Tag Archives: Gandhi

24. Weaving a Story: Barbara Bruce, a “wild woman” in India

This week’s Object is a rather faded and grubby green woven bag, which accompanied the Archive of Barbara Bruce.   Archives received in Special Collections often contain objects as well as documents.  Sometimes, as in this case, these survivals can shed new light on the archives that contain them.

Barbara Bruce (1906-1976) was a Quaker, sculptor and volunteer nurse and relief worker in India in the 1940s.  She immersed herself in Indian life, culture and ideas, and in particular the philosophies of Gandhi, spending time at Sevagram, the ashram and village community which he created.  Barbara returned to England permanently in 1950, but kept in touch with her many friends and colleagues in India.  Her contacts included David Hoggett, founder of Commonweal Library, which was based on Gandhi’s idea of sarvodaya: the good of all.

Barbara Bruce in Almora, Uttar Pradesh, c1940, with the anthropologist Walter Evans-Wentz

Barbara Bruce in Almora, Uttar Pradesh, c1940, with the anthropologist Walter Evans-Wentz. She described herself in this photo as a “wild woman of India”.

Barbara’s Archive is a rich collection of letters and photographs which vividly illustrate her interests and friendships in India.  It also includes fascinating postcards, like this one.

Hand painted postcard featuring trees by the wayside, 1930s

Hand painted postcard featuring trees by the wayside, 1930s

So what about the bag?  It is a clue to Barbara’s interest in another Gandhian idea.   Her story was researched by our Project Archivist, Helen Roberts, as part of the PaxCat Project, which brought our collections about peace history to life.   It became clear to Helen as she worked on the archive that the bag was significant.  As she wrote on the PaxCat blog,

“It’s a reasonable assumption that Barbara wove it herself.   During early 1942 she spent time at Khadi Bhangar rural spinning centre in Narsinghpur in the Central Provinces.   The charka (spinning wheel) and khadi (handspun, handwoven cloth) were symbolic of the Gandhian idea of village development and self reliance upon which the goal of Indian independence was based.  Barbara’s friend and fellow nurse Margaret Jones wore khadi, as did Barbara.   She reports the reaction from her English colleagues at a hospital in Bombay in a letter from April 1941: ‘See! She wears khadi – she is anti-British!’”.

Thus the little bag symbolises Barbara’s engagement with India, with Gandhi’s ideas and her commitment to them in her own life.  Find out more about her extraordinary story on the PaxCat blog, the Archive web page, and the entry for the Archive on the Archives Hub.

15. A Library for Peace: the Commonweal Story

This week’s Object is Commonweal Library.  Commonweal is an independent library devoted to non-violent social change, which like Special Collections lives in the J.B. Priestley Library at Bradford University.  Commonweal’s archives are part of Special Collections and will make several appearances as individual Objects.  Here is Commonweal’s own story.

Commonweal was founded by David Hoggett.  He had become a pacifist during military service in the Second World War and was interned as a conscientious objector, later working in forestry.  After the war he helped in International Voluntary Service for Peace work camps in Europe, and later in India.  During his time there, he was deeply influenced by Gandhi’s ideas of “sarvodaya”, a transformed society based on nonviolence.  On returning to Europe in 1955, David trained as a carpenter; he was putting these skills to good use building houses for refugees in Austria in 1956 when a serious fall left him paralysed.

David Hoggett, using POSSUM machine (see below)

David Hoggett, using POSSUM machine (see below)

On leaving hospital, he moved to the family home at Cheltenham, where he built an excellent collection of books on non-violent protest and social change, encouraging his many contacts to help him develop the material.  David, his carer and companion Alfred Heslegrave, and the books moved to a community based on Gandhian ideas at Garthnewydd.  The anti-nuclear campaigners of the late 1950s and early 1960s were keen to learn about the ideas underlying non-violent action and found David’s growing book collection very helpful.   A postal library began to develop.  David called it Commonweal: an English version of Gandhi’s “sarvodaya”: the good of everyone.

David Hoggett's Nansen Medal

David Hoggett’s Nansen Medal

David’s work on behalf of refugees was recognised by the award of the Nansen Medal by the United Nations Association in 1958.

After the community was dispersed, David ran Commonweal from a nearby cottage, later moving back to Cheltenham.  In 1965, he obtained a POSSUM suck-blow typewriter, which allowed him to do his own typing.  The work of Commonweal included answering enquiries, creating bibliographies, seeking donations of books, journals and funding, and managing the postal loans system.

A few records of his work at this time survive in the Commonweal Archives.  To save effort in typing, he used a form of shorthand, as you can see here.

David Hoggett's use of abbreviations - advice on indexing magazine articles

David Hoggett’s use of abbreviations – advice on indexing magazine articles – click on image to see detail!

In poor health following his accident, David turned Commonweal into a Trust during the 1960s so that it would continue.  After his death in 1975, the Trustees decided to move the library to the University of Bradford, where the department of Peace Studies had recently been created.

Memorial sculpture by Chris HoggettTwo memorial sculptures were created in memory of David Hoggett by his brother Chris, featuring a dove of peace and related inscriptions.   One of the sculptures now lives in Commonweal, the other in the Peace Museum.

Perhaps David Hoggett’s most important memorial though is Commonweal itself.  The Library is still very active and offers a unique resource to staff, students and local people.  You can find out more about David Hoggett and Commonweal in an article I wrote with my colleague Ellie Clement in the Journal Information for Social Change.