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].

WritersBuildings_Danniel_1786

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].

-daniell

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.

writers'Buildings_Frase1826

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]

writers1851

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.

writersBuildings1978

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]

Writers_Buildings-unknown
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.

Advertisements

Cathedral of the Most Holy Rosary; or, Portuguese Church, Murgihata, Calcutta, 1826

পর্তুগিজ গির্জা, মুরগীহাটা, কলকাতা, ১৮২৬
In 1690 Charnock founded Calcutta. Portuguese from Hugli settled here much before, as some new historical evidences suggest. They built a chapel and were attended by Augustinian priests. The chapel was replaced by the beautiful church dedicated to Our Blessed Lady of the Rosary, which is used today as the cathedral, commonly known as the Portuguese Church, and the street on which the Church is situated was named Portuguese Church Street until recently, in the area of Murgihata adjacent to Lalbazar. The main Church of the Padroado in Kolkata till 1834, when it became the first parish Church of the newly erected Vicariate Apostolic of Bengal, the Salesians, who took over charge from the Jesuits in 1921, handed it over to the Diocesan Clergy in 1972. The Cathedral Annexe was built in 1979.
Coloured aquatint by James Baillie Fraser, Plate No.17 from ‘Views of Calcutta and its Environs’. It may be noted that the location as indicated on the Plate, is not Lollbazaar (Lalbazar) but Mughihatta (Murgihata).

Taylor and Company’s Emporium, opposite Palmer’s House, Lall Bazar, Calcutta, 1826

টেলর কোম্পানির দোকান ঘর, নিলাম ঘর, লাল বাজার, কলকাতা, ১৮২৬

Before Chowringhee was grown to a grand centre of amusement and entertainment for the European communities, Lall Bazar had been the best attraction for them. Calcutta’s first theatres, hotels and restaurants, coffee house, ball rooms, shops and markets were all clustered around Lal Dighi.  From the junction with Mission Row, there is eastward down the length of the street. The grand house dominating the composition is the house of John Palmer, Palmer was one of the richest merchants of then Calcutta, the so-called Prince of Merchants, but in the end became a pauper because of his habit of charity. Palmer’s house was sold shortly afterwards to the government and converted into a police station, now the police head quarter. Beyond it, on the intersection with Chitpore Road, is the house that served as a court for the Justices of the Peace. Opposite Palmer’s house stand the emporium and auction rooms of Taylor and Company.
This is a coloured aquatinted plate no. 16 from James Baillie Fraser’s ‘Views of Calcutta and its Environs’, painted in 1826.

Bazaar on the Chitpore Road, Calcutta, 1826

fraser-calcuttaBazarচিৎপুর রাস্তায় দোকান-বাজার, কলকাতা, ১৮২৬
Chitpur Road was Kolkata’s oldest road. It has existed for at least 400 years. It was known as Pilgrim Road and started from the North-end of the city stretched up to Kalighat Temple on Adi Ganga. Apart from the aristocracy, there have been common folks engaged in various trades. The distinctive Bengali panjika almanac and Battala books were brought out from this place. So many things on Chitpore Road have been an integral part of Bengal’s life and culture being the centre of supplies for jatra, magic shows and musical instruments, including English brass bands. It might have received its name from the goddess Chiteswari, who had a splendid temple here erected by Gobindram Mitter, or one Gobinda Ghosh, in 1610. At the temple, Chitey dakat, the notorious bandit of the region, offered human sacrifices. The area could also have acquired its name from him. The lofty dome of the temple, which was known as Nabarutna or the shrine of nine jewels, fell during the earthquake of 1737, and it is now in ruins.
This Aquatint, coloured painting dated 1826 is the last plate from James Baillie Fraser’s ‘Views of Calcutta and its Environs’. Fraser wrote: “At the east end of Esplanade Row, the European quarter continued if one turned at right angles southwards down the Chowringhee Road. However, if one turned left up Cossitollah Street (named from its being the butcher’s quarter originally), one began to enter the Indian city, and especially so when this road crossed the Lall Bazaar and became the Chitpore Road. The Street exhibits a bewildering mix of Indian and decaying Palladian architecture, but is very obviously a bazaar. Cossitollah Street had in it a large number of purely European businesses.”

Chandpal Ghat, Calcutta, c1814

Chandpal Ghat by James Baillie Fraser - 1826চাঁদপাল ঘাট, কলকাতা, c১৮১৪
This view of riverside depicted by James Baillie Fraser with bathers and ferry near Chandpal Ghat, the bussiest ferry ghat of Calcutta for a long time. Existence of Chandpal Ghat as the southernmost Ghat on Hooghly is easily discernable in the ‘Plan of Fort William and part of the city of Calcutta’ surveyed in 1753. With the landing of Sir Philip Francis and his fellow Councillors of the Supreme Council for India under East India Company at Chandpal Ghat in 1774, it became a class apart from the other Ghats. Incidentally, this Ghat took its name not from an elite Indian, but from an obscure and forgotten native shopkeeper Chandranath Pal or Chand Pal who used to sell his petty merchandise beside the Ghat. Until the railway was opened the principal landing place was customarily the well-known Chandpal Ghat. Lord Cornwallis was the first Governor General who landed at this Ghat on 12th September 1786. Chandpal Ghat became the gateway not only of Calcutta but also of British India for a long time to come. Calcutta was then fast becoming the first City of Asia. Expansion in every sphere of it was then its hallmark, Ghats included. See more
This is plate one from James Baillie Fraser’s ‘Views of Calcutta and its Environs’. Fraser (1783-1856)