Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Walter Granville's Incredibly Gothic High Court

“Close to the eastern bank of the Hooghly river…near Fairlie Place, stands the majestic sandstone and red brick structure of the Calcutta High Court…” – from The High Court at Calcutta, 150 Years: An Overview

Front view of the Calcutta High Court. Standing tall is the statue of Surya Sen

3, Esplanade Row (West), was once the location of the Supreme Court of Bengal. The adjoining apartments were home to Sir ElijahImpey, it’s first Chief Justice, and his family. The stucco buildings were demolished in 1862, and in it’s place came up the present main building of The Calcutta High Court.

Designed by the then government architect, Walter L. B. Granville, The Calcutta High Court is the oldest high court in India. Granville was also responsible for the G.P.O. Building, which came up in place of the old Fort William, The Imperial Museum, which is now the Indian Museum, and the Calcutta University’s erstwhile Senate Hall. Although the court was established as the High Court of Judicature at Fort William on 1 July 1862, the neo-gothic style building was constructed in 1872. The Calcutta High Court is said to be based on the famous Cloth Hall of Ypres, Belgium. When the Cloth Hall was destroyed by German artillery in World War I, the plans of the High Court were sent for, to aid in it’s reconstruction. The impressive pillars on the front of the building contain some extremely beautiful capitals, carved out of Caenstone. Biblical figures of Truth, Benevolence, Charity and others appear surrounded by foliage. 

The capitals on the pillars, carved out of Caen stone.
There is a provision for visitors to enter the High Court, after obtaining a special pass, but photography inside the building is not allowed. A painting of Sir Elijah Impey hangs in Court Room No. 1, painted by the celebrated Johann Zoffany, who’s Indian take on Da Vinci’s Last Supper may be seen on the walls of St. John’s Church.

The Calcutta High Court presently has jurisdiction over the state of West Bengal and the islands of Andaman and Nicobar. The statue of Masterda Surya Sen, mastermind of the Chittagong Armoury Raid, infront of the court was placed there post independence. Thacker's Guide to Calcutta confirms that "in the plot of ground before the High Court is the full length statue of Lord Northbrook (Viceroy 1872-1876) and beyond is that of Lord Auckland (Governor General, 1836-1842) looking towards the gardens which bear his family name". The bit about Auckland is probably a reference to the Eden Gardens, conceived in the late 1840's by him, and initially named Auckland Circus Gardens. It was rechristened Eden Gardens in 1854, after Emily and Fanny Eden, the sisters of Lord Auckland.

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