Saturday, 21 June 2014

Royal Insurance Building, Dalhousie Square

The insurance sector in India, in the days of the British Raj was initially completely dominated by British firms. Indians infact, were prohibited from buying insurance. Among the earliest companies to offer insurance to British subjects in India were Standard Life Assurance and The Oriental Assurance Company. Closely following them, came the Royal Insurance Company, and the grand building housing their offices in Calcutta survives to this day.

The Royal Insurance Building today
Royal Insurance was founded in 1845, and their Calcutta office was built in 1905. The architects were Edward Thornton and William Banks Gwyther. Located on the Western side of Dalhousie Square, at the corner of Charnock Place (now N.S. Road) and Koilaghat Street (now BTM Sarani), opposite the GPO building, the Edwardian style building, with it’s blood and bandage look has recently been spruced up, and looks very well maintained. The building sports a dome on it’s North East corner, which, though far more modest that the gigantic dome of the GPO, is elegant all the same. Originally accommodating Sandersons &. Morgans (Solicitors), and the Manufacturers' Life Assurance Company of Canada (1887) apart from Royal Insurance, the building continues to be used as an office.

Royal Insurance Building and GPO lit up to mark the visit of King George V in 1911
William Banks Gwyther, one of the two architects, is the man behind a prodigiously large number of buildings in Calcutta. Among them is the clock tower of Calcutta Port (1899), the Military Secretariat Building on Esplanade Row East (1901) and the headquarters of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (1905). Gwyther received his technical training at the Thomason Engineering College, Rorkee, and entered the Bengal Public Works Department in 1876. He rose to be executive engineer, and was appointed Under - Secretary to the Government in 1892, reaching the rank of Superintending Engineer in 1903. His death, in Shillong, was announced in The Times of 29th June, 1910.

The Royal Insurance Company today operates under the name RSA Insurance Group Plc., RSA being the abbreviation of Royal and Sun Alliance. RSA operates in some 31 countries today. Curiously enough, the Royal Insurance Building has a twin in Liverpool, which, however is in far worse condition. Plans are on to convert Liverpool’s Royal Insurance Building into a hotel.
 
- by Deepanjan Ghosh
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