Thursday, 5 June 2014

The New Central Telegraph Office

There are only three buildings on Dalhousie Square South. All of them are heritage buildings, and magnificent examples of colonial architecture in Calcutta. There is the Standard Building, once home to The Standard Life Assurance Company, and now a government youth hostel, there is Hongkong House, now home to the HSBC Bank, and there are the two magnificent buildings of The Central Telegraph Office, one older, and one considerably newer.

CTO, Northern end
The Central Telegraph Office is one of the few Government offices that provides 365 days of service a year, without any breaks, even on public holidays. The site where the present CTO is located was occupied by a tank, or pond in 1757. It was filled up and the plot was occupied the auction firm of Tulloh & Co, who auctioned everything from Indigo factories, to entire libraries, to ale and even horses, and their advertisements may be found in publications such as the Calcutta Literary Gazette. The owner, Mr. Tulloh has been immortalized as Judas in Johann Zoffany’s painting of The Last Supper, which may be seen on the walls of St. John’s Church.

CTO, Southern end
In 1770, the first European style bank in India, Hindusthan Bank, started operating from the premises. When Government purchased the property now occupied by the Central Telegraph Office, Messrs. Burkinyoung, a music shop, selling pianos and the like, F.& C. Osler, makers of fine glass Chandeliers, candelabras etc., and Mackillop, Stewart & Co., a mercantile house, were in possession respectively of the properties once held by Tulloh, the Hindusthan Bank and John Prinsep. The original branch of the Central Telegraph Office is now difficult to miss, partly because of it’s prominent bell tower, and partly because of a particularly loud paint job, which makes the building look like a hunk of vanilla and strawberry ice cream.

While the old building was designed in 1868, and completed in 1876, the new wing of the CTO, which is entered from Wellesley Place (now Red Cross Place), was built in 1914. DBHKer’s notes point to an architecturally similar building in Rangoon, which was built a few years earlier and Melbourne’sMail Exchange, built a few years later.

The lower floors of the new wing of the CTO continue to be used for sorting and storing mail, while the upper floors have been converted into a sort of a guest house for postal employees, complete with kitchen, servants and enormous four poster beds. We met a postal employee from Ambala who was being transferred to Port Blair (!!!) and had stopped over in Calcutta for a bit of rest. He greeted us with a very warm “Good Maaaaarning”!

- by Deepanjan Ghosh

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