Palmerston, the ‘chief mouser’ to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Whitehall, captured by photographer Steve Way during the Open House London weekend, apparently oblivious to the crowds. Palmerston was recently the subject of a Freedom of Information release which stated that since his arrival at the FCO in April, 2016, he had been seen capturing 27 mice (although the Office of the Permanent Under-Secretary at the FCO reports the actual figure is “likely to be much higher as these are only reported sightings”). The FOI document also revealed Palmerston eats a variety of food brands, usually ‘Whiskas’ and is cared for by a number of volunteers from across the FCO.
The headquarters of the East India Company, the ‘New’ East India House, was built in the 1720s at the corner of Leadenhall and Lime Streets on the site of what had been a late Elizabethan mansion known as Craven House.
The company, which was founded in 1600, was housed in several different properties (including Crosby Hall – now located at Chelsea) until it moved into Craven House in 1648 – built by a former Lord Mayor, Sir Robert Lee, and named after one of its later occupants Sir William Craven. In 1661 an ornamental wooden structure featuring paintings of some of the Company’s ships and a wooden sculpture of a seaman, was added to the facade of the building.
By the 1720s, the mansion was crumbling and so construction began on a new building on the site designed by Theodore Jacobsen (the Company was relocated to a temporary premises in Fenchurch Street while it was built).
The three storey building on Leadenhall Street was designed with five bays and beyond the facade featured grand meeting rooms including the Directors’ Court Room, offices for the directors as well as a hall, courtyard, garden and warehouses. Famous art works inside included the fresco The East Offering its Riches to Britannia by then little known Greek artist Spiradone RomaThe East Offering its Riches to Britannia which once adorned the ceiling of the Revenue Committee Room (it’s now in the collection of the British Library).
The building was renovated and extended significantly in the 1790s creating what was essentially a grand new neo-classical building. Among the new additions – although it seems a matter of some debate the building was apparently designed by Henry Holland with the work was overseen by the Company’s surveyor Richard Jupp until his death in 1799 – were a museum and library. A new pediment topped by Brittania dominated the facade.
When the East India Company was wound up in 1858 after the Indian Mutiny its assets were transferred to the government and the building briefly became home to the India Office (which subsequently moved to a new purpose-built building which still stands in Whitehall).
In 1861, the building was sold for redevelopment and subsequently demolished. Many of its fittings, art collection and furnishings were transferred elsewhere including the British Library, V&A and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Whitehall where many of the fittings of the Directors’ Court Room – including a great marble chimneypiece – were reused.
The location of the property is now covered by the landmark Lloyd’s building with little to indicate such a grand premises had once stood here.
PICTURE: The extended East India House in about 1800, by Thomas Malton the Younger (1748-1804)/via Wikipedia.
For more on the history of the East India Company, see John Keay’s The Honourable Company: A History of the English East India Company.
We’ve previously mentioned the home of the British Government – the Houses of Parliament – in this series but this week we’re looking at another government building – a gem of 19th century architecture.
In existence since 1782, the Foreign Office had originally been housed in two houses in St James and then, as the department grew, to properties in Whitehall – first in The Cockpit (this building has an interesting history we’ll look at in a later post) and then in Downing Street. Initially lodged in what had been Lord Sheffield’s house in Downing Street, the department soon spilled over into neighbouring properties.
The deteriorating quality of these abodes, however, was such that there were fears for their collapse and plans to build a new Foreign Office were mooted. But it wasn’t until the 1850s that it was decided the government announced plans for a competition to design new Foreign and War Offices on Downing Street. There was something of a heated debate over the style of the building between those favouring classical and those favouring gothic architecture but in 1858 George Gilbert Scott (knighted in 1872) was finally appointed as architect.
While Scott apparently originally favoured a building in the gothic style, this was opposed by then Prime Minister Lord Palmerston whose preferences for a classical building eventually won the day.
Work on the new building began in the early 1860s and it eventually opened in July, 1868. While the War Office was never constructed, other departments were located in adjoining premises within the same block. These included the India Office – while Scott oversaw the exterior design, the interior was designed by Matthew Digby Wyatt, surveyor of the former East India Company and subsequently Architect to the Council of India. It opened in November 1867 but was taken over by the Foreign Office in 1947 following India’s independence – and the Colonial and Home offices – designed by Scott, these were completed by 1875.
Plans to build a new Foreign Office were mooted in the mid-20th century and there was talk of demolishing the existing building but after a public debate, Scott’s building was protected after being given Grade I listed building status.
In 1968, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office merged (the latter had only been created two years before) and the Home Office moved out of its premises, meaning that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office now occupied all four original departmental premises. A modernisation program subsequently took place and there was also a significant restoration program which was completed by January 1997.
Stand out rooms in the complex include the grand Locarno Suite – three interlinked rooms designed by Scott to host dinners, receptions and conferences which gained its current moniker in 1925 when the Locarno Treaties were signed here; as well as the India Office Council Chamber – designed by Wyatt, it features a great marble chimney taken from the former Director’s Court Room in East India House located in Leadenhall Street in the City; and, Wyatt’s spectacular Durbar Court which features a glazed cast-iron roof added in 1868 (the name dates from 1902 when some of coronation celebrations of King Edward VII were held here). The many grand staircases in the building – including the beautiful Muses Stair with its octagonal lantern – are also worth noting.
While the buildings, which are officially entered off King Charles Street, are not usually open to the public, they have been opened for the past few years during London’s Open House weekend. There is an audio tour available which details much of the fine artwork in the building.