Route Interior of the India Office India Office entrance from main Quadrangle From the 1970s this was known as the Mails Entrance because it gave access to the FCO Bag Room where diplomatic bags were filled for despatch to British missions abroad and received for distribution of correspondence within the Office. The area had become very dilapidated with the areas on either side of the staircase blocked off by means of plasterboard partitions, while the woodwork of the two great chimneypieces had been covered with coats of cream gloss paint. The staircase has now been restored to Matthew Digby Wyatt’s original design, during which it was discovered that the stone statues upholding the chimneypiece bearing the royal crest were estimated to date from the early seventeenth century. It is likely that they came from the original East India House, the headquarters of the East India Company in the City of London, as did the three marble statues. These statues, sculpted by Peter Scheemakers in the 1760s, represent (in clockwise direction) Clive of India, General Stringer Lawrence, who was known as the ‘Father of the Indian Army’, and Sir George Pocock, Admiral of the Blue. The lifesize statue of a Gurkha soldier is plaster, painted bronze colour (c.1929, the work of the sculptor, Richard Goulden). Following careful restoration, the statue was moved to this entrance in September 1998. It was the original figure for the Gurkha Brigade memorials at Gorakhpur and Dehra Dun, India, 1929-30. It was also the model for the Gurkha monument unveiled by H M The Queen outside the Ministry of Defence in December 1997. The bust of the Duke of Wellington, a copy of the original by the sculptor P. Turnerelli c.1815 (now in the British Library) in the niche to the left of the upper corridor, marks the approach to what used to be the Military Department of the former India Office. Ground floor corridor to the Durbar Conference Room The Durbar Conference Room is so named on account of its position looking on to Durbar Court (see below). Its original colour scheme has been restored and the delicate gilding of the ceiling has been reinstated. The ceiling tiles of the former loggia are in the Persian style so typical of much of Mogul India but were made by a British firm, Maw and Sons of Shropshire. Wyatt moved the glazed screen forward to its present position in 1873 to enlarge the area of the room. There are four portraits; Admiral Edward Pellew, 1st Viscount Exmouth, Commander- in-chief East Indies, 1804-09 but depicted here at the bombardment of Algiers in 1816 (Sir W Beechey, c1817); Sir Charles Trevelyan, Governor of Madras 1859-60 and the reformer of the British Civil Service (J J Fonceca, c1861); Sir James Rivett- Carnac, Chairman of the East India Company, 1836-37, Governor of Bombay 1838- 41 (Henry William Pickersgill, c1840); the Marquess of Dalhousie (copy by George Sephton, 1905, from the painting by Sir J Watson Gordon, RA, PRSA). Durbar Court The exuberant interior of the India Office is manifestly the achievement of Wyatt, an Durbar Court is his masterpiece. Originally open to the sky, the four sides of the Court are surrounded by three storeys of columns and piers supporting arches. The ground floor Doric and first floor Ionic columns are of polished red Peterhead granite, while the top floor Corinthian columns are of grey Aberdeen granite. The lower frieze of Della Robbia ware by Minton, and the upper polychrome frieze form a rich contrast to the surrounding Portland stone. The third storey is adorned with portrait busts of great figures in Anglo-Indian history and with the names of Indian provinces and cities. Greek, Sicilian and Belgian marble are combined to form the pavement of the Court, while the glazed cast-iron roof (added by 1868) reflects Wyatt’s earlier architectural involvement with Paddington Station and the Crystal Palace. Each of the brackets supporting the balustrade bears a letter or a number, which together spell out ‘THIS COURT WAS BUILT A.D. 1866 M.D. WYATT ARCHITECT’. The court was first used in 1867 for a reception for the Sultan of Turkey, and the name ‘Durbar Court’ dates from 1902, when some of the Coronation celebrations of King Edward VII were held there. In March 1939, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth attended an evening reception in Durbar Court for President Lebrun of France, during which the young Peggy Ashcroft and John Gielgud acted the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. Exit from Court to the North-West Stair Recently refurbished after many years of gloomy dilapidation, this staircase shows Wyatt’s usual attention to detail. The hand-rail is of tactile dove-grey Italian marble while the roundels ornamenting the windows may be a reference to the Wheel of India, the Wheel of Life. The handsome light-fitting was specially designed for this staircase. First floor corridor to the Gurkha Stairs The Gurkha Stairs are so named because for many years they were overlooked at first floor level by the Gurkha statue, now given greater prominence at the India Office entrance. The staircase has been returned to Wyatt’s original colour scheme and the statues depict (from left to right) Sir Eyre Coote (Thomas Banks, 1788), the Marquess Cornwallis (John Bacon, 1793), Richard, Marquess Wellesley (Henry Weekes, 1845) and the Duke of Wellington (Matthew Noble, 1855). The oval painting above the staircase depicts the East offering its riches to Britannia and is the work of Spiridione Roma, a painter and picture restorer from the island of Corfu. It is dated 1778 and originally ornamented the ceiling of the Revenue Committee Room in East India House. The large painting on the corridor wall is entitled ‘India’s Homage to the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey’ (Frank O Salisbury, 1924). It was presented by the artist at the conclusion of the British Empire Exhibition, Wembley, where it had hung in the Bengal Court. The Earl of Birkenhead, Secretary of State for India, unveiled the painting at the India Office on 11 December 1924. Ceremonial way to first floor balcony and India Office Council Chamber The Secretary of State for India and his Council met in this Chamber to discuss Indian affairs, and many important decisions were taken here between 1868 and 1947. The significance of this room is emphasised by its height, size and the lavish use of gilding, and Wyatt linked old with new by transferring to it the great doors and doorcases, the furniture and the great marble chimneypiece from the former Director’s Court Room in East India House at Leadenhall Street in the City. The chimneypiece and overmantel were commissioned from the Flemish sculptor Michael Rysbrack and date from 1730. The centre panel represents Britannia, seated by the sea, receiving the riches of the East Indies. Behind stand two female figures symbolising Asia and Africa, the former leading a camel, the latter a lion. On the right, a river god represents the Thames, while in the background ships are going off to sea. Original items which remain in the Chamber are the early nineteenth century mahogany chairs and the Chairman’s Seat bearing the East India Company’s crest of a rampant lion within a medallion. The carpet and chandelier are both new, specifically designed to enhance the Council Chamber. The Muses Stair The Muses Stair is distinguished by an octagonal glass lantern decorated by canephora or goddesses of plenty, supported by pairs of cherubs representing the Roman virtues. Below them hang official portraits of the Emperor Napoleon III of France and the Empress Eugénie (Armand Constant Mélincourt-Lefebvre, 1855). The Emperor is dressed in uniform and wears the grand cordon of the Legion of Honour. The Empress is in court dress and wears the black and white ribbon of the Order of Malta, the jewel of which is suspended by her side. This pair of portraits was presented to the East India Company by the Emperor in 1856 as an acknowledgement of its contribution to the Paris Exhibition of 1855. Interior of the Foreign Office History of the Locarno Suite The Locarno Suite consists of three rooms originally designed by Scott for diplomatic dinners, conferences and receptions. During the First World War shortage of space within the Foreign office led to the occupation of the Suite by the Contraband Department. This was not a success. The original decoration by Clayton and Bell, notable designers much used by Scott, had become very shabby, and the rooms were too dark and draughty for daily use. It was impossible to clean the original stencilling, and the rooms needed redecoration. Before any decision was made, the Locarno Treaties, designed to reduce strife and tension in Europe, were initialled at Locarno in Switzerland in October 1925. The delegates came to London for the formal signature of the Treaties and the only possible venue for the ceremony was Scott’s Reception Suite in the Foreign Office. The Reception and Dining Rooms were cleared of their occupants, and the walls adorned with royal portraits to hide the shabby decorations. The formal signing of the accords on 1 December 1925 was an impressive occasion, recorded, according to The Times, by journalists from half the world ‘wedged in tiers’ behind a barrier halfway down the room, and by ‘photographers and cinematographers…perched high up in nooks above the windows’. It was then decided to redecorate the Suite and the Royal Fine Art Commission was asked to advise. A subcommittee headed by Sir Reginald Blomfield recommended that the original Victorian stencilling should be removed from the two largest rooms in favour of repainting in shades of parchment colour. The walls of the middle room were covered in crimson silk stretched on battens, and were hung with portraits of famous Foreign Secretaries. The three rooms were then renamed the ‘Locarno Suite’, as a memorial to a supposed diplomatic triumph promising an era of international cooperation. Many conferences and diplomatic functions took place there until the outbreak of the Second World War. Thereafter, however, the chandeliers were shrouded and the Locarno Suite became the home of the cyphering branch of Communications Department. Renewed lack of office space after 1945 led to the division of these rooms into cubicles under false ceilings, and in these makeshift plasterboard hutches, the Legal Advisers and others worked until the late 1980s. The Locarno Conference Room All this changed in 1988-89, when the FCO’s rolling programme of restoration reached the area surrounding the Suite. The plasterboard shroud was stripped from the Conference Room, the second largest of the Suite, to reveal once more the coffered ceiling, pilasters crowned with Corinthian capitals, and quadrants supporting gilded iron beams. Circular majolica plaques bearing the national arms or emblems of twenty countries further ornament these quadrants, and the original stencilled design has been reinstated on the walls. The Locarno Conference Room reverted to its original purpose in summer 1990, while the restoration of the Reception and Dining Rooms proceeded between 1990 and June 1992. The Locarno Dining Room In the Dining Room, the removal of the plasterboard and the very dirty red silk hangings uncovered the original stencilled decoration in olive and gold, with red and gold borders. Although faded and damaged, its survival ensured that an exact copy could be superimposed on the walls, restoring the room’s authentic Victorian splendour. Two new doors, matching exactly Scott’s originals, give direct access into the adjacent former India Office, and the new kitchen and serving areas. The Dining Room was used for meetings but is also remembered as the room sometimes used by Lord Salisbury in preference to the Secretary of State’s room, when he was both Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister in the nineteenth century. The Grand Locarno Reception Room This is the largest room in the FCO and looks out on to the Main Quadrangle, and the Foreign Office inner courtyard. It was originally designated the Cabinet Room, but seems to have been used as such only towards the end of the nineteenth century. The restoration of the Reception Room involved much painstaking detective work. The great barrel-vaulted ceiling of the Reception Room was known to have borne an elaborately detailed design of classical figures and signs of the zodiac, but it was feared that the decorators in the 1920s had removed from it with pumice stone every scrap of colour and gilding. Close examination nevertheless revealed that one section has simply been painted over, and scientific analysis of the remains below enabled the ceiling to be reinstated according to Clayton and Bell’s original design. The marble fireplaces throughout the Suite, like those in the Secretary of State’s Room, date from the eighteenth century and were transferred from the old Foreign office. The Grand Staircase and the Goetze murals George Gilbert Scott saw the Foreign Office as ‘a kind of national palace, or drawing room for the nation’ and his use of lavish decoration to impress foreign visitors is exemplified by his Grand Staircase. The main area, three storeys high, a combination of marble, chrome-red and gold, is surmounted by a vast dome decorated by female figures representing countries which had diplomatic relations with Great Britain in the 1860s. The dome and the stencilled walls and ceilings were also the work of Clayton and Bell. The two great ormolu and bronze chandeliers (originally gasoliers) were produced by Skidmore’s Art Manufacturers Company of Coventry. The mosaic pavement on the ground floor was executed by Minton-Hollins, to designs in the antique style by Scott. The murals on the first floor surrounding the Staircase are by Sigismund Goetze, who painted them at his own expense throughout the First World War. Presented to the Foreign Office in 1921, they depict the ‘origin, education, development, expansion and triumph of the British Empire, leading up to the Covenant of the League of Nations’, and the names of the 32 original signatories of the League adorn the ceiling arches of the adjoining corridors. The Ambassador’s Waiting Room This has been recently redecorated and is embellished with a painting by a Viennese artist, Edouard Veith (1856-1925), showing St. Cecilia, patron saint of music, playing an organ. Sculpture on the Grand Staircase Four former Foreign Secretaries are represented here. The statues on high plinths are of Lord Salisbury and Lord Clarendon. A bust of Charles James Fox stands on the table at the foot of the stair, while that of Ernest Bevin is in the niche on the mezzanine floor. Exit via West Entrance to Main Quadrangle The Foreign Office Main Stair rises from the corridor leading off the Grand Staircase, and has been repainted in the original colour scheme designed by Scott and Clayton and Bell. A portrait of Lord Palmerston hangs above the chimneypiece to the left of the stairs leading out into the Main Quadrangle. The Main Quadrangle and exit to King Charles Street The female figures ornamenting the Foreign Office façade in the Quadrangle depict some of the countries with whom we had diplomatic relations in the nineteenth century. On the India Office façade opposite, there are representations of the different races of India, while those on the Colonial Office represent the continents of the world. The female figures on the Home Office façade bear shields with the emblems of the major cities of the British Isles. The sculptors were Hugues Protat, John Birnie Philip and Henry Hugh Armstead. Suggestions for further reading The above account draws heavily on the following works: The Builder, XXIV (July, 1866), p. 527 and XXVI (Sept., 1868), p. 675. Cecil Denny Highton and Partners, The Old Public Office, Whitehall, London SW1, revised edition (London 1985). David Church, ‘Restoration of the Foreign Office Building in Whitehall’ in Construction PSA, No. 74, March 1990, pp. 9-11. John Cornforth, ‘The Old India Office’ in Country Life, 12 November 1987, pp. 164-9. Sir William Foster, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Paintings, Statues etc. in the India Office (London, 1906). S. Goetze, Mural Decorations at the Foreign Office. Descriptive Account by the Artist (London, 1921). John Hardy, India Office Furniture (The British Library, 1982). Sir E. Hertslet, Recollections of the Old Foreign Office (London, 1901). John Martin Robinson, The Wyatts. An Architectural Dynasty (Oxford, 1979). Ian Toplis, The Foreign Office. An Architectural History (London, 1987).
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