Sunday, 13 September 2015

Mumbai series - Royal Alfred Sailors' Home

The Maharashtra Police Headquarters, is by itself an important historical monument. It is on a central axial road of the city that was built just after the Bombay Fort was demolished in late 1860s, freeing space to lay out a new city and its grand monuments. 

After the East India Co. rule,, the Victorian government aligned the creation and civic administration of "Bombay" to other British cities that were undergoing similar development, both on creation of grand buildings and on basic civic needs. The city was still nascent and they wanted to develop it as a big maritime trade centre that connected the western parts of the country to the global economy that the city had already become part of. Of the grand buildings created in that phase of development (like the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (former Victoria Terminus), the High Court, University, Secretariat building, Public Works Department etc.) the Royal Alfred Sailors Home was one among that series of monumental constructions.

It was built by the famous Fredrick William Stevens and completed in 1876 at a cost of Rs. 3.67 lacs, of which the Maharaja of Baroda had donated Rs. 2 lacs. The original purpose of the building was to house about 20 officers and a 100 seamen and provision for additional occupancy for contingencies.

In the close up of the pediment, note the sculpture of Neptune. Neptune is important to sailors as she is the guardian of the seas, and here she is surrounded by nymphs and sea horses and two griffins bearing coats or arms. There are intricate bands, mouldings and fine carvings all around and were done by students of the famous JJ School of Art under its illustrious principal, John Lockwood Kipling. Burjojie Nowrojie also of the JJ School did the highly ornamental ironwork, the staircase railing and the iron finials and castings; the  beautiful iron gates were made in Glasgow.  The building is faced with various kinds of stone for giving this effect and is categorised broadly under the Gothic style that was used in major buildings in the city then. In later years, a Council Hall was created behind the Home and the whole building was used as a Legislative Assembly. 
Stevens made the design to give maximum ventilation and space to move around. In those days the arcades gave cool breeze, covered access to the toilets (which were almost always kept at a safe distance from living rooms for health reasons), and also gave space for a small recreation ground. A corridor of about 10 feet depth encircles the entire building which provided convenience as well as fresh air. A centrally placed staircase provides access to higher storeys, supported by round arches of blue basalt. A library and well furnished baths were also provided (we do not know the condition of these now since it is a building of strict security access now and there are no casual visitors permitted).

It is also said to be built on probably the oldest graveyard in British Bombay - Mendham's Point. No such graveyard exists there now.

Royal Alfred Sailors Home

Neptune on the pediment

1 comment:

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