Hindus and the Peak District

An interesting BBC Radio 4 documentary this week looked at the Hindu links with the Peak District.

The Leek silk and dyeing industry proved to have connections with the Indian trade in raw silk and raw dyestuffs, and Thomas Wardle‘s tireless development of the British-India silk trade was rather benificent and is said to have proved very useful to India and the Indian poor.

The other connection was the influence of Hindu spirituality and poetry on the later years of the eccentric poet, anthologist and gay rights pioneer Edward Carpenter. A sort of English Walt Whitman, he lived for many decades in the hamlet of Millthorpe near Holmesfield. He trekked the high moorscape paths east of Holmesfield toward Buxton, one of these apparently being between the village of Hathersage and Burbage Moor. There the ageing Carpenter could dream of a mystical never-to-be socialism set amid a lush anti-industrial primitivism. E.M. Forster’s secret gay novel Maurice was apparently inspired by this idyllic rural retreat of Edward Carpenter and his lover George Merrill in the Peak District.

Carpenter also went to Ceylon and India seeking enlightenment with gurus. For the details on the connections and influences it seems that the recent book A Spiritual Bloomsbury: Hinduism and Homosexuality in the Lives and Writings of Edward Carpenter, E.M. Forster, and Christopher Isherwood (Lexington, 2013) would be the place to start.

Looking around for some more connections I noted a snippet from the book The Discovery of the Peak District: from Hades to Elysium (p.178, I can get no more than a snippet out of Google Books), apparently said of a historical personage…

“he recounted the true story of his own encounter with a wandering Hindu in the vicinity of Bakewell and Monsal Dale”

Not sure who this might be? Perhaps Erasmus Darwin, at a vague guess?

One might also note ‘The Indian Garden, House and Lake’, at Biddulph Grange in the Staffordshire Moorlands of the Peak. The owner and garden designer James Bateman was a major plant collector of Himalayan rhododendrons, interested (along with seemingly the entire British population of Victorian times) in the ferns of British India, and a leading specialist in exotic orchids. I seem to remember reading somewhere that Bateman was also inspired by various currents of mystical thinking when designing his famous garden, and so perhaps one of these currents was Indian?

Jean Jacques Rousseau has a Peak District connection, but I don’t know enough to say if he was a strong direct influence on Gandhi or not. Although historians have obviously drawn broad parallels between the two, that much is obvious from a quick Google Books search.

There was also Francis Frith the pioneering travel photographer, although the connection to the Peak is rather loose since he was only born in Chesterfield, Derbyshire then moved away.


2 comments on “Hindus and the Peak District

  1. […] David Haden’s own inquiry in the directions we have taken in the project. In his blog post ‘Hindus and the Peak District’, he has posted this tantalising snippet – a result of a bit of online […]

  2. David Haden says:


    “Rhodes, whose writing we are told could occasionally emulate that of Sir Walter Scott or Samuel Johnson, may have been subconsciously affected by the latter’s Rasselas when he recounted the true story of his own encounter with a wandering Hindu in the vicinity of Bakewell and Monsal Dale. His narrative has pathos and is as moving as Defoe’s graphic description of his meeting with the lead miner’s wife at Brassington a century earlier. In this case Rhodes and a stranger he had met at an inn were travelling in his gig when they came upon ‘a man clothed in an English great-coat, with a white turban on his head; his gait and appearance, even at a distance, bespoke him the native of another country’. Rhodes’s companion had apparently served in India and spoke to the wanderer in his native tongue. He replied, ecstatic with emotion, that he had not heard his mother tongue since he had left India on a vessel bound for Hull. On arrival at that port ‘ he was no longer useful and therefore discarded’. He was now seeking another ship to take him home. He spoke no English, had no food and was quite lost. Rhodes’s companion wrote on a card the name of a gentleman in Ashbourne who had resided for some years in Calcutta and suggested that he help this lost ‘Child of Nature’ to his native land.”

    Ebenezer Rhodes was a Sheffield man and a Master Cutler, very interested in the Peak District and spent a lot of time in the Dales.

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