Interior of the India Office by tyndale


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
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

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

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

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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