A Trail Of Anglo-Sikh Heritage Around London

By Richard Moss/Anglo Sikh Heritage Trail | 26 May 2005
shows a painting of a Sikh procession from the eighteenth century

A Royal Sikh Procession by a Punjabi artist, Lahore 1850. © British Library

This trail, developed in partnership with the Anglo Sikh Heritage Trail explores the key locations in the capital linked to the heritage and culture of Sikhs and their relationship with Britain.

Throughout the text we have provided links back to the relevant sections of the Anglo Sikh Heritage Trail.

Highlighted links to occurrences, personalities and collections such as the Anglo Sikh Wars, Maharajah Duleep Singh or the British Library provide essential background information collated by the Anglo Sikh Heritage Trail. (Please note that links to the Anglo Sikh Heritage Trail launch in a new window.)

shows a photograph of the launch of the project. Several People are stood by a board and the front-row of the audience features a row of Sikh gentlmen. They have light blue turbans and are wearing war medals on their jackets.

The launch of the Anglo-Sikh Heritage Trail in 2003 at the Royal Hospital Chelsea. © English Heritage.

Sikhs have resided in the U.K in small numbers for centuries, some communities settled here between the 1920s and 1940s; other individuals such as Maharajah Duleep Singh famously arrived here in the 19th century in the aftermath of the Anglo-Sikh Wars

But it was the post-war immigration of the 1950s and 1960s that saw significant numbers of Sikhs move to the UK.

Today the Sikh presence in the UK is the largest outside the Indian sub-continent and a focal point for many Sikhs in London is the Gurdwara (Sikh temple) at Shepherd’s Bush. The first to open in the U.K. in 1911, the Shepherd's Bush Gurdwara was originally situated in a large Victorian terrace house near Kensington Olympia. 79 Sinclair Road is now a private residence; the local Gurdwara having moved to larger premises at 62 Queensdale Road.

photo shows three storied victorian townhouse

The original Shepherd's Bush Gurdwara was situated in this terraced house near the Kensinghton Olympia. © 24 Hour Museum

But to get to the core of the UK’s relationship with Sikhism we need to go much further back to the days of the Raj and the Anglo Sikh Wars. The highlighted link to the Anglo Sikh Heritage Trail explains the events that led up to this great Colonial conflict and how it has influenced Anglo-Sikh Heritage since then.

One of the best places to see real objects from the last great Sikh Kingdom of the Punjab, before it fell under the full control of the British, is at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The centrepiece of the collection is the Golden Throne of the last Maharajah of the Punjab kingdom, Ranjit Singh, which can be seen in the museum’s Nehru Gallery. The Throne was seized and shipped back to Britain by the East India Company after the Anglo Sikh Wars and subsequent annexation of the Punjab in 1849.

In fact the Anglo Sikh Wars overshadows much of the Anglo-Sikh history and accounts for many of the artefacts and the locations on this trail.

Shows a photo of an curved sword and decorative scabbard

The sword of Maharaja Ranjit Singh at the Wallace Collection. © Wallace Collection

The Oriental Galleries of the Wallace Collection are home to a small but impressive collection of Sikh arms and armour including a helmet, shield and various swords – including the sword of Maharaja Ranjit Singh

Perhaps the most poignant vestige of the Anglo Sikh Wars was the subsequent assimilation of Duleep Singh into British life and at the Tower of London a lasting reminder of this can be viewed.

The East India Company took the Koh-i-noor diamond from Duleep Singh - (then the Boy Mahrajah of the Punjab) as a partial indemnity for the Anglo-Sikh Wars. It was presented to Queen Victoria in 1850 to mark the 250th anniversary of the founding of the East India Company before eventually coming to reside in the Crown of Queen Elizabeth, the late Queen Mother.

photo shows exterior of the white tower at the centre of the tower of london

The Tower of London holds the Koh-i-noor Diamond. © Historic Palaces London.

The platinum crown of the late Queen Mother is housed at the Tower of London together with the gold armband in which Duleep Singh's father, Maharajah Ranjit Singh, used to wear the diamond.

At the British Museum, the Department of Oriental Antiquities also houses a number of items - some of them taken from the Punjab by Lord Dalhousie on behalf the British during this nineteenth century colonial conflict.

The books, coins and paintings in the Department of Asia and the Department of Coins and Medals are particularly impressive although sadly most of these are in the reserve collections and classified as only as of Indian origin.

This makes some items difficult to locate but work is ongoing with the Anglo Sikh Heritage Trail to get more details. In the meantime some of them can be tracked down and viewed virtually by the using British Museum’s Compass search facility and inputting 'Sikh' or 'Punjab'.

painting shows a punjabi scriptural scene with Guru Nanak under a tree

This miniature is from the Janam-sakhi in Panjabi, an account of the life of Guru Nanak compiled and copied by Daya Ram Abhrol in 1733. See more miniatures like this on the Anglo-Sikh Heritage Trail © British Library.

Another key location where you can begin to research the Anglo-Sikh relationship is at the British Library and the vast collections of the department of Asia, Pacific & Africa, housed as part of the India Office Records.

Here you can investigate the vast paper archive of various government agencies that oversaw British rule in the subcontinent from 1600 – 1948.

It is however a daunting task; the vast archive includes 170,000 volumes, boxes and files, 40,000 maps and 70,000 official publications. But included are items from the libraries of the great Ranjit Singh, the Punjabi leader of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries as well as other key Mughal emperors.

The Library’s Department of Oriental Manuscripts and Printed Books is also home to the greatest collection of Sikh and Punjabi manuscripts outside India. Amongst these are handwritten examples of Sikh Scriptures and the prayer book of Rani Jindan, Maharajah Duleep Singh‘s mother.

Similarly the Royal Geographical Society holds a fine selection of maps and photographs pertaining to the Punjab and Sikhism. Again, you can see some of the highlights of this collection on the Sikh Heritage Trail

Shows a black and white photo of a Sikh.

This remarkable portrait is just one of the items held at the Royal Geographical Society. © RGS

In the aftermath of the Anglo-Sikh Wars the boy Maharajah Duleep Singh was brought to Britain. This story can be explored on the Anglo Sikh Heritage Trail but there are some places in the capital where traces of this last Punjabi Royal can be found.

One of the greatest Royal Palaces in Great Britain, Hampton Court is perhaps best known as the former residence of Henry VIII and home to the Queen’s Royal Collection of Art.

photo shows aerial view of hampton court palace

Hampton Court Palace. © Royal Palaces

However, the palace also boasts a strong tie with the Duleep Singhs. Princesses Bamba, Sophia & Catherine, daughters of Maharaja Duleep Singh had apartments in Faraday House.

Duleep Singh’s mother Rani Jindan lived for a short time towards the end of her life at Abingdon House in London and the late Maharajah himself – having various residences around the UK – had a London residence at No.37 Hampton Court Road.

Towards the end of his life he moved into Cannizaro House – an eighteenth century mansion situated on Wimbledon Common. Now a hotel the house is situated at Westside, Wimbledon Common.

In the twentieth century the relationship between the UK and Sikh soldiery became integral to both the British and Indian Armies and the capital’s military museums hold some important items celebrating this union.

photo shows a line of twelve ribboned medals

The medals (including a Victoria Cross) of Parkash Singh can be seen at the Imperial War Museum. © IWM

South of the river, the Imperial War Museum archives include Britain’s largest collection of images of Sikh troops. The permanent collection also boasts the Victoria Cross awarded to Parkash Singh of the 8th Punjab Regiment for his outstanding bravery during the Burma Campaign of WWII.

The Imperial War Museum archive also includes a fascinating film about the 15th Punjab Regiment during World War Two.

photo shows exterior of national army museum

The National Army Museum holds many Sikh related artefacts and papers in its Reading Room. © National Army Museum

At the National Army Museum, the reading rooms are home to many documents and prints relating to Sikhs. The collection is particularly strong on materials from the Anglo-Sikh wars and includes battle maps and letters written from the front line.

Next door to the National Army Museum, Royal Hospital - Chelsea is home to a pair of cannons from the Sikh Wars together with a British memorial to those who fell at the Battle of Chillianwalla. This costly battle eventually led to the full annexation of Sikh territory by Lord Dalhousie the Governor General of India in March 1849.

Many of the locations in this trail are inexorably linked with the military history and that of the Raj and the British Empire, but an important figure in the struggle for Sikh and Indian independence can be traced by looking at the important location of Caxton Hall, in Caxton Street, Westminster.

photo shows two canons standing outside barracks like building

Two Sikh cannon captured at the Battle of Chillianwallah now reside in the grounds of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. © National Army Museum

Now an office building with luxury flats incorporated, the hall was often used for political meetings and on Wednesday 13th March 1940, the East India Association and the Royal Central Asian Society held a meeting there.

Amongst the speakers were Sir Michael O'Dwyer, Lord Zetland (Secretary of State for India), Sir Louis Dane (former Under secretary to the Governor of Punjab) and Lord Leamington (former Governor of Bombay).

O'Dwyer was Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab at the time of the notorious Jallian Wala Bagh massacre in Amritsar on I3th April, 1919.

This dark day in the history of British rule on the subcontinent culminated in Brigadier General O’Dyer ordering soldiers to open fire on a crowd of 20,000 people. They had assembled to demonstrate against the arrest of local politicians supporting Indian Independence. More than 1,500 unarmed men, women and children were wounded or killed in the ensuing bloodbath.

Udham Singh was present at the massacre and his brother was killed there. Vowing revenge he came to Britain in 1933 and by early1940 was living in Mornington Crescent. A note in his diary flags the meeting at Caxton Hall on March 13 1940.

When the meeting was over, at about 4.30pm, Udham Singh pulled out a Smith and Wesson revolver (procured from a soldier in a London pub) and fired six shots.

shows a colour photograph of a brick tower on the corner of a Victorian style hall building.

Today Caxton Hall, scene of the assassination of Michael O’Dwyer, is being renovated as an office and flats complex. © 24 Hour Museum

Two of the bullets hit Sir Michael 0' Dwyer – killing him immediately, whilst one hit Lord Zetland, others injured Lord Lamington and Sir Louis Dane, whilst the final shot went astray.

Udham Singh was sentenced to death at the central criminal court of the old Bailey in June 1940 and was hanged at Pentonville Prison on 13th July. As was the custom of the time, his remains were buried within the prison walls.

It wasn’t until 13th April, 1980, that Udham Singh's remains were taken back to India where they were received at the airport by Mr Shankar Dayal Sharrna, President of the ruling Congress Party, Mrs Indira Gandhi and Giani Zail Singh, along with millions of Indians who lined the streets to pay homage.

The gun used by Udham Singh, his diary (with the date of the meeting at Caxton Hall noted in thick black pencil), a knife and bullet fired at the time of the assassination are locked away in the Black Museum, New Scotland Yard.

Today there are upwards of 15 Gurdwaras dotted around the capital and in Southall a thriving Sikh Community is evident from the many Punjabi businesses, restaurants and the thriving market established there.

There is even a pub (the Glassy Junction) that accepts rupees. You can explore the area and learn more about the Punjabi community in Southall at Punjabi.com website But the best way to explore the sights, sounds and flavours of this area is on foot...just make sure you have a few rupees or pounds for a pint when you are finished!

shows the Anglo Sikh Heritage Trail logo

This is one of a series of trails developed in conjunction with the Anglo-Sikh Heritage Trail, who have produced a Punjabi text translation, which can be downloaded in pdf format below.

Download a pdf translation of this trail in Punjabi

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