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COMMENTARY

specific design of imperial polity that


From Calcutta to Ieper has continued in their postcolonial form.
It is in this context that the construction
Two Buildings with a Shared History and postcolonial narrative of the CHC
building stands. Almost all persons I
spoke to during the fieldwork I conduct-
Rahela Khorakiwala ed in the CHC pointed out the fact very
categorically that its building was mod-

F
The Calcutta High Court building ollowing the revolt of 1857, one of elled on the Cloth Hall in the Belgian
is based on the design of the the major changes introduced was town of Ieper. Not only were they aware
in the administration of justice of the name of the town but also corrected
Cloth Hall building in the Belgian
wherein the British introduced a colonial the pronunciation if said with an error
town of Ieper. However, there is legal system. For this they established (because the British spell Ieper as Ypres).
a belief that the court’s design high courts in the three presidency towns The unique relationship that the CHC
plans were used to rebuild the of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. The shares with the Cloth Hall in Ieper talks
design of the oldest high court in India, to the way history and memory reconfig-
Cloth Hall building in Belgium
the Calcutta High Court (henceforth, ure themselves in ways that materialise
after it was destroyed in World the CHC) is based on that of the Cloth the pride and prestige of an institution.
War I. This is a myth and shows Hall located in the Belgian town of The Cloth Hall was a large, medieval
how history and memory are Ieper. Till date, the CHC functions out of commercial building, which was the main
the original building that was built for it market and warehouse for the city of
often reconfigured to materialise
by the British and the construction of Ieper as explained by Jonathan Glancey
specific pride and prestige. which commenced in 1864 and was (2006). Leslie Coate (1995) writes that
Through this myth, we are completed in 1872. It was designed by the Cloth Hall is significant and impor-
invited to revisit the colonial past Walter L B Granville who was a consult- tant to the history of Ieper and Belgium
ing architect to the Government of India because it was the centre for the flourish-
of the high court and the notion
at that time. ing Flanders cloth trade in the middle
of “gifting” back to the Belgians Ian Baucom (1999) notes that in the ages. The building was well-known for
their past through our present. post-1857 era (after the revolt of 1857), being a “secular” one and has been de-
vast sums of money were spent on build- scribed by Glancey as “the most impres-
ing projects as it was believed that sive” and “overwhelming” building in
“the identity of the empire’s subjects this framework. The style of architecture
was to a significant degree a product of of the Ieper Cloth Hall was the florid
the objects and structures which they Gothic style which existed in France
beheld and inhabited.” Baucom argues till the architecture there became of
that the belief at the time was that there the renaissance style. Sondwip Mukherjee
was an “analogous relationship between (2012) from the CHC compares the tall
architecture and the arts of imperial rule” belfry of the Ieper Cloth Hall to the 180-
and therefore, the British used architec- foot tower of the high court building
ture, not only as a symbol of empire, that is capped by four turrets and a spire.
but also as an “implement of imperial While the original Cloth Hall building
governance.” For the British then, this was a 13th-century construction, it was
became a means of disciplining the colony heavily damaged during World War I by
by changing the framework of the colonial artillery firing from the Germans. In
space and also by adding the required 1918, once the war ended, the town of
elements of “English morals” in order to Ieper had been reduced to rubble due to
dominate the native Indian. the continuous heavy bombardment on
The entire notion of creating these it over the course of four years. All that
buildings was to maintain the British was left of the Cloth Hall was the stump
ideals at the most important sites of the of the belfry—an image that has been
colony. The courts of law were part of well-documented by two photographers
this identity that the empire wanted to from that time and recorded by Coate
create. The way in which these high (1995) in his work.
Rahela Khorakiwala (rahela.k@gmail.com) courts have been structured represents a Dominiek Dendooven (2003) writes
is a postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck feature of colonial governance wherein about the debate that occurred after
Institute, Frankfurt, Germany.
they controlled the colonies through a World War I with regard to whether the
Economic & Political Weekly EPW OCTOBER 27, 2018 vol lIiI no 43 23
COMMENTARY

town of Ieper should be rebuilt; and if The court also published its own souvenir had been reconstructed based on the
yes, how. There were three schools of on the occasion of its sesquicentenary blueprint of another building, this fact
thought as to this proposition. One sug- celebrations. Two articles therein record would have been well-known and docu-
gestion was to rebuild the city in a mod- that, “when the original Stadt-Haus mented as is the case with all informa-
ern style, the second group suggested burnt down during the First World War, tion related to the reconstruction of not
that the ruins of the town should be a blueprint of Granville’s Calcutta High only the Cloth Hall, but the entire town
preserved and kept as they were in or- Court had to be consulted before re- of Ieper post World War I. So integral
der to create an open memorial of the building it” and “when Belgium was was the debate on the reconstruction of
war; and the last proposition was that devastated by bombing, an architect Ieper that it is a part of its present as
the town should be rebuilt as an exact had come down to Calcutta to create much as of its past. While this argument
replica and reconstruction of the town a replica of the High Court building” is persuasive, there is additional evidence
of Ieper as it existed before the war. (Das 2012). Along with the knowledge that the Cloth Hall was reconstructed on
The third suggestion was adopted and that the CHC was modelled on the Cloth its very own building plans.
therefore, right after the war, the pro- Hall of Ieper, this information has also If one looks at the images of the Cloth
cess of reconstructing Ieper in its old become a part of the archived memory Hall just before it was destroyed, you
glory began. In keeping with this tradi- of the court. can see the scaffolding that was already
tion, the Cloth Hall building was also in place on top of the belfry. The reason
reconstructed to resemble its earlier 13th A ‘Return Gift’? for this is that there was restoration and
century design. Therefore, the Cloth Hall Based on the documented evidence and major renovation work already planned
building as it stands today is a replica of my conversations with a few persons for the Cloth Hall building before it was
the old Cloth Hall that was destroyed in in Ieper, it is clear that this belief is in- destroyed. The engineer architect Jules
the war. The reconstruction began in the correct. Most people in Belgium and in Coomans had been appointed as the
1930s and was completed in parts until Ieper itself are unaware that there is a town architect for Ieper in 1895 and he
1967. Today, it houses the In Flanders building in India that is modelled on its was given the primary task of restoring
Fields Museum. Cloth Hall. It can be argued that if this Ieper’s heritage during this time. As noted
In terms of the CHC, a lot of folklore is important epicentre of the town of Ieper by Dendooven and Dewilde (1999), he
attached to the incident of the destruc-
tion and reconstruction of the Cloth Hall
of Ieper. Several persons I spoke to be- Appeal for Donations to the Corpus of the
lieved that when the Cloth Hall building Sameeksha Trust
was thus damaged, the CHC authorities
were approached to facilitate its recon- This is an appeal to the subscribers, contributors, advertisers and well-wishers of Economic
struction. They said that the building & Political Weekly (EPW), published by Sameeksha Trust, a public charitable trust registered
plans of the court were used to rebuild with the office of the Charity Commissioner, Mumbai, India. EPW has completed 50 years of
publications. We have become what we are at present because of your support and goodwill.
the destroyed structure of the Cloth Hall.
Week after week, EPW publishes at least 80,000 words by a wide range of writers: veteran
Not only was this a part of the oral and young scholars, senior journalists and public commentators, political and social activists;
memory of the court but it is found in elected representatives of the people, policy practitioners, and concerned citizens.
the written memories of the court’s his- In order to meet new editorial challenges, confront technological changes, provide adequate
tory as well. In 1962, on the occasion of remuneration to our employees and contributors, enhance our reputation and grow in stature
the centenary celebrations of the CHC, and scale while zealously maintaining our editorial independence and autonomy, we seek
the sheriff of Calcutta wrote for the your support. Given the growing uncertainty in flows of advertising income and the fast-
changing nature of publishing, it is our endeavour to increase interest income by enlarging
souvenir published on the occasion, “it
the corpus of the Sameeksha Trust. We seek active support from both institutions and individuals
is interesting to know that after the in this endeavour.
destruction of the Ypres Town Hall in
Do donate to the corpus of the Sameeksha Trust. The Sameeksha Trust, which owns
the 1914–18 World War, Belgian archi- EPW and the EPW Research Foundation, is a public charitable trust registered under the
tects were reportedly sent to Calcutta to Bombay Public Trusts Act, 1950. Donations to Sameeksha Trust enjoy tax exemption under
copy the design of the High Court for Section 80G of the Income Tax Act, 1961. We welcome donations to the corpus not less than
the purpose of rebuilding their Town Rs 1,000 per individual. Donations in foreign currency and donations from political parties are
not accepted. We welcome donations from non-resident Indians (NRIs) and persons of Indian
Hall” (Chowdhury and Roy 1962). In the
origin (PIOs), but only in Indian currency and through regular banking channels. All donors
2012 publication of the Indian Law Insti- must provide details of their Permanent Account Number (PAN) and a covering letter, stating
tute recollecting 150 years of the CHC, that this donation is to the corpus of the Sameeksha Trust. Please note that a covering letter
Mukherjee (2012) footnotes that, “the and photocopy of the PAN card is mandatory.
original structure [of the Cloth Hall] was If you need more information on how to support us, please email us at edit@epw.in and
ruined in World [War] I. It was rebuilt we shall be happy to provide you with details.
between 1933 and 1967 relying largely — From the Trustees of Sameeksha Trust and the Editor of EPW
on the plans of the Calcutta High Court.”
24 OCTOBER 27, 2018 vol lIiI no 43 EPW Economic & Political Weekly
COMMENTARY

had almost completed this task by 1914. assurance and certainty” as documented researches the history of Ieper, he plots
In order to carry out the restoration by Glancey (2006). Not only was the an alternative way of materialising this
work on the Cloth Hall, Coomans had to model building imitated in Europe, but pride. His narrative reconfigures the CHC
create his own drawings and the neces- copies are found in the United States as as one of the oldest buildings in the
sary blueprints. During the war Coomans well. The State University Plaza in Albany, world with this architectural style, stand-
was able to move most of the documents New York, constructed between 1914 and ing in the unique position of being older
related to this restoration work to the 1918, is based on the design of the Cloth than the building it was modelled on.
town of Wimereux, where he lived. Hall in Ieper, Belgium. The university This offers an invitation to memorialise
Therefore, at the time that the Cloth website mentions that the Albany archi- the connection with Ieper and Belgium
Hall was destroyed, all the necessary tect Marcus Reynolds modelled his plans in an alternative way. The presence of
documents were kept safe. After the war on the Cloth Hall as he had studied the this apocryphal myth highlights the
was over, when the decision was taken building when he was in Europe. Other connection between two important
to reconstruct an exact replica of the old buildings in England modelled on the buildings located in Calcutta and Ieper,
Cloth Hall, the original plans for recon- Cloth Hall of Ieper include the 1869 con- and the link that has till date been
struction were thus ready and available. structed Chester Town Hall in Chester understood differently.
The design layouts of the two build- and the 1878 building of the Holloway
ings are also different. While the CHC is Sanatorium in Surrey, amongst others. References
a rectangular building, the Ipres building Therefore, it is possible to surmise that Baucom, Ian (1999): Out of Place: Englishness, Empire,
and the Locations of Identity, Princeton: Princeton
narrows in the centre and then expands the Ieper Cloth Hall building was an often- University Press.
out again making it structurally different. used model design, which was also con- Burns, Karen (2016): “Global Gothic,” A W N Pugin’s
On the question of why Granville sidered in the construction of the CHC. Global Influence: Gothic Revival Worldwide,
Timothy Brittain-Catlin, Jan De Maeyer and
might have chosen the Cloth Hall of Martin Bressani (eds), Leuven: Leuven Univer-
Ieper as a design model for the CHC, it Reconfiguring History sity Press, pp 130–41.
Chaudhury, Sushil (2012): “The Calcutta High Court:
may be argued that the structure and The evidence of this reality about the A Historical Perspective,” Sesquicentenary Cele-
design of the Cloth Hall building was a existing myth in the CHC directs one to bration of the High Court at Calcutta (1862–2012),
model design for European architectural think of how history and memory are of- Souvenir Committee, Kolkata: Saraswaty Press
Limited (Government of West Bengal Enter-
styles. Karen Burns (2016) writes, “From ten reconfigured to materialise a specific prise), pp 91–103.
the middle of the nineteenth century pride and prestige. In this case, the myth Chowdhury, Raja and B N Roy (1962): “The Sheriff
of Calcutta,” The High Court at Calcutta: Cente-
Gothic Revival architecture became a that the Cloth Hall of Ieper had to use nary Souvenir, 1862–1962, Calcutta: Saraswaty
global style as it travelled from the the building plans of the CHC to be re- Press Ltd (Govt of W B Enterprise), pp 101–10.
Coate, Leslie (1995): Ypres 1914–1918: A Study in
northern hemisphere to the south.” Burns built allows for an architectural history History Around Us, Sussex: L D C Publications.
argues that this spread was carried out to mobilise a form of pride associated with Das, Soumitra (2012): “Embodiment of the Law,”
by colonial governments who “stamped the history of the high court. Through Sesquicentenary Celebration of the High Court
at Calcutta (1862–2012), Souvenir Committee,
their Gothic buildings on provincial and this myth, we are invited to revisit the Kolkata: Saraswaty Press Limited (Govern-
metropolitan cities.” An important form colonial past of the high court and the ment of West Bengal Enterprise), pp 111–13.
Dendooven, Dominiek (2003): Ypres as Holy Ground:
of transporting this was done through notion of “gifting” back to the Belgians Menin Gate and Last Post, 2nd, Trans by Ian
drawings and models. Burns emphati- their past through our present. This idea Connerty, Koksijde: De Klaproos Editions.
cally states that the “culture of copying has been nurtured and inflected by the Dendooven, Dominiek and Jan Dewilde (1999):
The Reconstruction of Ieper: A Walk through
was central to nineteenth-century Gothic colonial idea of the rule of law as a gift History, Ieper: Openbaar Kunstbezit in Vlaan-
architecture” and that more often than to civilise the natives. This returning of a deren in co-operation with the In Flanders
Fields Museum.
not, decorative and iconographic works gift by a former colony then also carries Glancey, Jonathan (2006): Eyewitness Companions:
combined, “regional, national and global elements of reasserting the dignity of Architecture, London: DK: Dorling Kindersley.
referents to produce original copies the colonised, if not its superiority mak- John G Waite Associates (nd): “State University
Plaza, Albany, NY,” John G Waite Associates,
rather than faithful replicas of a distant ing a postcolonial circumstance. Architects, http://www.jgwaarchitects.com/
medieval English past.” This narrative of history is not an portfolio/public-buildings/state-university-
plaza/state-university-plaza.htm, viewed on 21
This idea of producing “original copies” archival or chronological notion of his- October 2018.
applies to the case of the CHC designed tory, if one were to note that the CHC as Mukherjee, Sondwip (2012): “3 Esplanade Row
(West),” The High Court at Calcutta—150
on the Cloth Hall of Ieper. Confirming an institution did not feel the require- Years: An Overview, Chittatosh Mookerjee,
this debate is the fact that the court ment to verify these facts with its Belgian S B Mookherjee, Saktinath Mukhopadhyay,
building was not the only one modelled counterpart. Rather, this notion is embed- Surendra Kumar Kapur, Bhaskar P Gupta,
Samaraditya Pal, Amit Roy and Sondwip
on the Ieper one. There were several ded in a specific imagination of histori- Mukherjee (eds), Indian Law Institute, Kolkata
other buildings that were also designed cal time—a time that is not calibrated (West Bengal State Unit), pp 27–38.
Mookerjee, Chittatosh, S B Mookherjee, Saktinath
in the same style, because the architec- through archives, dates or documents Mukhopadhyay, Surendra Kumar Kapur, Bhaskar
ture of the Cloth Hall established a, but more though the idea of a pride mate- P Gupta, Samaraditya Pal, Amit Roy and Sondwip
Mukherjee (eds) (2012): The High Court at
“repetitive, rhythmic regularity that gives rialised in a different imagination of his- Calcutta—150 Years: An Overview, Indian Law
the building an astonishing sense of tory. When I spoke to Dendooven, who Institute, Kolkata (West Bengal State Unit).

Economic & Political Weekly EPW OCTOBER 27, 2018 vol lIiI no 43 25
COMMENTARY

Image 1: The Calcutta High Court, Circa 1900 Image 2: The Calcutta High Court

Source: Rahela Khorakiwala.

Source: Mookerjee et al (2012).

Image 3: The Cloth Hall in Ieper, Belgium, Circa 1845 Image 4: The Cloth Hall After being Bombed

Source: Beatrijs Deconinck.

Source: Beatrijs Deconinck.

Image 5: The Reconstructed Cloth Hall Image 6: Scaffoldings on the Belfry of the Cloth Hall

Source: Rahela Khorakiwala.

Source: Beatrijs Deconinck.

Economic & Political Weekly EPW OCTOBER 27, 2018 vol lIiI no 43 1

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