East-India-HouseThe 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.

Water_potA new exhibition opens at the V&A in South Kensington this Saturday which charts the development of cultural trade and diplomacy between Britain and Russia from the founding of the Muscovy Company in 1555 until the end of King Charles II’s reign in 1685. Treasures of the Royal Courts: Tudors, Stuarts and the Russian Tsars reveals the “majesty and pageantry” of the royal courts of both countries – from that of King Henry VIII to King Charles II in Britain and from that of Ivan the Terrible (Ivan IV) to the early Romanovs in Russia. The display features more than 150 objects including heraldry and processional armour,  furnishings, clothing, jewellery and portraiture including paintings and miniatures painted by court artists. Highlights include a rarely viewed portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, the Barbor Jewel – a pendant set with an onyx cameo of the queen; a hand-colored map of ‘Muscovy’ dating from 1570, and literature including Shakespeare’s First Folio as well as a showcase of British and French silver given to the Tsars by British merchants and kept in the Kremlin. The 20 pieces include the Dolphin Basin, made by Christiaen van Vianen – said to be a favoured silversmith of King Charles I and II – in 1635. The exhibition marks the 400th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty. Admission charge applies. Runs from Saturday, 9th March, until 14th July. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk. PICTURE: Water pot (1604-05), Historic collectino of the Armoury, © The Moscow Kremlin Museums.

The life and work of Sir Michael Caine – who turns 80 this month – is the focus of a new free exhibition at the Museum of London. Michael Caine, which opens tomorrow, features photographs including some never exhibited before as well as iconic portraits by the likes of David Bailey and Terry O’Neill as well as a selection of audio and film clips from movies such as Alfie, The Italian Job, Get Carter, Hannah and Her Sisters and Educating Rita. The exhibition follows Sir Michael’s life from “Cockney rebel, through to Hollywood legend and inspirational Londoner” and looks at how the city influenced his life and career. Runs until 14th July. To coincide with the exhibition, the Museum of London Docklands is running Caine on Screen, a selection of free films which can been voted for by the public (see our earlier post here). The schedule of films will be announced after 14th March. For voting details and more information, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

A bullet-pierced military tunic worn during the Indian Mutiny in the mid 19th century has been donated to the National Army Museum in Chelsea. The tunic, worn by Lieutenant Campbell Clark, of the 2nd Bengal European Fusiliers, at Cawnpore in 1857. The lieutenant was ambushed by rebels Indian infantry and shot at point-blank range. Despite being grievously wounded (the musket ball had passed through his stomach and remained in the wound), he survived the injury and the military hospital he was taken to and went on to have a long career, rising to the rank of colonel. He died in 1896 in Sussex. The tunic was donated to the museum by Clark’s great-great-nephew, John Gordon Clark. For more, see www.nam.ac.uk.

On Now: George Catlin: American Indian Portraits. Opening today, this exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery is the first major exhibition of the American artist’s works to be held in Europe since the 1840s and has been designed to demonstrate to the viewer how Catlin constructed a particular view of Native Americans in the minds of his audiences. Catlin made five trips into the western United States in the 1830s before the Native American peoples had been subsumed into the United States and, inspired by those trips, went on to create an Indian Gallery which featured 500 portraits, pictures and indigenous artefacts. He subsequently toured with the gallery in both the US and Europe. The exhibition is organised in collaboration with the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington. Runs until 23rd June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.