Ever since it was constructed in the 18th century, Writers’ Buildings, particularly the facade, has undergone many transformations.
It is the administrative hub of Bengal now, but till 1911, when the capital moved to Delhi, the entire country used to be ruled from here. It was named after the writers or the junior servants of the East India Company, as it was originally meant for their accommodation.
On the north of Laldighi, it was the city’s first three-storey brick structure. Initially it resembled a barracks pierced with rows of windows. The main structural characteristics are arch and beam bargas. Stretching from Netaji Subhas Road (formerly Clive Street) to Old Court House Street, it is 900ft in length, making it one of the longest buildings in Bengal.
It covers a plot measuring 16 bighas 17 cottahs eight chittaks. It is sub-divided into 17 different plots with corresponding postal addresses. It covers 12 to 25 Dalhousie Square North and 8 to 10 Lyons Range. Its total floor area is 608,318sq ft.
The various stages of the evolution of Writers’...
lThomas Lyon, after whom Lyons Range was named, had proposed to the East India Company that he would construct a house to accommodate the writers. Warren Hastings, then governor general, granted him the 16-bigha plot in October 1776, and 19 blocks with 19 similar apartments were ready by the next year. Richard Barwell, a senior member of the civil service on behalf of whom Lyon acted, rented out the building to the Company at the rate of Rs 31,700 per year.
Commenting on the appearance of the building, Montague Massey wrote in his “recollection” in 1918, “It was formerly, before Government took it over, a plain white stuccoed building utterly devoid of any pretensions to architectural beauty,…”.
lIn May 1800, the Fort William College opened for the training of writers in Oriental languages, and later moved to Writers’. Within the next 20 years, alterations were made in the structure of the building. A hostel for 32 students, an examination hall, which still exists, a lecture hall, four libraries and rooms for teaching Hindi and Persian were constructed at a cost of Rs 14,143 by Captain George Lindsay, Royal Engineer of the East India Company. Work began on January 17, 1821, and a 128-ft-long verandah with Ionic style columns, each 32 ft high, were added on the first and second floors.
lIn 1830, the College moved out of Writers’ and the building fell into the hands of private individuals who turned it into living quarters, shops and godowns. Bengal Engineering College, which was named Government College of Engineering then, functioned here for some time. In 1875, the offices of the East Indian Railway and those of the executive engineer of the public works department were also operating within the premises.
lGeorge Campbell, then lieutenant governor-general (1871-1874), was the first one to feel the need for a secretariat for “quick disposal of work”. But Campbell could not accomplish this task during his tenure as the East Indian Railway Company occupied a large space in Writers’ and was unable to find alternative accommodation. Ashley Eden, lieutenant governor-general of Bengal from 1877 to 1882, was given the responsibility of shifting the principal offices, housed in two buildings in Sudder Street and Chowringhee, to Writers’. He realised there was not enough space here for all the offices. So initially, three blocks were constructed, and two others added, thereafter, between 1879 and 1906. The new blocks could be approached by iron staircases that are still in use.
It was during this period that Writers’ acquired its familiar look, complete with the portico in the central bay and the red surface of exposed brick. The mansard roofs also belong to this period. The portico above the central entrance is supported by six Corinthian columns. The parapet was put in place and the statues that line the terrace were installed.
Commenting on its architectural styles, Alex Bremner, senior lecturer in architectural history, Edinburgh School of Architecture, University of Edinburgh, wrote in an email: “It is in what I would describe as a late Victorian ‘eclectic' style that was often referred to as either ‘neo-Renaissance’ or ‘Renaissance revival’. Perhaps the best way to describe it would be to say that it is in an eclectic variation of late Victorian classicism.... If you really need a stylistic designation, the best would simply be ‘late Victorian classicism’.
lPre-Independence, Writers’ had a large courtyard with seven blocks. After 1952, when architect Habibur Rahman constructed the New Secretariat on Strand Road, many employees refused to budge from Writers’. By 1970, all 13 blocks of Writers’ were built. All these blocks have inter-linked corridors with 17 staircases.
The main block, including the Rotunda and five main blocks, are heritage structures. The Rotunda under the central dome is where St Anne’s Church consecrated in 1709 used to stand within the curtain wall of the first Fort William.
The latter was located on the very spot where the General Post Office was built later. The steeple of the church had crumbled under the impact of the great cyclone of 1737. The church was destroyed in 1756 when Siraj-ud-Daula invaded Calcutta. Beneath the Rotunda on the first floor is the octagonal Cabinet room. Now it has about 1,200 rooms, seven lifts and 17 staircases.