Saturday, 20 September 2014

The Imperial Department of Commerce & Industry, Council House Street

The Imperial Department of Commerce & Industry, North view

Taking up an entire city block, on the corner of Hare Street and Council House Street, on the South Western corner of Dalhousie Square (now BBD Bagh) is an Edwardian office block known today as the Commercial Library Building.  Montague Massey’s book, “Recollections of Calcutta for Over Half a Century” identifies this as the offices of the Imperial Department of Commerce and Industry. The book also says that this building was built on the grounds where the old Foreign Office once stood. 

Set up by Lord Curzon in 1905, the Imperial Department of Commerce and Industry controlled almost every aspect of British commercial interests in India, from the postal system, to factories, railway lines and even mines and ports. While not much information is available about exactly when this building was built, or who the architect was, the ornamental pediment on the Council House Street side of the building says “GEORGIVS REX IMPERATOR MCMXI”. MCMXI is the year 1911 and GEORGIVS REX IMPERATOR, or Georgius Rex Imperator is the royal cipher for both George V and his son, George VI. George V and Queen Mary had visited India in 1911 for the Delhi Durbar, and had come to Calcutta, and the pediment probably refers to this event.

The Imperial Department of Commerce & Industry, South view
The Directorate General of Commercial Intelligence and Statistics (DGCI&S) was set up in Calcutta in 1914. Two years later, the Department of Commerce and Industry opened the Commercial Library, unifying the departmental libraries of the Department of Commercial Intelligence, Department of Patents and Designs, and Department of Statistics. This library currently occupies part of the building. There is also the Council House Street Post Office on its Eastern side. While the building seems to be in decent shape on the outside, blogger Rangan Dutta says that inside, there is a dilapidated wooden staircase, and by it, a sign which reads “Unsafe staircase. No more than three people at a time”.

 - by Deepanjan Ghosh


Recollections of Calcutta for Over Half a Century – Montague Massey

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