Writers’ Buildings, Tank Square, Calcutta, 1780

Writers'-Buildings1885

রাইটার্স বিল্ডিং, ট্যাঙ্ক স্কোয়ার, কলকাতা, ১৭৮০
The most imposing colonial public building in the city of Calcutta, the Writers’ Buildings, has a telling history of over three century long of its makeover. The initial plan was designed by Thomas Lyon, a self-styled builder, in 1777 for a brick-made edifice on the northern side of the Tank Square, facing the Avenue to the Eastward, also called the Great Bunglow Road’ [See Wilson]. It was then one of the most fashionable of streets in the settlement – ‘the Chowringhee of the day’ [See Minney].

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Writers’ Buildings, 1786 Daniell, Thomas (1749-1840). Aquatint with etching.

Before the present building came up, the ‘writers’, or the freshly recruited civilians, of the East India Company had their shelters in mud shanties within the old Fort William campus until the disastrous storm of June 25, 1695 razed the hutment to the ground. Subsequently, a block of buildings, known as the Long Row, consisting damp unhealthy lodgings of the young gentlemen in the Company’s service, was erected within old fort. These were the Writers’ Buildings of the first half of the eighteenth century that stood where the G.P.O / Fairly Place located now, and grounded by Siraj-ud-Daula’s guns during the Battle of Lal Dighi in 1756. [See Wilson]

Lord Wellesley, when Governor-General, required all the young civilians or writers freshly arrived to undergo a one year study of oriental languages at the College of Fort William under moonshees and pundits. Wellesley found the buildings Burwell had constructed in 1780 good enough to ensure the comfort of the young civilians at Calcutta. The Fort William College was located in its establishment in 1800 in these houses, which were occupied later by ‘The Exchange’ and the ‘Hurkuru office’. The two buildings were connected by a gallery that ran across the street. [See Carey].

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Writers’ Buildings, 1798 Daniell, Thomas (1749-1840) Aquatint, coloured

This new Writers’ Buildings also had gone through several extensions over the years. It was initially two-storied. When one more floor added, the building became the first three-storied building in Calcutta. It was a need-based, utilitarian structure with fifty-seven sets of identical windows, a flat roof, and a central projection of ionic columns. The 150 meter long Writers’ Building covers the entire northern stretch of the water body of Tank Square, or Dalhousie Square as called later. It was the site of the demolished St Anne’s Church and the adjoining plot were granted to Thomas Lyon for construction of the Writers’ Buildings. Lyon was acting on behalf of the landowner, Richard Barwell, a member of the Council, and a friend of Warren Hastings. Barwell’s children handed the building over to a trustee board, which in turn was again leased to the East India Company.

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Writers’ Buildings, 1826 Fraser, James Baillie (1783 – 1856) Medium: Aquatint, coloured

The building, being originally constructed as ‘a monument of commercial prosperity’, used to be occupied by shops and all sorts of people, merchants, private residents, etc. etc. Some of the rooms on the ground floor were let out as godowns. The Britons started to utilize Writers’ Building for private affairs and for merry-making and enjoyment. Hence the Company started out to enforce several limitations upon them, which as a consequent outcome, made the house vacant. Writers’ Buildings apart there were other houses in the vicinity leased out to the Company by Lyon.

The Writers’ Buildings, before Government took it over, was ‘a plain white stuccoed building utterly devoid of any pretensions to architectural beauty’ Massey continued, “I lived there myself for some months on my first arrival in Calcutta, and very pleasant and airy quarters I found them. I recollect in the early morning quite a number of small green paroquets used to fly all about the place, and their incessant chatter and calls to each other made it very bright and cheery.”

When the Bengal Government acquired the property they erected an entirely new facade of a totally different design from the original, built the present long range of verandahs and Council chamber which they completed in 1881-1882. [See Massey]

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Writer’ Buildings, 1851. Fiebig, Frederick Photographic print

Carey told the same story in his memoir. The Writers’ Buildings, which had up to the year 1821 been remarkable by its nakedness of their appearance, were now ornamented with three pediments in front, supported on colonnades, which formed handsome veranda s, The centre one adorned the front of four suits of apartments appropriated to the use of the college. The lower floor contained the lecture rooms. And the second was fitted up for the reception of the college library, which occupied four rooms, each 30 by 20 feet. On the upper floor there was a large Hall, 68 feet by 30 feet intended for the examination room. Each of the pediments at the extremities of the building fronted two suits of apartments for the accommodation of the secretary and one of the professors. The intermediate buildings, eleven in number, were for the accommodation of twenty-two students.

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Writers’ Buildings, 1878 Photographer: Unknown Photographic print

The Bengal Chronicle of 4th November, 1826 states, that the College of Fort William was to be done away with, and that the Writers Buildings were to be converted into public offices. The College was abolished in 1828, and a saving of Rs. 1,70,000 per annum was thus effected. The young civilians were henceforth sent at once to their appointed stations, where moonshees were provided for instructing them in the native languages. [See Carey]

In 1836, Lord William Bentinck banned the haphazard use of the building for classified issues. It took, however, about half a century more to define the character of the Writers’ Buildings in terms of power and politics. Within the period of 1877 to 1882, Lt. Governor Ashley Eden installed the keystone of the Government Department at this place.

The Bengal Secretariat led a nomadic existence for years together. Evan traces the movement of the Secretariat from 1854 when it was set up 1, Council House Street. Two years later it had been transferred to Somerset Buildings, at the cornerer of Hastings Street and Strand Road. During the seventies it occupied two houses, one in Chowringhee on the site of the present School of Art, and the other in Sudder Street. It was not until 1880 that a permanent home was found in Writers’ Buildings. [See Cotton]

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View of Writers’ Buildings on busy road captured by photographer Theodore Julius Hoffmann (c.1855-1921) in late 19th century and surely not after 1892 when horse-driven tram car service discontinued.

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Kidderpore Bridge, Calcutta, 1826

KidderporeBridge
খিদিরপুর ব্রিজ, কলকাতা, ১৮২৬
The Kidderpore Bridge,the earliest stone-and-iron suspension bridge in India, lay at the end of the Course – the road that crossed the Maidan. It was the oldest road on the Maidan and was described in 1768 as being made to take the air. But, as an old song goes, ‘those who frequented it swallowed ten mouthfuls of dust for one of fresh air’. The road, however, is still one of the airiest and pleasantest drives in Calcutta, extended from the Cocked Hat, or কুঁকরো হাটা, to the Kidderpore Bridge, on the north, built up to the canal excavated by Colonel Tolly at his own expense, He reimbursed himself for this toil by a bazar or ganj at the place which still bears his name, Tolly ganj, and by tolls on crafts making use of his canal. in 1775.fiebig_frederick-kidderpore_bridge_calcutta_view The canal, formerly known as the Govindpore Creek, was, in fact, part of the old bed of the Ganges. It now runs into the Circular Canal, which again communicates with the Hooghly, forming the great inlet for country boats bringing produce from the Sunderbunds and the eastern districts of Bengal. The Nullah is here joined by a bridge once known by the name of Edward Surman, the head of the Embassy to Delhi in 1717, but now called Kidderpore Bridge. The bridge was built in 1826 and was the earliest stone-and-iron suspension bridge in India.
Kidderpore, Alipore and Bhowanipore were three suburbs of Calcutta, south of the Maidan. They were set apart from it by the canal known as Tolly’s Nullah (a canal), which necessitated the building of such bridges. It is traversed by the Calcutta ways, which run from here direct to the Esplanade on at the corner of Dhurrumtollah.

The view of the Kidderpore Bridge above is from a hand-coloured photograph print belonging to the Frederick Fiebig Collection: Views of Calcutta and Surrounding Districts, published in 1851. The inset photographic view of the ‘Tolly Nullah’ is also by Frederich Fiebig

Hooghly Mohsin College, Chinsurah, 1836

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হুগলি মহসিন কলেজ, চুঁচুরা, ১৮৩৬
The Hooghly college at Chinsura, on the banks of the Hooghly river, was founded by philanthropist Hazi Muhammad Mohsin on 1 August 1836, under administration of a private trust. It was housed in a Palladian mansion built by General Perron, the French General who became the commander-in-chief of the Scindia army and surrendered to Lord Lake in 1803 in the Anglo-Maratha war.

Hooghly Mohsin College is one of the oldest heritage and prestigious institution of liberal arts and sciences college in Bengal, situated on the banks of Hooghly River in Chinsurah. The college was affiliated to the University of Calcutta. This glorious House of Learning nurtured some of the doyens of nineteenth century Indian Renaissance, including Sanjib Chandra Chattopadhyay, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Dwijendralal Roy, Rangalal Bandyopadhyay.
This view of the College at Hooghly with the steps to the ghat (landing-stage) in the foreground was from a hand-coloured print of Hooghly College, from the Fiebig Collection: Views of Calcutta and Surrounding Districts, taken by Frederick Fiebig in 1851.

 

Military Club House across the Dhurrumtollah Tank, Esplanade Row, Calcutta, 1851

clubHouse-Tankধর্মতলা তালাও সংলগ্ন মিলিটারি ক্লাব, এসপ্ল্যানেড রো, কলকাতা, ১৮৫১
This is a view looking across the Dhurrumtollah Tank towards the buildings along Esplanade Row. The Military Club, later United Services Club, and finally the Bengal Club, is the four storied building on the left. When the Bengal Club was first conceived in the winter of 1826-7, it was christened the Calcutta United Service Club, at a meeting held in the Calcutta Town Hall. It was presided over by Lt Col the Hon J. Finch, who was later to become the first President of the Club. The Club was housed in a building in Esplanade West, erected in 1813. Fund raising was through the then popular method of lottery. This large neo-classical building now houses the Geological Survey of India.
A hand-coloured print of the Military Club House, Calcutta, from the Fiebig Collection: Views of Calcutta and Surrounding Districts, taken by Frederick Fiebig in 1851.

Espanade Row Near The Dhurrumtollah Tank, Calcutta, 1851

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ধর্মতলা তালাও সংলগ্ন এসপ্ল্যানেড রো, কলকাতা, ১৮৫১
This is a view of looking across the Dhurrumtollah Tank, or general water supply, towards Ghulam Muhammad’s Mosque (at the junction with Chowringhee Road) and commercial premises along Esplanade Row. The Esplanade was made by clearing away the jungle around Gobindpore, the most southerly settlement of Calcutta, to build New Fort William in 1757. Esplanade Row was the street marking the southernmost part of the city, and was itself the northern limit of the Esplanade. It was home to many impressive public building including the Town Hall and Government House. See
A hand-coloured print  from the Fiebig Collection: Views of Calcutta and Surrounding Districts. Photograph taken by Frederick Fiebig in 1851