The first members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness to enter Britain were three American couples, who arrived in 1968. At first, not having any financial support life was a struggle. Yet soon they gained the attention of one of the Beatles, George Harrison, who had encountered the Hare Krishna devotees in America. Together with John and Paul, they recorded a single of the mantra which got them onto “Top of the Pops”. Funds from sales of the record enabled them to rent a building in Bury Place, near the British Museum, and convert it into a temple.
Srila Prabhupada, the founder of ISKCON, arrived in England for the first time in September 1969 and was hosted for a few weeks by John Lennon and Yoko Ono at their home near Ascot.
As the group near the British Museum grew larger it became obvious that a new building was required so in 1973 George Harrison purchased a manor house set in 17 acres in Hertfordshire and later that year it was named ‘Bhaktivedanta Manor’.
By then many books had been published and the devotees formed enthusiastic teams to sell them all over the British Isles. Vigorous book distribution, festivals, and talks at universities through the 70s attracted many new members. By 1978 the central London temple was relocated into a prestigious six-storey building just off Oxford Street. A vegetarian restaurant, “Govinda’s”, was established on the ground floor with temple, shop, offices and dormitories above.
In 1972, more than 100,000 Hindu Indians were expelled from the former British colony of Uganda in Africa. Holding British passports, they came and settled largely in London. The majority of them were already followers of Krishna and when they came to know that there were temples in the London area they quickly became visitors, then firm friends and supporters.
The movement gathered even more members through the 80s as a mail-order warehouse and members’ services department was begun, catering to the spiritual needs of the thousands of people throughout the UK who now claimed ‘Hare Krishna’ as their religion. Centres in Glasgow, Newcastle, Manchester, Belfast and several in the Midlands were all begun at this time and have remained to the present.
The movement continues its vigorous outreach and has either a regular group meeting or other form of presence in more than 50 towns. There are popular restaurants in Dublin and Swansea, and a resource and study centre in Oxford. Indeed, today ISKCON has considerable influence in the school religious curriculum and is highly respected in academic circles. More recently, ISKCON is the faith partner of the first state-funded Hindu school in Britain.