Monday, 6 July 2015

St. Andrew's Church, Dalhousie Square

St. Andrews Church, located at the North Eastern corner of Dalhousie Square, has two other names; The Scotch Kirk and Lat Sahib Ka Girja. The second name it probably acquired from the fact that the foundation stone was laid by the Countess of Loudon and Moira, wife of the then Governor General, The Marquess of Hastings. The former nickname stemmed from that fact that it was built to serve the Scottish Presbyterian community of Calcutta (Kolkata).

St. Andrew's Church. The tram seen here is entering the B.B.D. Bag Depot

The place where St. Andrews Church now stands was once occupied by the Old Court House. It may have originally been a charity school, which then became the Mayor’s Court, and finally the Supreme Court, before the magnificent Gothic pile on Esplanade Row West came up. The road leading from the Church to the Maidan is still known as Old Court House Street. This was the same court house where Maharaja Nandakumar was tried and sentenced to death in 1775. The Old Court House eventually fell into disrepair, and was pulled down in 1792. The Anglo-Indian Presbytery was created by the Charter of 1813 along with the Anglo India Episcopate. The Court of Directors in a public general letter dated 12th November 1813 informed the Governor General of the Presidency of Fort William in Bengal of the appointment of “one Minister of the Church of Scotland with the same Salary as is granted to the Junior Chaplain at each of the Presidencies, and we direct that a suitable place of Worship be provided or erected”. The Rev. Dr. James Bryce arrived in Calcutta on 28th November 1814 to fill the position of Chaplain on the Bengal Ecclesiastical Establishment. It seems that right from the beginning a bitter rivalry existed between Rev. Bryce, and the first Bishop of the Indian Episcopate, Bishop Fanshawe Middleton, who headed the Anglican St. John’s Church located at the North Eastern corner of Government House (Raj Bhavan).

Evening traffic rushes past St. Andrew's

After some initial delay, the Court of Directors allotted the plot of the former Old Court House for the building of the Church, and contributed the sum of Rs. 1,00,000. The foundation stone was laid at the North Eastern corner of the Church on the 30th November 1815. The builders were Messrs Burn, Currie and Co who executed a design inspired by St Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square. The Church stands on a plinth 7 feet high. On the Northern and Southern sides are elegant porticos supported by lofty Doric columns. Determined to do the Church up in style, Rev. Bryce is said to have had the marble for the floor imported, duty free, using his connections in the government. But a major controversy erupted over the Church’s spire. Bishop Middleton firmly believed that the Anglican Church should have the monopoly in spires, not only in England, but in all British territories. He was most irritated when Rev. Bryce announced that not only would his new Church have a spire higher than that of St. John’s, but he would also put a cock on top of it, to crow over the Bishop. To placate the fuming Bishop, the government announced that while the Public Works Department would take the responsibility of repairing the rest of the building, they would not touch the "audacious bird". St. Andrews Church was dedicated on Sunday, the 18th of March 1818, and maintenance or no, her cock may still be seen crowing over St. John’s.

The "audacious bird"
When we say British Empire, it is the English people that mostly come to mind. But the fact is that the business end of the Empire was more Scottish than English. Scottish names are still to be found all around Dalhousie Square, in the names of firms like Balmer Lawrie and Mackinnon Mackenzie. For many years, the St. Andrew’s Day Dinner was one of the most important events in Calcutta (Kolkata). But even when few Scots remained in Calcutta, St. Andrew’s Church continued to serve expatriates from all over Europe and North America who wanted to worship in a reformed church even if they were not Presbyterians.  The Church today is open to visitors, although photography inside is not permitted. It is also one of the rare Churches in Calcutta to be fully air-conditioned! Sunday service is held and the congregation, I am led to believe, is respectable in size. Over a period of several years, the Presbyterian, Congregational, Baptists, Methodists, Anglican and other non-Catholic Churches in North India had formed a union known as the Church of North India, or CNI. St. Andrew’s Church joined the CNI in 1970.

Sunrise in Dalhousie Square

- by Deepanjan Ghosh



European Calcutta: Images and Recollections of a Bygone Era                       – Banerjea, Dhrubajyoti
Jute and Empire: The Calcutta Jute Wallahs and the Landscapes of Empire   – Stewart, Gordon Thomas

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