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Recollections of Calcutta for over Half a Century online

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in Calcutta society in those days.


Is greatly changed from what it used to be. At one time in the very
early days it was occupied principally by boarding houses of a second
class type, and amongst them was one situated at the top at the
left-hand corner, which has been since pulled down and the present
building erected on its site, in which young assistants in offices on
not too large a salary used to get comfortable quarters with home like
surroundings at a very moderate figure. It was as far as I remember
run by a widow lady whose husband had left her rather badly off, and
she took much interest in, and carefully mothered her young charges,
amongst others a son of her own who was in the Bank of Bengal. On the
opposite side an old house has been renovated and faced with iron
railings which has much improved its general appearance. Turning into
Chowringhee again we approach Castellazzo's, Mr. Leslie's new
premises, the Picture Palace, and Perry & Co.'s shop. These are all
built, with the exception of Castellazzo's, in the compound of Mr.
Gubbay's old house in Lindsay Street, as well as all the other shops
extending round the corner including Wallace & Co. I understand that
Mr. Leslie has acquired the whole of this property, and will, in the
course of time, demolish the present buildings and erect in
continuation of his present new block a very handsome pile having a
tower at the corner of Lindsay Street.


Has also undergone some wonderful and striking changes, not the least
being the clearing of the large open space facing the New Market on
which the old wooden structure designated the Opera House had stood
for so many years, and the erection of the new Opera House and all the
shops adjoining up to within a short distance of Fenwick Buildings.

[Illustration: _Photo by Johnston & Hoffmann_. Esplanade Mansions,
built by Mr. Ezra on the site of Scott Thomsons corner.]

[Illustration: Thacker, Spink & Co.'s new premises, completed in
1916. _Photo. by Johnston & Hoffmann, Calcutta_.]

[Illustration: _Photo by Johnston & Hoffmann._ Walter Locke & Co's
premises, esplanade, East]

[Illustration: Mackintosh Burn & Co. and Morrison & Cottle's
premises, Esplanade, East.]

The streets on either side running parallel to the market have also
been much improved, particularly that on the eastern part where in
former days there used to stand a low form of tea and coffee shops
with one or two mean streets branching off to the east and leading to
a disreputable part of the town. The whole street has been
straightened out and brightened up, and many of the irregularities and
disfigurements that were so marked a feature of it in the old days
have been removed.


On this particular spot many of my readers will doubtless recollect
that Mr. W.T. Woods, one of Calcutta's earliest and most successful
dentists, had his surgery and residence for a great number of years,
and laid the foundation of the fortune with which he returned to
England early in the present century. It was a place that
unfortunately I knew only too well, but I will say this that he was at
all times the gentlest and most sympathetic dentist that I ever came
across, and for nervous people, ladies, and children he was _par
excellence_ the one man to consult. The house adjoining, at the corner
of Sudder Street, has always had the reputation of being haunted, and
no one would go near the place for years, and it was gradually falling
into decay, when one day to the surprise of everybody some natives
appeared on the scene and occupied it, and later on Parrott & Co.
leased the premises for their whisky agency. Let us hope that the
material spirit has had the effect of exorciting the supernatural one.


Is and always has been an extremely dull and most uninteresting
street, entirely lacking in all the essential elements that go towards
making a place look bright and cheerful. I really forget what it was
like before the Museum was erected, but this did not apparently have
the effect of adding to its attractions. The Wesleyan Chapel, School,
and Parsonage have been built in my day on the site of what, as far as
I remember, were ordinary dwelling houses. There does not appear to be
even now much traffic of any sort passing through the street during
the day.


Since the erection of Chowringhee Mansions and the new United Service
Club this street has been much improved by bringing the various
buildings more or less into alignment with one another, and by the
introduction of paved side-walks on either side, more particularly near
the Chowringhee quarter.

[Illustration: _Photo by Johnston & Hoffmann_ Bristol Hotel,

[Illustration: _Photo. by Johnston & Hoffmann_. Corporation Street,
showing Hindustan Buildings - Proprietors, Hindustan Co-operative
Insurance Society, Ltd.]

[Illustration: Hindustan Buildings - Proprietors, Hindustan
Co-operative Insurance Society, Ltd., Corporation Street]

[Illustration: Old site of the present Continental Hotel, Chowringhee]

[Illustration: _Photo. by Johnston & Hoffmann_ Hotel Continental,

At the Free School Street end new buildings have taken the place of
old and antiquated ones. I well recollect there was for some time a
house on the left-hand side which was occupied by the assistants of
the old Oriental Bank, all of whom I knew very well, and it went by
the name of the Oriental Bank Chummery. They subsequently removed to
one of the Panch Kotee houses in Rawdon Street, where they used to
give dances and other entertainments. The house next to their old one
in Kyd Street suddenly collapsed one day and was reduced to a heap of
rubbish, but fortunately no one was hurt. At the time of the
Exhibition in 1883-84 there was an entrance to the grounds of the
Museum alongside the archway over the end of the tank, which has
recently been bricked up, close to which dining rooms were opened, and
the elite of Calcutta society often dined there during the months that
the Exhibition was open.


I have already observed that there were no shops in this part of the
town, and there was nothing to distinguish it from any other
residential street such as Middleton Street and Harington Street. As
far as I recollect Hall & Anderson were the first to establish the
new departure in this respect. The site on which they have built their
premises was an old, tumble-down godown, in the occupation of some
French people of the name of Dollet, who sold French wines, brandy,
and condiments. The row of shops immediately on the left, facing
Russell Street, styled Park House, are built on a portion of the
compound and the site of the stables and coach house of the old 56,
Park Street, at one time occupied by the _late_ J. Thomas, senior
partner of the old firm of R. Thomas & Co. Proceeding further down the
street on the same side we come to the row of shops extending as far
as the corner of Free School Street. These, from the Light Horse Club,
are built on ground that in the old days was part of a large compound
attached to the girls' department of the old Doveton College, and the
Park Street Thanna, which I observe has been lately pulled down, was
the girls' school. Of course we all know that Park Mansions are built
on the site of the Doveton College for boys. The large, imposing
looking house on the opposite side, No. 24, was formerly occupied by
the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal before Belvedere became the official

[Illustration: _Photo by Johnston & Hoffmann._ The old United Service

[Illustration: _Photo. by Bourne & Shepherd_. Present-day view of
United Service Club.]

[Illustration: _Photo. by J. & H._ Park House, Park Street, William
Heath's premises.]

[Illustration: _Photo by Johnston & Hoffmann_ The "Haunted" House,
corner of Sudder Street, Chowringhee.]

Further eastward we arrive at Allen Garden, situated between the end
of Camac Street and Wood Street, which for many years was known as
the three-cornered taut, the banks of which were both high and
precipitous, and a constant source of danger to children playing in
the surrounding garden. The Corporation very wisely decided to fill it
up, and so converted it into the present garden, in which are to be
seen every evening crowds of happy and merry children playing about
and thoroughly enjoying themselves. I might here mention that a rather
singular episode occurred in connection with the filling in of the
tank in question, for the particulars of which I am indebted to my
friend W.H. Phelps. It appeared that the Corporation had mixed along
with the earth and rubbish which they used for this purpose a certain
amount of ashes from the incinerator which was then in use, which had
the immediate effect of creating such an offensive and nauseating
effluvia that it was found impossible to live anywhere near the place,
and the houses in the neighbourhood were quickly evacuated. One of the
houses facing the new garden to the south happened at the time to be
in the occupation of a lady who took in boarders, all of whom very
quickly left. She claimed compensation from the Corporation of the sum
of Rs. 30,000 for the loss and damage she had sustained, and they paid
it to her. She had to close the house altogether for several months. I
might state that Park House above referred to was erected by Mr.
Phelps, and was set back seven feet to a new alignment in anticipation
of the eventual widening of Park Street at the Chowringhee end which,
I believe, the Improvement Trust have in contemplation. The block of
buildings contained in Park House was the first important line of
European shops erected in this great arterial section of the city.

Turning again into Chowringhee we arrive at G.K. Kellner & Co.'s
establishment, the site of which was formerly occupied by one of the
handsomest houses in Chowringhee of three storeys. It was, however, so
badly knocked about by the earthquake of 1897 that it was considered
unsafe, and would have had to be pulled down and rebuilt, but, rather
than do this, Mr. Meyer, the owner, made an arrangement with Kellner &
Co., whose premises at that time were in Bankshall Street, to build to
their own plan a thoroughly up-to-date place which would embrace on an
extensive scale all the necessary requirements for their very large
and expanding business, including residential quarters for their
senior partner. That this has been successfully accomplished I have
recently had ocular demonstration, and I have no hesitation in saving
it is a marvel of perfection down to its very smallest detail. It is
well worth any one's while to pay a visit to their premises, and I
feel sure that my friend Jeffreys will accord to them the same quiet
courtesy as he did to me.

[Illustration: _Photo by Johnston & Hoffmann_ G.F. Kellner & Co.'s
premises in Chowringhee]

[Illustration: _Photo. by Bourne & Shepherd_. Army and Navy Stores,


Most people will recollect the erection of this exceedingly handsome
block of buildings, but few perhaps are aware that some time
previously the Bengal Club had entertained serious thoughts of
acquiring the original property for their new club house, and had even
gone the length of having plans and estimates prepared, but for some
reason the negotiations fell through and the idea was abandoned. As
far as I recollect, the price was very moderate, some Rs. 2,50,000 or
Rs. 3,00,000. I think the main objection to the scheme was based on
sentimental grounds, many of the members disliking the idea of
forsaking the old place in which the club had been housed for so many
years. There is no doubt that it would have been an ideal spot,
bounded as it is east, west, and south by three of the principal
thoroughfares of Calcutta.


Has undergone some changes and alterations. The first to make its
appearance was the erection of the house situated in the compound of
No. 3, on the left-hand side as you enter the gateway from the
street; it rather spoils the general look of the place, but I fancy
the proprietor is amply compensated for this by the increase of his
monthly revenue. No. 10 on the opposite side, once one of Mrs.
Walter's boarding houses, has recently been altered and much improved,
and is, I believe, let out in suites. Further down on the south side
two new houses have been built in the compound of old No. 4; I cannot
say that this is any improvement, and it has involved the sacrifice of
one of the most attractive compounds in the street. This I fear, as
time progresses, will be the fate of many of the compounds that now
adorn this part of the city.


I well recollect in the far-off days what was then called 2, Harington
Street, next to Kumar Arun Chundra Singha's house. It consisted of an
old-fashioned, long, straggling two-storeyed building, situated in the
centre of a large, ill-kempt compound. It was run as a boarding house,
together with several other establishments of a similar kind, by a
lady of the name of Mrs. Box, who was well known at that time, and
who held the same sort of position in Calcutta as did Mrs. Monk at a
later period. She had the reputation of being very wealthy, and her
old khansamah I know had also done himself very well, as when he
retired he set up as a ticca gharri proprietor just at the junction of
Camac Street and Theatre Road, and was one of the first to introduce
into Calcutta the "Fitton" gharri.

[Illustration: Chowringhee Mansions, built on the site of Old United
Service Club.]

[Illustration: _Photo. by Johnston & Hoffmann_ Hall & Anderson's
premises, at the corner of Park Street]

Many of the present generation must recollect seeing the patriarchal
looking gentleman with a long flowing white beard, perched on a
charpoy every day just outside his stables. He did remarkably well at
his new occupation, as he was able to build the two houses 39 and 40,
Theatre Road. Returning to Harington Street, I may mention that the
houses Nos. 2, 2/1, and 2/2, besides 8, Little Russell Street, were
all built in the compound of the old house referred to as No. 2. Going
further down to the end of the street on the left-hand side we arrive
at what used to be No. 8, a very old and popular boarding house, for
many years in the occupation of Mrs. Monk, upon which has been erected
by Mr. Galstaun what is called the Harington Mansions, and on the
opposite side the very handsome house owned and occupied by Sir
Rajendra Nath Mookerjee, both of which were designed by my old
lamented friend Ted Thornton; there are thirty flats in the Mansions,
and I fancy they are always fully occupied.


No. 1 was, at one time, occupied by Sir Richard Markby, Judge of the
High Court, during part of his stay in Calcutta, at another by a
chummery consisting of Jim Henderson, Keith Douglas and Charles Brock,
and afterwards it was let out as a boarding house to various people.

The present Royal Calcutta Turf Club premises were in the occupation
for a considerable period of Sir Richard Garth, Chief Justice of
Bengal, father of the present Sir William Garth, and he and Lady Garth
were great favourites and very popular in Calcutta society. They used
to entertain a good deal and give a ball once every season. Very
pleasant affairs they always were. I recollect on one occasion I had
engaged one of the Misses Searle previously alluded to for a valse,
and when I went to claim it I found her seated on the verandah in
conversation with Sir Richard, who, when I announced my errand, at
once chipped in and said that I must have made some mistake as it was
undoubtedly his dance, and nothing I could say would convince him to
the contrary. The fact was he was having a good time and did not wish
to be disturbed, so recognising the position I complacently retired. I
may incidentally mention that Sir Richard was a well-known, ardent
devotee of the fair sex. When he retired he wrote a pamphlet called "A
Few Plain Truths about India." It caused a great sensation at the
time, but is now quite unobtainable. A secondhand copy would be
interesting not only for its material but for the price it would

As we proceed down the road, we come to No. 5 on the south side,
which, from time immemorial, has had an undefinable, sinister, and
uncanny reputation. What it is no one can exactly say, but it is
sufficiently significant to keep people from occupying it. At one time
it seemed as if the owners were going to allow it gradually to tumble
to pieces, but this year they have apparently awakened up and have
built an entirely new facade and enlarged it on a considerable scale,
which must have entailed a very heavy outlay, but so far unfortunately
to no purpose. If all I hear is correct it has already been let twice,
but the would-be tenants cannot get a single servant to venture near
the place, so how it will all end remains to be seen.

[Illustration: _Photo. by Johnston & Hoffmann_ Old Bengal Club]

[Illustration: _Photo. by Bourne & Shepherd_ New Bengal Club.]

From this point onwards to Camac Street, embracing Pretoria Street and
all the houses round about comprised within the vast block extending
from Theatre Road to Circular Road, the ground was formerly bustee
land with the usual insanitary tank in the centre. It can therefore
easily be perceived how greatly this section of the city has been
transformed and improved. On the opposite side of the road the houses
from No. 44 to Smith, Stanistreet & Co., and extending round the
corner into Camac Street including No. 4/1, are also built on
reclaimed bustee land. Nos. 45, 46, and 47 on the same side, higher
up, are built on what was, at one time, part of the compound of 5,
Harington Street, owned and occupied by Mr. George McNan, the boundary
wall of which formerly extended to Theatre Road. Further down on the
south side we come to No. 15, in the occupation of the Rajah of
Hutwa, at one time in the dim past the Young Ladies' Institute of
Calcutta, and at a much later period one of Mrs. Monk's numerous
boarding houses, presided over for some time by old Daddy Cartwright
as a sort of chummery.

Further on we come to Rawdon Street; the houses to the north facing
the burial ground as far as Park Street, including those in Short and
Robinson Street at the east end adjoining, are also built on waste and
reclaimed bustee land as well as those of red brick Nos. 29, 30, 31,
and 32 in Theatre Road on the left-hand side after passing Rawdon
Street. On returning to Little Russell Street we find many and various
additions. In the old days there were only three houses numbered 1, 2,
3. No. 1 was demolished in the far-off time, and the present Nos. 5
and 6 were built on its site. No. 4 was then No. 2, No. 8 is built as
already stated on the grounds of old 2, Harington Street, and No. 1
and No. 2 in the compound of the old No. 3, which latter house has
been greatly enlarged and improved, and was once known as the
Officers' Hospital.

At the south-east corner of Theatre Road and Loudon Street there used
to be a tank, which was filled up many years ago and converted into
quite a pretty garden which has been named Macpherson Square.

[Illustration: _Photo. by Johnston & Hoffmann_ Bishop's Palace,


I well recollect the time when it was considered rather _infra dig_ to
reside in this particular part of the town, but then, of course, it
was an entirely different place from what it has since become. Lee
Road, for instance, was not then in existence, and for a very long
time after it was opened contained but one house. No. 1, at present in
the occupation of Mr. Goodman. On the south side of Circular Road
immense alterations and improvements have been inaugurated, old bustee
lands have been reclaimed, on which handsome residences have been
erected, new roads and thoroughfares have been opened out and built
upon, and Lansdowne Road, formerly known as Peepal Puttee Rasta, has
also been widened, improved; and extended almost beyond recognition.
In addition an entirely new street at the extreme end of the road has
been created in Lower Rawdon Street.

This, I think, brings our perambulations to an end, and I can only
express the hope that I have not wearied out the patience of those of
my readers who have taken the trouble to accompany me on my

In concluding these reminiscences and bidding farewell to my readers,
I would crave their indulgence for the imperfections of which I am
only too sensible there are many: but at the same time I hope they
will not forget that they are written entirely from memory, without
any memoranda or data to refer to.

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Online LibraryMontague MasseyRecollections of Calcutta for over Half a Century → online text (page 7 of 7)