Sunday, 18 January 2015

Great Eastern Hotel- a great history to remember

The Great Eastern Hotel- "the jewel of the East"

The famous Sepoy Mutiny was still sixteen years to go.
Bahadur Shah Jafar was still the emperor of Mughal Dynasty.
The East India Company was very much on their way to rule India, the vast country.

It was only at this segment of time the great hotel was established in 14th November 1840 by David Wilson at the 1-3 Old Court House Street close to the Tank Square in Calcutta. Initially it was named as Auckland Hotel but was just popular as locals were calling it as 'Wilson's Hotel'. 

The above photograph was captured between 1850- 1870 & is preserved in Victoria & Alburt Museum. 

The road in front of the hotel is the Old Court House Street. The Dalhousie Square was known as Tank Square in those days & it was the central business district of the city. A good quality hotel nearer to the Writer's Building, Government House was much needed to accommodate the officials, businessman etc.

George Eden, the 1st Earl of Auckland

The hotel was named after George Eden, the 1st Earl of Auckland who was the Governor General of India (1836- 1842). Actually David Wilson was a confectioner by profession and had a bakery at the site of the hotel at first. Later on, after opening the Hotel, the bakery was included and became an integral part of it. The breads and cakes of Great Eastern hotel won the taste buds of Calcutta and continued to do so for more than a century.

The above photograph was captured by Samuel Bourn in 1865

From the above photograph it is clear that by 1865, the building was already known as The Great Eastern Hotel & not as Auckland Hotel. Initially, it was opened with one hundred rooms. 
In the 1860's, the company was renamed. Earlier it was D Wilson & Co and it became Great Eastern Hotel Wine & General Purveying Co. 
In those days, people used to come directly from port. In those days, The Great Eastern Ship was very famous as they used to have regular voyage from England to Calcutta. David Wilson was not an ordinary businessman but a visualizer. He felt that an identical name with the ship could be a success story for a new hotel. An unique marketing strategy! He did not have an MBA degree from any prestigious institution. 
In those days, the hotel put advertisements in popular newspaper like Englishman. 

History says., Mark Twain the great American author stayed in this hotel for a few days. It was a not pleasant experience for him as it was raining and the author was suffering from asthma. 
Apart from that, Mahatma Gandhi,Queen Elizabeth, Nikita Krusuchav ( the Russian premier ) stayed here. 

King of Coachbehar, King of Burdwan, King of Travankore had their special suits here booked throughout the year. Special attendants of these prestigious guests were appointed in the hotel round the year. They used to were special uniforms with King's emblem on their coats. It was a popular destination in Calcutta for the tourists and businessman and also to the dignitaries as well.    

Sunday, 5 January 2014

The Jewish connection & the elegant mansion

Esplanade mansion 

The Esplanade Mansion 
Esplanade Mansion is undoubtedly one of the majestic and beautiful structures of Kolkata. Thus it attracts tourists and enthusiasts.  
It was in 1910, the gorgeous structure was built at the crossing of Esplanade Row (East) and Old Court House Street. Elias David Joseph Ezra, the well known Jewish businessman was the builder. Elias David Ezra also built Magen David Synagogue at Barabazar and Chowringhee Mansion which is adjacent to the Asiatic Society building at Park Street. 

 Originally built for residential purpose, the magnificient structure was used by the Americans later on. It was leased out to the American Government during the WW2. The American Library in Calcutta was in this building. 
During the shooting of The Philosopher's Stone (Parash Pathar- link- in 1952, Satyajit Ray placed his movie camera at the roof of this building.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Royal Insurance Building- a must to the visitors

Royal Insurance Building

Royal Insurance Building from the Eastern side
This is one of the main attraction among foreigners in Kolkata. Located at the opposite of the General Post Office building. It was designed by T S Gregson of Messers Gregson, Batley & King (architects), Bombay. Lord Carmichael laid the foundation stone in 1916. J C Bannerji of Calcutta was the builder.
The photograph was taken in 1878 

The above photograph around Tank Square looking towards the river was taken from the rooftop of the Telegraph Building (Dead Letter Office) in 1878. GPO is at the far top corner. Royal Insurance Building was nowhere in the picture as in the left of GPO. 

The GPO Building

The above photograph was taken 1875 when the Royal Insurance Building was not constructed. The small building at the left of the GPO is clearly visible. This particular building was demolished to construct Royal Insurance Building in 1916. 

The main entrance with royal decoration at the top
It took Rs. 50000 to construct this building and took three years to complete it to the public in 1918. 
Indian insurance sector during the British Raj were dominated by the British Insurance companies. On the opposite side of Lall Dighi (Red Square or Tank Square) the Standard Life Assurance Building is still exists with poor condition. (!
Taken in 1914 along the Lal Dighi, Royal Insurance Building was decorated with lights
The logo of the Royal Insurance Company

Lord officially opened it to the public. It was built on the site of the New Oriental Bank Corporation. The intricate design in the plastered surface of the outer wall specially at the top of the main entrance opposite of GPO is simply a marvel. 
The tower 
Entrance to the Royal Insurance Building

Sunday, 10 March 2013

The Treasury Building & Spence's Hotel: the connection

The Treasury Building, Calcutta 

Treasury Building from the South- Eastern corner 

The Treasury Building is located near the High Court Building and just adjacent to the Town Hall. The exact location is the crossing of Esplanade Row (West) and the Government Place (West).  
A sign at the outside wall of the Treasury Building 
This gigantic and beautiful architecture was constructed between 1882 to 1884 during the tenure of Lord Ripon who was the Governor General of the British India. E J Martin was the architect and the Executive Engineer C J Mills was in charge of the entire construction.
At the Western outside wall of the Treasury building
The red brick structure was built on a classical quadrangular plane. It has tall windows with beautiful arches, matching sets of Corinthian pillars and railed roofs with pair of phoenixes at intervals. The decorative tablets, arching gateways and beautiful mansards at each end of the long cloisters running along quadrangles making it gracefully gorgeous. 
Treasury building from the South West 
Keystone at Treasury building 
Originally it was meant to acomodate the offices of the finance department of the British India. Now it housed the main office of the Principal Accountant General (audit & accounts), Government of West Bengal. 
Entrance at the Southern side
Restoration work was done by the Central Public Works Department. 
Actually it was the site where the Spence's Hotel was located. Spence's, the first ever hotel in Asia was opened to the public in 1830. To accomodate large number of regular visitors in the city the hotel constructed. The Government accquired the land to accomodate government offices. It was considered definitely the best in Calcutta. The Spence's was shifted to Wellesley Place near the Governnor's House later on. The photograph below was taken by Fredrik Fiebig in 1851 along the Clive Street looking South. 

The Spence's Hotel from the Government Place (West), Photo- Fredrik Fiebig (1851). 

There is a reference to Spences Hotel in Jules Verne's 'The Steam House' dated 1880. The author writes ''...before dawn, on the morning of our start, I left the Spences Hotel, one of the best in Calcutta which I had made my residence ever since my arrival''. 
But did he really stayed here? But still there is no other reference, so far.  
Spence's Hotel and St John's Church at the far end
The above photograph was taken by John Constantine Stanley (British, 1837- 1878) somewhere between 1858 to 1861. Only a few photographs have been found so far. Spence's Hotel was was shifted to Wellesley Place near Government place. Chowringhee, the popular novel written by Shankar ( Manishankar Mukhopadhyay) was based on this famous hotel which was located at Wellesley Place. 

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Dead Letter Office : the graveyard of untraceable letters

Dead Letter Office, Calcutta 

( Taken in 1878. The bus terminus at BBD Bag at present was certainly not there. Not even the tall UBI Bank building standing just behind this heritage structure)

(taken along the Old Court House Street. St. Andrew's Church is at the far end, Horse driven Tram car is at the street, Writers Building is clearly visible between the Dead Letter office and the St. Andrew's Church)
(Telegraph Office or Dead Letter Office from the wikimapia) 

Located at the corner of the Dalhousie Square and Laldighi (The tank) the three storied building is popularly known as Dead Letter Office. It was completed in 1876 during the tenure of Lord Lytton who was the Governor General of the British India.

All the letters with untraceable address were consigned to this building. 

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Commercial Library Building of Kolkata

Commercial Library Building 

Located at the crossing of Council House Street and Hare Street the gorgeously beautiful structure was built in the year 1911 when the capital of British India was shifted to Delhi from Calcutta. 

Lord Curzon, the Governor  General of the British India established this building which was originally used as the office of the Imperial Department of Commerce and Industries in the undivided India. 

Officially it is known as Commercial Library of the DGCI (Director General of Commercial Intelligence). Actually the library was set up in 1914 and started functioning in 1916.  

The large building with long circular pillars and triangular pediments with neo-classical features represents the authority of the British era. 

It is nicely maintained nowadays. But the history of this elaborate structure is not widely known and is not easily available. 

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Greek connection through The Metcalfe Hall

The Metcalfe Hall

Those who have already seen the ancient Greek temples in Athens, you may also find an interesting item in the Indian city of Kolkata (earlier Calcutta). Actually the Metcalfe Hall of Kolkata is visually similar to the Greek temples. The construction started in 1840 and the it took four years to complete. C K Robinson, the then city magistrate was the architect. Named after Charles T. Metcalfe who was the acting Governor General of  British India. The structure was built to honour his notable work in free press in India. 
He also served as the Governor Genenral of Canda and Jamaica.  (,_1st_Baron_Metcalfe). 

Facing the river Hooghly on the West the building is resting on a solid basement and thirty Corinthian pillars. Because of these pillars the structure looks majestic. 

The entrance was originally through the western side over a giant flight of stairs which is closed at the moment. The people access the building through the large portico on the East. 

Once the building housed the Imperial Library and it was opened to the public on 30 January 1903. In 1923 the Imperial Library was shifted from this building to 6, Esplanade East. 

There are two floors in the building. There is an wooden staircase to access the first floor. The annex building of the Asiatic Society is situated at the ground floor of Metcalfe Hall and a museum of the Archaeological Survey Of India (ASI) is on the upper. 

The museum is a small one with only some photographs of the Archaeological Survey Of India's  conservation project in West Bengal as well as Eastern India. The magnificent structure was declared as heritage and restored in the late nineties. The two photographs of the restoration work is given below. 

The building is located at the junction of the Strand Road and the Hare Street. Nearer to the St John's Church. 

How to reach- 
Nearest metro station is Chandni and it takes around 20 minutes walk to reach Metcalfe Hall. 

A few points to remember-
  • You can collect some memorabilia like souvenirs, books and others from the counter of the ASI.  This can be a good gift item for your beloved ones.
  • Ask for permission for photography inside the building. 
  • Try to be there at the late afternoon as you will get the setting sunlight just at the front of the building.