockman 33-36). She married Kheiralla (q.v.) in 1895, and the two of them visited England and France for their honeymoon. In England, they taught the Bahá'í Faith to Marion's aunt, Miss Marion (or Marianne) Brown of Bushey in Hertfordshire, who became a Bahá'í in either 1896 or 1897. Marion Miller divorced Kheiralla after their trip to Akka in 1898. Later, she dissociated herself from the Bahá'í Faith (Stockman 155, 177). Nothing more is known of Miss Marion Brown. It is probably because neither of these two remained confirmed Bahá'ís that Thomas Breakwell is regarded as the first British Bahá'í and Mary Thornburgh-Cropper as the first Bahá'í resident in Britain.
In 1907 Lady Blomfield (q.v.) and her daughters Mary Basil-Hall (d. 1950) and Ellinor joined the Bahá'í Faith, and a little group was thus formed in the London area. Other members of this group were Arthur Cuthbert, who became general secretary of a Bahá'í Committee that was formed in London in about 1914; Eric Hammond, who published The Splendour of God (Wisdom of the East series, London: John Murray, 1909); and Florence ("Mother") George (1859-1950, BW 12:697-8), who started childrens' classes for some ten children, one of whom, Rose Jones, later became the first Bahá'í in Wales.
The first Bahá'í in Lancashire was Miss Sarah Ann Ridgeway (d. 1913), a silk-weaver from Pendleton. She had lived in Wilmington, Delaware, and become a Bahá'í in Baltimore in the United States in 1898 (hence she also became a Bahá'í before Thomas Breakwell). In 1906, living in England again, she was in touch with the Bahá'ís in London. At the end of 1910, Mr. Edward T. Hall became a Bahá'í in Salford near Manchester, in Lancashire. Under the combined efforts of Mr. Hall, his wife Rebecca, her brother and sister-in-law Mr. John C. and Hester Ann Craven, and Sarah Ridgeway, the Bahá'í Faith developed in the Manchester area. Two Iranian Bahá'ís of Jewish background, Albert and Jeff Joseph, joined this group. In 1920 the Manchester group began to hold weekly meetings.
1911 was a important year for the British Bahá'í community. In March Archdeacon Wilberforce mentioned the Bahá'í Faith in a sermon at the Church of St. John in Westminster. Great interest was generated and a Bahá'í Reading Room was opened. Later that year, in July, `Abdu'l-Bahá sent a message to the first Universal Races Congress which was held at London University. `Abdu'l-Bahá himself was in England from 3 September to 3 October. On 10 September he made his first public appearance before an audience at the City Temple, London. Between 13 December 1912 and 21 January 1913, `Abdu'l-Bahá returned to the British Isles, visiting Liverpool, London, Edinburgh, Oxford, and Bristol. His visit produced unprecedented publicity for the Bahá'í Faith and resulted in a number of important persons becoming friends and supporters of the Faith. The British government conferred a knighthood upon `Abdu'l-Bahá in 1920.
There were the beginnings of a new Bahá'í community in St. Ives, Cornwall, when Daniel Jenkyn became an enthusiastic convert in 1911 or 1912. He gathered a small group around him. In 1913 Jenkyn made the first international teaching trip from these islands when he visited the Netherlands. This promising start faded away, however, with Jenkyn's early death on 31 December 1914 (SoW 5:293-5).
A similar but more enduring development occurred in Bournemeouth where
Dr. John E. Esslemont (q.v.), who was the medical superintendent of a tuberculosis
clinic, became a Bahá'í in early 1915. With assistance from
Florence George of London, a small Bahá'í group was formed
in the Bournemouth area from among the friends, colleagues, and former
patients of Dr. Esslemont. Among these was Sister Grace Challis who was
later a member of the British National Spiritual Assembly. When he died
in 1925, Esslemont became the first person from the West to be designated
a Hand of the Cause (q.v.). Shoghi Effendi also named him, along with Breakwell
and George Townshend (q.v.), as "three luminaries shedding brilliant lustre
annals Irish, English, Scottish Bahá'í communities" (UD 377).
2. Bahá'í history, 1921-1953
After the death of `Abdu'l-Bahá in 1921, the Bahá'í Faith suffered a decline in activities and numbers in the United Kingdom until the mid-1930s. A revival in the community appears to date from an influx of young Bahá'ís, including Hasan Balyuzi (q.v.) who came to England in 1933; Dorothy Cansdale (later Mrs. Dorothy Ferraby) who became a Bahá'í in 1934; and David Hofman, who became a Bahá'í in Montreal in 1933 and returned to his native England in 1936. These three were elected to the National Spiritual Assembly (see 3 below) and together with John Ferraby (q.v.), who became a Bahá'í in 1941, were to form the core of the Bahá'í community's national administration for the next two decades. It was during the 1930s that a Bahá'í theater group was formed in London, the Bahá'í Journal instituted (in 1936), Bahá'í summer schools began (from 1936), the British tradition of a winter Bahá'í teaching conference established (from December 1937), the Bahá'í Publishing Trust formed (in 1937), and the National Spiritual Assembly achieved legal incorporation (in 1939).
The first Bahá'í in Yorkshire was probably Eliza P. Kenworthy of York, who had met `Abdu'l-Bahá in Paris in 1911. The earliest Bahá'í meetings were held in the home of a theosophist, Mrs. Mabel Wilkinson, in Bradford from 1927 onwards. In 1929, Alfred Sugar of Manchester began to visit Bradford regularly and began to teach the Bahá'í Faith to two of his business acquaintances who were members of the Swedenborgian movement: Miss Marion Burgess (later Mrs. Arthur Norton), who became a Bahá'í in 1931; and Mr. Arthur Norton, who became a Bahá'í subsequently, thus forming the nucleus of a Bahá'í community. A Local Spiritual Assembly was formed in 1939.
Mark Tobey (q.v.), an American artist, during his stay in Britain, 1930-38, began to hold Bahá'í study classes in Dartington Hall, a school in Devon, and lectures in Torquay (BW 17:401-404). As a result of this activity two famous artists became Bahá'ís: Bernard Leach (q.v.), the world famous potter, in about 1940, and Reginald Turvey, the "spiritual father of South Africa" in 1936 (BW 14:385-68). Mrs. Violet McKinley and her son, Hugh, moved to Ashburton in Devon in 1935. Mrs. Lilian Stevens and Mrs. Constance Langdon-Davies joined the Faith in 1937 and the Local Spiritual Assembly of Torquay was formed in 1939.
In 1944 the British Bahá'í community embarked on an ambitious Six Year Plan (1944-50), aiming to increase the number of local spiritual assemblies in the British Isles by nineteen. During the first years of the Plan, wartime conditions curtailed activities, but in 1945, the first three pioneers (q.v.) arose: Miss Jessica Young went for a short time to Bristol, Miss Ursula Newman (later Mrs. Mehdi Samandari) went to St. Ives, and Mrs. Kathleen Brown (1890-1977, later Lady Hornell) moved to Nottingham for five years (BW 17:443-44).
In 1946 the great pioneer movement began, which would take the Bahá'í Faith to Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. By the end of the Plan, sixty percent of the British Bahá'í community had pioneered, a proportion unparalleled in the history of the Bahá'í Faith this century. The arrival in Britain of Marion Holley, who had come to England to marry David Hofman, and who had had invaluable experience in America as a member of the National Teaching Committee during their first Seven Year Plan, gave impetus to the activities, as did the travel teaching of Philip Hainsworth, Richard Backwell, Isobel and Hasan Sabri, and, in the last few weeks of the Plan, John Robarts from Canada (q.v.). The resignation of George Townshend (q.v.) from the ministry of the Church of Ireland to become a Bahá'í and the resulting publicity campaign occurred in 1947. The goals of the Plan were attained. Shoghi Effendi commended the British Bahá'í community highly in a telegram: "Heart flooded joy striking evidence bountiful grace Bahá'u'lláh enabling valorous dearly loved Bahá'í community British Isles triumphantly conclude first historic plan half century British Bahá'í history. Herald [the Báb], Author [Bahá'u'lláh], Centre Covenant [`Abdu'l-Bahá], Concourse on High acclaim superb collective acheivement immortalising opening decade second Bahá'í century unprecedented history Faith British Isles, unrivalled annals any Bahá'í community European continent, unparalleled percentage members community responding pioneer call throughout Bahá'í world since termination Apostolic Age Bahá'í Dispensation. Historic pledge British Bahá'í community nobly redeemed. Tribute memory martyr prophet Faith worthily paid. Spiritual potentialities prosecute subsequent stage unfolding mission fully acquired . . ." (UD 245).
Following the successful conclusion of the Six Year Plan, the British Bahá'í community was called upon in 1950 by Shoghi Effendi to spearhead and coordinate five national Bahá'í communities in a Two Year Plan to lay the structure for a Bahá'í administrative order throughout Africa (see "Expansion.7.e.ii"). The Plan was successfully concluded at Ridván 1953, the first plan involving international cooperation in the Bahá'í world and thus laying the groundwork for subsequent international teaching plans.
The first offer to pioneer in Africa came from Mrs. Lizzie Hainsworth,
age 72; however, Mrs. Hainsworth died in Bradford in September 1951 before
she was able to fulfill her goal. Her son Philip pioneered to Uganda in
June 1951. Miss Claire Gung, a German-born Bahá'í who had
converted in Torquay and then pioneered to Northampton and Cardiff, left
in 1950 to pioneer in Africa, first in Tanganyika, then in Kenya, Southern
Rhodesia (thus becoming a Knight of Bahá'u'lláh, q.v.), and
Uganda, where she remained until her death in Kampala in XXXX?. Hasan and
Isobel Sabri left for Tanganyika in July 1951. Ted Cardell left for Kenya
in October 1951, later to become the Knight of Bahá'u'lláh
for South West Africa. The plan also involved translation of Bahá'í
literature into three African laguages, in addition to the three into Philip
Hainsworth had already arranged translations in the period 1946 to 1950.
3. Institutional development
The Bahá'ís present in England had organized themselves into a Committee as early as 1914. Although this Committee lapsed after February 1916, a further national Bahá'í Council was set up on 22 October 1920. 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 ten members elected from among the London Bahá'ís, Dr Esslemont representing Bournemouth, and Mr. Hall representing Manchester. On 13 October 1923, in London, the National Spiritual Assembly of the British Isles came into being; although the first National Spiritual Assembly to be elected under what are now considered to be the standard procedures did not come into being until 1928.
The first local spiritual assemblies in the United Kingdom were elected in 1922, in London, Manchester, and Bournemouth. The next local spiritual assemblies were not elected until 21 April 1939, at Bradford and Torquay. The Six Year Plan raised the number of assemblies from five to twenty-four, four being in the pivotal centers of Edinburgh, Belfast, Dublin, and Cardiff.
Under the definition issued by Shoghi Effendi in 1955 as to what could comprise a local spiritual assembly (i.e. the geographic limits from which the membership could be drawn), fifteen of the twenty-four Bahá'í communities within the United Kingdom dissolved, but by Ridván 1963, fifty local spiritual assemblies had been established, all conforming to the proper areas of jurisdiction.
Between 1964 and 1973 the number of local spiritual assemblies increased from 50 to 102. With the establishment in 1972 of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Republic of Ireland, the National Spiritual Assembly changed its name to that of the United Kingdom. There were 174 local spiritual assemblies by Ridván 1981, and 200 by Ridván 1992.
A new center was opened in London in September 1929 at Walmar House,
Regent Street. The center was then moved to Grosvenor Place, then Lancaster
Gate, then 46 Bloomsbury Street in 1937, and 1 Victoria Street in spring
1944. A National Hazíratu'l-Quds (q.v.) was purchased in 1954 at
27 Rutland Gate in the prestigious district of Knightsbridge, London. Closed
for fifteen months of renovation, it was re-opened and re-dedicated on
14 April 1990. The Bahá'í community has acquired a Temple
site on the banks of the River Thames and in Northern Ireland and endowment
land in Derbyshire. Since then, local Bahá'í Centers have
been purchased in Scotland and the Scottish Islands, Northern Ireland,
Wales, and several in England.
4. Official Recognition
The National Spiritual Assembly of the British Isles attained legal status by its incorporation, in 1939, under the Companies' Act, as an Unlimited Company without Share Capital. Bahá'ís were able to obtain exemption from combative military service during World War II (BW 8:84-85). In the autumn of 1990, the British passport office accepted the signature of the chairman of a Bahá'í local spiritual assembly as a validation of the identity of the applicant on a passport application. Bahá'í marriage is recognized only in Scotland (since 1978), and Bahá'í Holy Days are recognized by local education authorities throughout the United Kingdom.
During the British Empire Exhibition held at Wembley, London, in 1924,
the Bahá'í Faith was represented at the conference on "Living
Religions within the British Empire." At the World Congress of Faiths,
held at University College in London in July 1936, Viscount Samuel (the
British High Commissioner for Palestine) presided over a Bahá'í
session at which Canon Townshend presented a paper on behalf of Shoghi
Effendi. The British Bahá'í are currently represented on
numerous national bodies such as the National Council of Women and the
World Congress of Faiths.
5. Distinctive contributions
As a "mother community," the United Kingdom's overseas work has raised up "daughter" communities in Central and East Africa in 1956; in Guyana in 1970; and in the Republic of Ireland and in Cyprus in 1972. The British National Spiritual Assembly maintains responsibility for Gibraltar, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man.
Many British Bahá'ís have made important contributions to the Bahá'í Faith. Four members of the British Bahá'í community have been named Hands of the Cause (Esslemont, Townshend, Balyuzi, and Ferraby); Clara and Hyde Dunn (q.v.) who opened Australia to the Bahá'í Faith were British-born, as was Honor Kempton (q.v.), the "spiritual mother" of both Alaska and Luxembourg. Numerous other British Bahá'ís were the first to open countries to the Bahá'í Faith in Africa during the Two Year Africa campaign, as Knights of Bahá'u'lláh in the Ten Year Crusade, and even in later years. Pioneers and traveling teachers have gone from the United Kingdom to most parts of the world, especially the countries of the British Commonwealth, for which Shoghi Effendi stated the British community had a special responsibility (UD 384-5). In more recent years, British Bahá'ís and especially the youth have been at the forefront of taking the Bahá'í Faith to eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. It is estimated that between 1951 and 1993, Bahá'ís from the United Kingdom settled in 138 countries. It is probable that only the Iran and United States have sent out more pioneers than the United Kingdom, and they have much larger Bahá'í communities.
Because of the central position of London in the world's communications and media network, the British Bahá'í community has been able to play an important role in alerting world opinion in cases of persecutions of Bahá'ís in other countries: Iran in 1926, 1955, and from 1979 onwards; and Morocco in 1962. Many Iranian Bahá'ís have found refuge in the United Kingdom.
One of the areas in which the British Bahá'í community has taken a leading role in the Bahá'í world is in the area of the publishing of Bahá'í books. Early in 1937 a Bahá'í Publishing Company was set up in the United Kingdom, as an arm of the national spiritual assembly. Starting out in a warehouse in Manchester owned by Albert and Jeff Joseph, with the voluntary services of Mr. Reg Coulson, it became the Bahá'í Publishing Trust in 1939, and has developed into a complex of offices and warehouse in Oakham, Rutland, with its own staff.
From the 1920s and 1930s until the present day, a steady stream of Bahá'í books by such authors as Esslemont, Townshend, and Balyuzi, as well as many books written by Bahá'ís of other countries have been published in this country, either by the Bahá'í Publishing Trust or by independent Bahá'í publishers such as George Ronald (Oxford, established in 1943) and Oneworld Publications (Oxford, established in 1986). There are probably more Bahá'í books published in the United Kingdom than in any other country in the world.
A Bahá'í newsletter was initiated in the United Kingdom
in July 1929. Its name was changed, in September 1936, from The Newsletter
from the Bahá'ís of the British Isles to the Bahá'í
Journal. It is still published under that title. From November 1938
until 1950, a monthly magazine called The New World Order (edited
initially by David Hofman) was published to attract non-Bahá'ís
The off-shore islands of the United Kingdom were opened in 1953 by the
following Knights of Bahá'u'lláh: Channel Islands (Jersey):
Miss Evelyn Baxter (1883-1969, BW 15:456-57), a retired school teacher,
and Mr. Diyá'u'lláh Asgharzádih (Ziaollah Asgarzadeh,
1880-1956, BW 13:881-82), a retired carpet merchant; Orkney Islands: Mr.
Charles William Dunning (1885-1967, BW 14:305-08)); Shetland Islands: Miss
Brigitte Hasselblatt (later Lundblade), a midwife of Estonian origin; Western
Isles: Miss Geraldine Craney, an office clerk who later left the Faith,
and Miss Anneliese Haug, a German-English translator in the export department
of a Harris tweed factory. Currently (March 1993) there are Local Spiritual
Assemblies on each of these island groups (with two on the Western Isles)
as well as on the Isle of Man and the Isle of Wight.
It is probable that the first native Bahá'í in Scotland
was Jane Elizabeth Whyte (1857-1944), the wife of Rev. Alexander Whyte,
the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland. She
visited `Abdu'l-Bahá in Akka in 1906 and it was at her invitation
that `Abdu'l-Bahá visited Edinburgh in 1913. She appears to have
held Bahá'í meetings in her home in Edinburgh (BW 18:789)
and she was in later years a member of the London Bahá'í
community, but it is difficult to be certain from what date she considered
herself a Bahá'í. Another early Scottish Bahá'í,
although not resident in Scotland was a Mr. A.P. Cattanach of London, who
became a Bahá'í before 1913. He donated a large collection
of early Bahá'í publications to the Scottish National Library.
No Bahá'í community existed in Scotland, however, until several
Bahá'ís moved to Edinburgh as part of the Six Year Plan.
The first of these was Dr. M. Said of Egypt in 1946, who was joined in
1947, by Isobel Locke (later Sabri) and John Marshall, a native Scot who
had met `Abdu'l-Bahá in 1911. The first to become a Bahá'í
in this period (in March 1948) was Dr. William Johnston, who had met `Abdu'l-Bahá
in Edinburgh in 1913. The first local spiritual assembly was formed there
in 1948 (Khursheed esp. 201-8). Currently (March 1993) there are thirteen
local spiritual assemblies on the mainland of Scotland.
The first Bahá'í resident in Wales was Rose Jones who
married and moved to Cardiff from London in 1942. In 1947 she was joined
by Joan Giddings. In 1948 the first local spiritual assembly of Cardiff
was formed. In 1961 Pontypridd formed the first Local Spiritual Assembly
composed entirely of native Welsh Bahá'ís. In 1950 a small
pamphlet was translated and published in Welsh. Currently (March 1993)
there are eleven local spiritual assemblies in Wales.
9. Northern Ireland
Although there had been a Bahá'í, Stella Cairns, in Ballymena
in the 1930s, and Philip Hainsworth, while in the army, had held the first
fireside in Helens Bay in 1940, there were no Bahá'ís in
Northern Ireland by the late 1940s. The first Bahá'í pioneer
to Northern Ireland was Charles Dunning, who came to Belfast in March 1948,
followed by Ursula Newman (later Samandarí) in 1949. Other pioneers
followed and a local spiritual assembly was formed in Belfast in 1949.
Robert Sloan was the first to become a Bahá'í in Northern
Ireland in 1949. There are currently (March 1993) twelve local spiritual
assemblies in Northern Ireland.
10. Growth of the Bahá'í community
The growth of the Bahá'í community in the United Kingdom
has been very gradual. There have however, been a number of periods when
there has been a spurt of growth. One such period was in the final year
of the Six Year Plan 1949-1950; similarly in the last two years of the
Ten Year Crusade when there was a 50% increase in numbers. There was also
a period of rapid growth in the early 1970s when a large number of youth
became Bahá'ís. In the early 1980s there was an influx of
Iranian refugees although many of these eventually went on to the United
States, Canada, and Australia.
Note: figures before 1972 include Republic of Ireland.
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