Redbridge Museum tells the story of borough’s links with Gujarat

PUBLISHED: 12:00 23 October 2016 | UPDATED: 18:13 25 October 2016

The exhibition on Western India at the Redbridge Museum

The exhibition on Western India at the Redbridge Museum


A stunning new exhibition exploring Redbridge’s unique, 400-year relationship with western India, is set to thrill and intrigue residents for the next three months.

The exhibition on Western India at the Redbridge MuseumThe exhibition on Western India at the Redbridge Museum

Now open at Redbridge Central Library in Clements Road, Ilford, India’s Gateway: Gujarat. Mumbai and Britain, tells the story of the borough’s long-standing bond with the people of the sub-continent.

The Recorder caught up with Gerard Greene, manager of Redbridge Museum, to discuss the new exhibition which has taken three years to bring together.

Stretching all the way back to 1615, when Sir Thomas Rowe of Woodford was sent by the East India Company to conduct a trade deal with Moghul emperor Jahangir, Redbridge has had a unique connection with western India.

He struck up a close friendship with the Indian ruler, and managed to secure the company a fort at Surat on the Gujarati coast.

The exhibition on Western India at the Redbridge MuseumThe exhibition on Western India at the Redbridge Museum

From there, the East India Company would rise over the next 250 years to become a powerful political force in Asia.

Mr Greene said: “Without him, who knows whether England would have gotten trading rights with India, so he is a really crucial historical figure in the history of Britain’s relationship with India.”

The Elizabethan diplomat is now buried at St Mary’s church in High Road, South Woodford.

However, the exhibition also chronicles the vast upheaval many members of Redbridge’s Gujarati community went through in the late 1960s when they were displaced from their homes in Eastern Africa.

“Many Asian families had moved to Africa in the days of the British Empire to help build railways, but in the 1960s as these countries gained their independence the Gujaratis there faced a choice,” explained Mr Greene, who visited western India as part of preparation for the exhibition in 2014.

“They still had British passports, so they made their way here.”

Over the next 30 years those groups, largely made up of Asians from communities in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, would come to settle in Redbridge.

In particular, the borough’s Gujarati community boomed, and as a result of hard work were able to create lives for themselves.

Mr Greene said: “We spent a year going out and talking to Gujarati communities in the borough about their own stories and experiences.

“We’ve collected some great photographs from the 1970s and 80s about what everyday life was like for these people trying to make themselves a home here.

“There are some great photos from the days people moved in to their first homes, and that’s another thing the exhibition celebrates - the ordinary life of these communities.”

The other part of the exhibition features a touring exhibition made up of stunning photographs by the respected photographer Tim Smith, which were taken in Gujarat in 2014-15 and depict the many British links to the area.

The free exhibition will be on display at Redbridge Museum, on the second floor of Redbridge Central Library, Ilford, until January 28.

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