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Two Buildings with a Shared History

From Calcutta to Ieper

The Calcutta High Court building is based on the design of the Cloth Hall building in the Belgian town of Ieper. However, there is a belief that the court’s design plans were used to rebuild the Cloth Hall building in Belgium after it was destroyed in World War I. This is a myth and shows how history and memory are often reconfigured to materialise specific pride and prestige. Through this myth, we are invited to revisit the colonial past of the high court and the notion of “gifting” back to the Belgians their past through our present.

Following the revolt of 1857, one of the major changes introduced was in the administration of justice wherein the British introduced a colonial legal system. For this they established high courts in the three presidency towns of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. The design of the oldest high court in India, the Calcutta High Court (henceforth, the CHC) is based on that of the Cloth Hall located in the Belgian town of Ieper. Till date, the CHC functions out of the original building that was built for it by the British and the construction of which commenced in 1864 and was completed in 1872. It was designed by Walter L B Granville who was a consulting architect to the Government of India at that time.

Ian Baucom (1999) notes that in the post-1857 era (after the revolt of 1857), vast sums of money were spent on building projects as it was believed that “the identity of the empire’s subjects was to a significant degree a product of the objects and structures which they beheld and inhabited.” Baucom argues that the belief at the time was that there was an “analogous relationship between architecture and the arts of imperial rule” and therefore, the British used architecture, not only as a symbol of empire, but also as an “implement of imperial governance.” For the British then, this became a means of disciplining the colony by changing the framework of the colonial space and also by adding the required elements of “English morals” in order to dominate the native Indian.

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Updated On : 29th Oct, 2018

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