Lester, Muriel (1883-1968)

Scope and Content

Papers of Muriel Lester (Christian Pacifist) (1878-1991), including: Diaries and notebooks kept by Muriel Lester, 1878-1968; Papers and correspondence, 1912-1965; Doris Lester's personal diaries, autobiographical notes, stories and verses, letters and articles, 1929-1946; Sydney Russell's papers and correspondence, 1927-1970; pictures and papers about Kingsley Hall Nursery School, Dagenham, 1930-1937; photographs of Kingsley Hall Dagenham and Kingsley Hall Bow as well as Ghandi's visit to London and Lester's international visits, 1923-1963; books, leaflets, abd reports, 1900-1999; Swarthmore College Peace Collection Files, 1926-1968; and Microfilms of material from the Lester archive, (n.d.)

Administrative / Biographical History

Peace campaigner, community worker and writer, Muriel Lester was born in 1883 at Gainsborough Lodge, Leytonstone, Essex, the third daughter of a wealthy businessman, Henry Edward Lester, and his third wife, Rachel Mary Goodwin. In 1908 Muriel and her sister Doris moved to Bow (now Bromley by Bow) in London's East End and became active in providing social and educational activities in the community. The sisters were joined by their younger brother, Kingsley, who died in 1914. The following year, with financial help from their father, the sisters bought a disused chapel as a 'teetotal pub' to give local people,evening meeting place. It was named Kingsley Hall, in memory of their brother. Muriel and Doris then set up the first purpose-built 'Children's House' in London. Designed by Charles Cowles Voysey according to the ideas of Maria Montessori, it was opened in 1923.From 1922 to 1926, Muriel served as an Alderman on George Lansbury's radical Poplar Borough Council, chairing the Maternal and Child Welfare Committee. In 1928 Cowles Voysey designed a new, purpose-built Kingsley Hall for the sisters, combining the functions of a community centre and place of worship. Muriel herself took on the role of vicar. In 1929 the sisters set up a second Kingsley Hall was on the vast new Becontree Estate in Dagenham, Essex, where many Bow residents had been relocated as part of the slum clearance programme. Muriel took a pacifist stance in 1914 and was a founding member of the Christian pacifist organization, the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FoR). She travelled to India in 1926 to meet M.K.Gandhi: this was the start of a warm friendship. In 1931, attending the Round Table Conference on Indian independence in London, Gandhi stayed at Kingsley Hall in Bow. In 1934 Muriel Lester began her work as travelling secretary for the International Fellowship of Reconciliation. Over the next years she carried a message of Christian non violence into the very heart of conflict situations all over the world. She had a large following in the USA.The success of her anti-war speeches there led to her detention in Trinidad in 1941. She mixed easily with the humble but impressed many influential figures, among them Clement Attlee, George Lansbury, Lord Lytton, Lord Halifax, Gandhi, Nehru, Kenyatta, Mandela, H.G. Wells, Eleanor Roosevelt, Madame Chiang Kaishek, Sybil Thorndike, and Vera Brittain. Muriel Lester was an exponent of practical Christianity, but her writings also reveal deep spirituality. In addition to copious Travel Letters, She wrote numerous articles and had over twenty works published, including two autobiographical accounts, It Occurred to Me (1939) and It So Happened (1947). During a trip to Japan she was once dubbed Mother of World Peace; more formal recognition of her work came in 1964 when Muriel was awarded the freedom of the borough of Poplar. She died on 11 February 1968 at her home, Kingsley Cottage, Loughton, Essex. A thanksgiving service was held at Kingsley Hall, Bow, on 4 April; her body was donated to science.


The Muriel Lester Archive is divided into the following nine sections: LESTER/1:DiariesLESTER/2: Papers and correspondenceLESTER/3: Doris Lester FilesLESTER/4: Sydney Russell FilesLESTER/5: Winifred Barnard FilesLESTER/6: PhotographsLESTER/7: Books, Leaflets and ReportsLESTER/8: Swarthmore College Peace CollectionLESTER/9: Microfilm

Access Information


Acquisition Information

The Muriel Lester Archive was loaned to Bishopsgate Institute in August 2011.

Other Finding Aids

Adlib catalogue and handlist available in researcher's area

Archivist's Note

Entry compiled by Grace Biggins

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopying and digital photography (without flash) is permitted for research purposes on completion of the Library's Copyright Declaration form and with respect to current UK copyright law.

Custodial History

Many of Muriel and Doris Lester's private papers were stored after their death at Kingsley Hall Dagenham by Sydney Russell. Jill Wallis included some other material that she had gathered when writing Muriel's biography, such as the photocopied matter from Swarthmore College and copies of photos and other donated or loaned items.