The Story Of India’s Classic Railway Buildings In Pictures

The Gothic Revival movement, which began in the 19th century, saw a resurgence of interest in medieval architecture and design. One of the key figures in this movement was Sir Bartle Frere, who served as Governor of Bombay from 1862 to 1867. This is the story of India’s classic railway buildings in pictures.

The Story Of India’s Classic Railway Buildings In Pictures

The story of what became Victoria Terminus in Bombay

The origins of the Gothic Revival movement can be traced back to a combination of factors such as philosophy and religion, particularly in Protestant Britain where individuals began to look towards the pre-Reformation Catholic traditions, reports Scroll. The changing societal landscape brought on by the Industrial Revolution, including the effects on daily life and business practices, also played a role in this resurgence. As the industrial advancements progressed, people began to yearn for the stability and religious customs of the Medieval era, leading to an increased appreciation of the architecture from that period among the educated elite.

The gothic revival was actively promoted by groups such as the university-based Ecclesiological Society. There were several key figures in Britain who also helped to popularize the Victorian gothic revival. These included architects and designers such as AWN Pugin, who was involved in the design of the Westminster Houses of Parliament, and John Ruskin, who conducted extensive research on the style in Europe and wrote extensively about it, particularly in relation to Venice. Other notable figures included George Gilbert Scott, who designed St Pancras Railway Station in London and had a significant impact on the gothic revival movement in India.

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The oldest and one of the finest classical revival buildings of the Indian Railways, the Bengal Nagpur Railway House is said to have been home to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and later to Nawab Wajid Ali Shah of Oudh before it was acquired by the Bengal Nagpur Railway towards the end of the 19th century. | Picture credits: : South Eastern Railway, Kolkata

The gothic revival style spread to various locations such as the United States, Canada, and India, after first gaining popularity in Britain and Europe. India saw a particularly strong influence of this style in the city of Bombay, largely due to the efforts of Sir Bartle Frere, who served as Governor of Bombay from 1862 to 1867.

Sir Bartle Frere’s connection to Bombay began in 1842 when he was appointed as the Personal Secretary to the Governor of Bombay. His goal for the city was to establish it as the premier city in India, which he referred to as “Urbs Prima in Indis.” In 1843, while he was in England to get married, he became interested in the gothic revival style that was popular at the time. He requested designs from renowned British architects for the construction of St. John’s Church in Bombay, which was intended to honor those who had died in the Afghan War. This was one of the first gothic revival buildings in Bombay.

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Colaba Station was the Bombay Terminus of the BB&CI Railway. Built in 1896, the station had to be closed in 1930 owing to the development plans of the city. The tower with a steeply-pitched roof, turrets, gargoyles and lancet windows are some of the gothic revival features of the building. | Picture credits: Western Railway, Mumbai

Sir Bartle Frere was a strong advocate for the gothic revival movement, and he drew inspiration from the principles of the Ecclesiological Society in promoting it in Bombay. Later, as Governor, he established a committee led by architect James Trubshawe, called the Ramparts Removal Committee, to develop guidelines and oversee government construction projects. One of his initial steps was to demolish the old fortifications of the city that were hindering growth. He also carefully planned and identified a wide range of buildings, including military and civil structures such as barracks, a hospital, a high court, post and telegraph offices, a railway station, and offices for government departments.

During his tenure, Sir Bartle Frere was able to bring his vision of a gothic-inspired city to fruition, particularly in the area of the old Fort opposite the Maidan. A number of impressive structures were erected in the 1870s and 1880s, including the Secretariat building (designed by Henry St Claire Wilkins), the High Court (designed by Gen John A Fuller), and the University Convocation Hall, Library and Rajabai Tower (initial design by GG Scott, later modified by Gen Fuller and others). The city’s exceptional railway buildings were constructed a bit later.

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Another view of the Lucknow Station, at a time when the circulating area was less crowded. The domes of various sizes, the outstanding recessed arches and the sheer size of the structure add to the grandeur of this Lucknow landmark. | Picture credits: National Railway Museum, New Delhi

The Great Indian Peninsula Railway (GIPR), which began operations in April 1853, had grown to a network of over 885 km by the end of 1863. As the railway began to expand and connect more of the hinterland, the company began to search for a suitable location for a terminal station in Bombay to serve its two main lines. The local management decided to use a temporary goods and passenger station at Bori Bunder. At this time, Bombay was fortunate to have a forward-thinking governor in Sir Bartle Frere, who played a crucial role in the city’s expansion through the demolition of old fortifications, land reclamation from the sea, road widening, and the formation of a municipality.

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Poona, 1911. There was a rapid growth in traffic between Bombay and Poona during the late 19th century and the first two decades of the 20th century. | Credits: A postcard from the author’s collection.

The Great Indian Peninsula Railway (GIPR), which began operations in April 1853, had grown to a network of over 885 km by the end of 1863. As the railway began to expand and connect more of the hinterland, the company began to search for a suitable location for a terminal station in Bombay to serve its two main lines. The local management decided to use a temporary goods and passenger station at Bori Bunder. At this time, Bombay was fortunate to have a forward-thinking governor in Sir Bartle Frere, who played a crucial role in the city’s expansion through the demolition of old fortifications, land reclamation from the sea, road widening, and the formation of a municipality.

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The former East Bengal Railway Institute in Sealdah. Earlier known as the Clem Browne Institute, now the Dr BC Roy Institute. The centrepiece here is the dome. It also has interesting tower features and other trimmings. | Picture credits: Eastern Railway, Calcutta

As the city’s economy and commerce began to flourish, particularly due to the booming cotton export industry, a number of grand buildings were erected during the 1860s and 1870s. These structures were intended to showcase the grandeur and dominance of Victorian Imperial rule and were built in the gothic revival architectural style favored by Sir Bartle Frere. Some of the best architects of the time were involved in the planning and design, including Sir Gilbert Scott, James Trubshawe, and Lt Col James Fuller. This collection of gothic revival public buildings is considered among the finest examples of this architectural style in Asia.

The Great Indian Peninsula Railway company decided to construct a station building and headquarters for the railway at a single location. They enlisted the services of a renowned government architect, Frederick William Stevens, who had started his career in Pune and later moved to Bombay. His first major project in Bombay was the Royal Alfred Sailor’s Home (now the Police Commissioner’s Office). He began working on designs for the railway project in 1876 and was officially appointed as Executive Engineer in 1877.

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In 1878, Stevens went on a 10-month study trip to Europe to examine renowned station buildings. Upon his return, he submitted a complete set of plans. Construction of the project began in late 1878, and it took a full decade to complete. The station was opened in 1887, in honor of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee and was named “Victoria Terminus.” The prolonged construction period was due to a variety of factors such as funding issues, severe monsoons, and at times, slow work by the contractor, Messrs Burjorjee Rustomjee & Co. Despite the delays, the final result was considered to be the finest station building in the world.

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1 COMMENT

  1. this is incorrect….they were necer built by the British…..these and structures like these all over the world, that we continue to use and occupy, are remnants of an earloer age…

    Check out tye topic of Tartaria and Mufloods…

    Tartaria, servers as a proxy for a civilization from the Age of Gemini..

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