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. 

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Ypres connection to Kolkata

Calcutta High Court

If you are from Belgium and particularly from the town of Ypres, here is some interesting information for you. 
There is a connection between Ypres ( and Calcutta (now Kolkata), one of the most populated city in the world at present. There are two buildings in the two cities which are visually similar. The buildings are Clothes Hall at Ypres and Calcutta High Court. Clothes Hall was built in 12 century and Calcutta High Court was constructed in the late nineteenth century based on the design of the Clothes Hall. 
The Town Hall of Ypress on fire in 1914

Ypres was a strategic township during the first world war. Clothes Hall, the massive structure was burnt down during the war (above photo) in 1914. After the war, the entire township was reconstructed. Architects and the local authorities came at Kolkata to get the design and the architecture of High Court building. They returned back and reconstruct the Clothes Hall with slight modification. The new structure at Ypres has already been declared as the UNESCO World Heritage site. 
The large water tanks (see the photograph at the top) have already filled up

Construction of the High Court building started in 1864. It took four years to complete and in 1872 the Calcutta High Court started to function in this building. Walter B. Granville was the architect. It is a smaller replica of the Clothes Hall of Ypress, Belgium. The High Court building was incomplete when the photograph at the top was taken.  
Built in Gothic style of architecture the front of the building made off stone block. A grand colonnade is at the lower story of the south front. The capitals of the pillars are off beautifully sculptured Caen stone. A tower is at the center of the south front which is 180 feet high and is little taller than the Ochterlony monument (popularly known as the Shahid Minar) at Kolkata. Main entrance is through the tower (photograph- fourth from the top) and the main stair is within it. There is a well maintained lawn inside the High Court building. 
The tower from below the main entrance
Very few know that three Europeans used to stay in three different houses just at the site where the High Court building finally constructed. Longueville Clerk, William Macpherson and Sir James William Colvije were the three person. 
The judges lawn inside the High Court building of Kolkata 

Calcutta High Court is the oldest of all the High Courts in India. The sepoy mutiny in 1857 necessitated rethinking on the administrators of India, reforms and recognition of the law courts did not lag behind. Actually, it was established on 1st July 1862 as the High Court of Judicature at Fort William. It was under the High Court Act which was established in 1861 but the building was constructed later on.     
Calcutta High Court, the above photograph was taken in 1890.

The High Court building from the Western side. 
Over the years, the repairing and the maintenance was not up to the mark. The massive building got the heritage tag and so every repairing works had to be within the specified parameters. 
The series of pillars with triangular arches 
Unfortunately a lot of damage has been done. AC machines and ducts have been installed through the walls more than 30 years ago. That was the first damage. Recently in 2011 and 2012, the stone blocks of the veranda at the ground floor was replaced with thin marble tiles. 
Calcutta High Court (courtesy- LIFE )

In the early days of the High Court building, there was a large tank just in front of the building. It was filled up later on to built a road there (see the photograph at the top),.   What to see- 
Obviously the architecture. 
Entry is not restricted inside the building and the court room but photography inside the building is strictly prohibited.
How to reach- 
Nearest metro station - chandni chowk. It will take around 15 to 20 minutes walk to reach at Calcutta High Court. 
(The building from wikimapia) 
Adjacent to the West Bengal assembly house and Netaji Indoor Stadium.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Kolkata's St John's Church- the church of White Mughal

St John's Church, Kolkata

St John's Church

If you are interested to know about St John's church of Kolkata, you need to know something else at first. Here is an interesting information.
Captain James Achillies Kirkpatrick (1764- 15th October 1805) was a colonel in the British East India Company's army ( He was a resident of Hyderabad. He was very much fond of Indo- Persian culture and popularly known as The White Mughal later on. He was converted to Islam and married Khair- Un- Nissah, a Hyderabadi noblewoman. Khair- Un- Nissah was the grand daughter of the Prime Minister of Hyderabad. James Achillies Kirkpatrick was in the news for his interracial marriage and for his mughal lifestyle which was unusual as a British at the time. William Dalrimple's famous book White Mughals ( was written on the love affair and the interracial marriage of Kirkpatrick and Khair- Un- Nissah.
At the end of the autumn 1801 controversy raised on Col. Kirkspatrick's inter-religion marriage with Khair- Un- Nissah. As Lord Wellesley became the new Governor General of British India, downfall of Col. Kirkpatrick started suddenly. Wellesley strongly disapproved British- India liaison. Kirkpatrick was asked to come to Calcutta, the then capital of India and was dismissed from his service later on. James Achillies Kirkpatrick, The White Mughal died in Calcutta due to ill health on 15th October 1805.  There is a memorial of Colonel James Achillies Kirkpatrick at St John's Church, Calcutta. He was buried at North Park Street cemetery but neither the cemetery nor the grave of Kirkpatrick exists now. 
There are some other memorials also inside the church (Above photo). Marquees of Canning memorial is also here in this church.  
It was one of the first public building erected by the British East India Company in India. The the construction was started in 1784 and and opened to the public 1787. It took Rs. 30000 for construction which was raised by public lottery. Maharaja Nabo Kishen Bahadur, the founder of Sovabazar Raj family donated the land. Warren Hastings, the governor general of East India Company in India laid the foundation stone on 6th April 1784. The plaque is still there. 
Millitary engineer James Agg of Bengal Engineers was the architect. It was almost a simple replica of St Martin's-in-the-field ( in London.  It was built in neoclassical style. It was a combined structure of brick and stone. The spire is 174 feet high. It was built with stone blocks. Stone was not locally available building material at the 18th century. Stone blocks were collected from the medieval structures at Gour and were brought at Calcutta through the Hoogly river.
The veranda was added only on 1811. The structure resting upon tall columns from inside as well as outside. The Blue- Green floor is a rare one. Stones for the floor brought from the medieval structures of Gour. 
Stained glass windows definitely added some value to the structure. The interior is well maintained. 
There is a oil painting at the wall of St John's church. German born British painter Johann Joffany was the painter.
War memorial at the church's compound-(
There is a war memorial of second Rohilla war at the premises of the St John's church. 
It was built in the memory of seventeen military personnel of the British East India company died in the second Rohilla war.
Job Charnock's mauselum- (
Actually St John's church was built on a graveyard. Job Charnock who was believed as the founder of the city of Calcutta was buried here at the premises. At the North Western corner there is an octagonal structure on Moorish style. It was built by Job Charnock's son in law Charles Iyer. Charnock's wife and daughter was also buried here. The epitaph is in Latin. The entire structure is well protected and preserved.
The Black Hole memorial is at the southern end of the premises of the church. It was built in the memory of much controversial Black Hole incident. It was not the original place where the Black Hole incident took place. The memorial was replaced and was relocated at the church's premises. This particular memorial was built by Lord Curzon in 1902. 

What to see- 
  • All the historical structures including the church. 
  • The painting, memorials inside the church. 
  • In addition, the lawn is beautiful. The atmosphere is cool and calm. 

Monday, 11 June 2012

General Post Office Building of Kolkata

GPO Building

The GPO (General Post Office) Building in Calcutta was built in 1864. Actually the infamous building is located at the site of the old fort william which was destroyed after Siraj Ud Daullah, the Nawab of Bengal seized Calcutta in 1756. It was believed that the 'black hole incident' took place here at the old Fort William. (,_Kolkata)

 A thin brass plate along the Eastern staircase of the GPO building  marks the easternmost part of old Fort William building which was destroyed earlier (see left).
Recently a marble plaque has been put on the eastern side of the wall to mention the brass plate (see photograph). 



Walter B. Granville was the architect of the building. A magnificent structure with 220 feet dome sup[ported with Corinthian pillars is a major attraction and almost one of the landmarks in  Kolkata. It took Rs. 6,50,000 to construct the building. 
The building housed the philatelic museum, the only this kind of museums in West Bengal till date. 
79-B Dalhousie Square
Kolkata G.P.O., Kolkata700001
Location- Near Writer's building in BBD Bag.

What to see- 
  • The architecture.   
  • The postal museum is the another one. One can get a glimpse of the history of the Indian postal  department. The old post boxes, postal stationaries of the British and Mughal era,  and different kinds of postal items are the main attraction.  

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Standard Life Asssurance Building - decaying history

      Standard life assurance building 

One of the most beautiful architecture of the British age in India was built in 1896. The construction started in February, 1894 and was completed two years later in May 1896. Mumbai based architect Fredrick W. Stevens (of Victoria Terminus fame) designed the building. Located at the southern corner of Lal dighee (formerly Tank Square) the building is poorly maintained. Though it has been declared as a heritage building, some of the portion has already been abandoned. Renovation is yet to start. 

A  building with multi domed tower at the Northern corner, beautiful figures in the triangular pediment in the middle cherubs ( musical instruments in the upper windows. Most of the figures are still in good shape. Restoration of these figures which are basically delicate artwork is extremely difficult as the specially skilled masons and the artists specialist in these kind of work is rare. 

The entrance at the north is through an arched gateway with a triangular pediment at the top. The building features the logo of the standard life's which is based on the biblical parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1- 13) ( 

There are two figures at the walls just below the archway and the main entrance of the building. One at the left of the archway is a young lady carrying a lamp and Grim Riper carrying a skull at the right. The two figures represents Life and Death respectively. This is the actual official logo of the company. Unfortunately these two figures are obstructed by the telegraph pole and the telegraph wires (above photos). 

The building actually housed the Life Insurance Company of Scotland which was established in 23rd March, 1825 in Edinburgh. In 1832, the organization changed its name to The Standard Life Assurance by Royal assent. The British insurance companies were reluctant to allow their policy holders to travel let alone live in the colonies due to the very high mortality rate.
Standard Life pioneered insurance for British living abroad.
  • 1846- establishment of the Colonial Life Assurance Company was specifically designed to handle business in the British colonies. They could offer attractive terms based on the colonial's more accurate assessment of mortality risk in the countries concerned. 
  • 1871-  Colonial Life Assurance Company merged with the Standard. After the merger they had their head office here in Calcutta in this building and had a similar building in Mumbai. The Mumbai building is still there and have the logo at the main entrance.