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Architecture of the British Raj - Evolution of styles in Mumbai, Kolkata & Delhi

Visits the major centres of British power, still India’s leading cities – Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi.

Extraordinary wealth of European-style architecture from the eighteenth century to the middle of the twentieth.

Little-visited treasures as well as the major ones included, with private visits and special access a feature of the tour.

  • Calcutta, Government House, from Calcutta, An Artists’s Impression by Desmond Doig.
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The British Raj in India was an extraordinary and unique phenomenon, both historically and in terms of its physical legacy. It might be said that the Subcontinent became British almost by accident. There was never an official expansionist strategy, and indeed time and again governments in London urged restraint or proscribed further territorial enlargement. When on occasion enthusiasts conceived grand designs they were usually stymied by the doctrine of ‘masterly inactivity’. Extraordinarily, for the first two-and-a-half centuries of British presence, India was not ruled directly by the Crown but indirectly by a commercial firm. The Honourable East India Company was founded in 1599, one of several such European enterprises initiated at the time to trade with the East via the recently discovered sea routes. Only in the aftermath of India’s First War of Independence in 1857–8 did India come to be ruled from Westminster.

British India was initially a trading enterprise, with treaties willingly entered into by local rulers. The cities of Kolkata (Calcutta), Chennai (Madras) and Mumbai (Bombay) were originally established by the Company as trading posts. Military means were used intermittently to defend the status quo or for piecemeal consolidation of interests. Most Britons who went to India expected to end their days in Britain. India was a place to seek adventure and to pursue a career, rarely a place to which to emigrate. If the imperial venture had its roots in trade, its fulfilment manifested itself in bureaucracy. At the height of the British Raj, about a thousand Anglo-Indians administered a population of 300 million. The Indian Civil Service was perhaps the most efficient and least corrupt in history. There was no shortage of arrogance and prejudice; but there was also devotion to duty, sense of service, religious tolerance and idealism concerning the benefits of their work.

Independence came over seventy years ago in 1947, but the physical evidence of the British presence survives. The centres of the major cities established by the East India Company are still astonishingly, perhaps bizarrely British. Kolkata, “city of palaces” with its surviving wealth of stuccoed Classical buildings can be compared with St Petersburg rather than Cheltenham. Mumbai, which Robert Byron once described as “that architectural Sodom” can now be seen as the finest Gothic Revival city in the world. And New Delhi, added to the ancient city of Delhi to which the seat of government was moved from Kolkata in 1911, is surely the most successful planned city of the twentieth century and Viceroy’s House one of the finest buildings anywhere.

It may be startling to see so many buildings which seem to have been transported bodily from Manchester, Glasgow, Bristol or London – except that, on closer inspection, adaptations to the climate are evident. Some are designed by major British architects – George Gilbert Scott, Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker among them – but most are by less familiar names: some who sent out drawings from Britain but others – like F.W. Stevens, William Emerson, Arthur Shoosmith - who settled in India for years or decades, while, towards the end, there was native Indian architectural talent. Then there is Indo-Saracenic architecture, a Victorian Orientalist hybrid, promoted by the British. A Battle of the Styles raged in Victorian India in parallel with the Gothic-Classical debates back home: whether to impose our own styles as would any conqueror, proclaiming the superiority of British civilisation, or legitimise our role as rulers by appropriating Indian styles? There will be much to debate on this tour.

Day 1

Mumbai. The tour begins in Mumbai with a lecture and lunch in the hotel restaurant at c. 12.00 noon (flights from London are not included. Your room is available from 2.00pm on 31st January – see Practicalities). Our hotel, a domed Edwardian pile which is one of the most famous in India, faces the Gateway of India, an Orientalised triumphal arch marking the spot where King George V and Queen Mary landed in 1911. Walk around the Victorian heart of Mumbai, seeing the major public, Gothic Revival buildings: the Secretariat, the High Court and, above all, the University. Other buildings include Watson’s Hotel, a mid-Victorian structure of prefabricated cast-iron, and the Prince of Wales Museum, an Edwardian building in the Indo-Saracenic style which houses, among much else, a collection of both European and Indian paintings. First of three nights in Mumbai.

Day 2

Mumbai. The Gothic Victoria Terminus railway station was clearly inspired by St Pancras in London and has a good, new museum. The Gothic Revival Afghan Memorial Church is also a melancholy reminder of the first of Britain’s several disastrous interventions in Afghanistan. St Thomas’s Cathedral, typical of so many Anglican churches in India: a Classical building adapted to the climate and filled with poignant monuments to British merchants, soldiers and administrators who never returned home. The Sassoon Library and the University Library, erected from designs sent out by Sir Gilbert Scott, are two of the more remarkable Gothic Revival buildings.

Day 3

Mumbai. In the morning we experience a rather older India with a visit by boat to the famous caves on Elephanta Island, with their rock-cut architectural forms and sculptures dating from the 5th to the 8th centuries. In the afternoon we visit by special arrangement the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, the oldest in the city, founded as the Victorian and Albert Museum in 1855. Free afternoon.

Day 4

Mumbai, Kolkata. Visit Mani Bhavan, the house which was used as Gandhi’s political headquarters in Mumbai from 1917 until 1934 and from which he launched his campaign of civil disobedience against British rule. Then drive to the airport and fly to Kolkata, where we stay at the Oberoi Grand, a late 19th-cent. building. First of four nights in Kolkata.

Day 5

Kolkata. Established in 1690, Kolkata flourished as an East India Company trading post and later as the capital of British India, especially after Clive’s victory over the Nawab of Murshidabad in 1757. Located in the vicinity of Dalhousie Square at the heart of the city are St John’s Church, with the tomb of Job Charnock the city’s founder, Town Hall, Writers’ Building, General Post Office and High Court (Gothic, unlike most of Kolkata). Government House, begun in 1799 by Governor-General Marquess Wellesley, was the grandest of the palaces. The Rabindra Bharati Museum is an 18th-cent. house which was the home of the poet and writer Rabindranath Tagore. Cross the Howrah Bridge, the huge cantilever steel structure over the Hooghly river opened in 1943, to see the Howrah Station, an Edwardian building which is still a vital testament to the importance of the railway in unifying British India.

Day 6

Kolkata. St Paul’s Cathedral, 1839–47, is one of the few Gothic buildings in Kolkata, and contains many good memorials and a superb Burne-Jones window. The huge domed Edwardian Baroque Victoria Memorial, by far the grandest building in Kolkata, was founded by Lord Curzon as a museum of British India and contains a magnificent collection of paintings and sculpture. The Belvedere was the residence of the Lieutenant Governors of Bengal and now houses the National Library.

Day 7

Kolkata. South Park Street Cemetery is a beautiful as well as poignant burial ground in which so many of Kolkata’s early residents lie in or under remarkably magnificent and sophisticated monuments. The Indian Museum was established in 1814 by the Asiatic Society; its present home opened in 1878 and was the work of Walter Granville, architect of the Post Office and the High Court. It contains India’s most important collection of sculpture. Free afternoon.

Day 8

Kolkata. The Maghen David Synagogue of 1884 and the Armenian Church of 1707 survive as reminders of the cosmopolitan nature of the city before Independence. Fly to Delhi at c. 5.00pm (IndiGo). First of four nights in Delhi.

Day 9

Delhi. Some of the fiercest fighting during the First War of Independence in 1857 took place in the area north of Old Delhi; we see the Flagstaff Tower and the Mutiny Memorial. Here also the move of the capital from Kolkata to Delhi was announced at the 1911 Coronation Durbar; visit the temporary Viceregal Lodge, now part of Delhi University, occupied by the Viceroys until the new palace Lutyens designed for them was ready. Located inside the Kashmir Gate of Old Delhi, scene of desperate fighting in 1857, is St James’s or Skinner’s Church, with its unusual centralized plan built by a cavalry officer, Colonel James Skinner, in the 1830s.

Day 10

Delhi. A day devoted to the magnificent Islamic architecture of Delhi. Delhi is a very ancient city but its principal architectural glories date from the 17th century when it was the capital of the Mughal emperors. Shah Jahan began the Red Fort and its palace in 1639 (the British nearly demolished them after 1857) with its open diwans (audience chambers) and the Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque) of white marble. The huge Jami Masjid (Friday Mosque) with its two noble minarets is one of the very finest Islamic buildings, and the 16th-cent. garden mausoleum of the Emperor Humayun is an outstanding example of earlier Islamic design. Some free time in the afternoon.

Day 11

New Delhi. The day is devoted to New Delhi, established in 1911 and inaugurated 20 years later. The magnificent group of government buildings at the heart of the low-density plan include the Secretariat and Parliament, both by Sir Herbert Baker, and the Viceroy’s House (now residence of the President) in which Sir Edwin Lutyens integrated Mughal, Hindu and Buddhist elements into his monumental Classical concept. Also by Lutyens, Hyderabad House is one of the palaces built for native princes. Another such palace, Jaipur House, close to the All India Arch at the end of the long vista from Viceroy’s House, is now the National Gallery of Modern Art. Among the buildings designed by Lutyens’s disciples are the Anglican cathedral by Henry Medd and the Garrison Church by Arthur Shoosmith, a 20th-cent. monument of rare distinction.

Day 12

Delhi. The tour ends this morning. Transfers are arranged to Delhi airport for your onward journey.



Two sharing: £5,470. Single occupancy: £6,560.



Arrival and departure airport car transfers; domestic flights with Jet Airways Mumbai to Kolkata (Boeing 737) and IndiGo Kolkata to Delhi (Airbus 320); travel by private air-conditioned coach; accommodation in the hotels as described below; breakfasts, 9 lunches and 7 dinners with beer, water, soft drinks and coffee at lunch plus wine at dinner; all admissions to museums and sites; all tips for drivers, restaurant staff, and local guides; all taxes; the services of the lecturer.



Flights from London to Mumbai and Delhi to London are not included in the price of the tour. We will send the recommended flight options when they are available to book, towards the middle of February 2019, and ask that you make your own flight reservation. The cost of a World Traveller (economy) seat with British Airways at the time of going to press is c. £550.



Required for most foreign nationals, and not included in the tour price. We advise you of the process.



Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai: a centrally located iconic landmark. Oberoi Grand Hotel, Kolkata: luxury hotel located in the city centre, impeccable service. The Imperial Hotel, New Delhi: 5-star hotel designed by F.B. Blomfield, a member of Lutyen’s team.


How strenuous?

This tour involves a lot of walking and standing so a good level of fitness is essential. Unless you enjoy entirely unimpaired mobility, cope with everyday walking and stair-climbing without difficulty and are reliably sure-footed, this tour is not for you. Uneven ground and irregular paving are standard. Unruly traffic and the busy streets of Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi also require vigilance. Average distance by coach per day: 17 miles.

Are you fit enough to join the tour?


Tour Manager

Hubert Giraud 

Group size

Between 10 and 22 participants.

Travel advice

Before booking, please refer to the FCDO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting.

'The lecturer and tour manager were superb, unfailingly helpful and kind, as well as extremely informative.'

'Very good with lots of privileged visits.'