One of the dying heritage buildings in the city of Kolkata, Clive house is one of the oldest buildings named after Robert Clive, the first British Governor-General. ‘As a dumb witness of the glorious past, a desolate plaque at the entrance of the dilapidated and distressed structure proclaims that Lord Clive did stay here and hence it acquired the name Clive House.’ In 2001, remnants of a 2,000-year-old civilization were excavated from the site. Today the structure is surrounded by apartments in the heart of North Kolkata. Now, even though it is a protected monument under the Archaeological Survey of India, Clive House is largely ignored as we can see chunks of the structure falling on the ground, helplessly calling for conservation!
Even though it is named Clive House, originally the house was not built by Robert Clive, but it was only renovated by him. History goes back to the time when the house stood on a mound that was once surrounded by a moat. A recent study has revealed that the bricks of the structure date back to a period between the late 17th and the early 18th century which has ruled out the previous theory that the original house may have been a Dutch or Portuguese godown. However, the artifact found in the mound traces back to civilization about 2,200 years old, and the articles unearthed belonged to the Sunga-Kusama and the Gupta and post-Gupta periods.
Case study_Clive House in Kolkata_Image 4 ©telegraphindia.com
The name of the house was mentioned for the first time in the book ‘History of the War in Bengal’, written by Robert Orme. In the book, he stated that, in the dense foggy morning of 8th February 1757, when Clive marched through the camps of Nawab Siraj-ud-daulah at Sealdah, during his first governorship (1755-60) when he won the Battle of Plassey and he crossed the Dum Dum Road and saw an old building on that road, constructed on a high mound.
In another article of 1911, written by a civil servant Lewis O’Malley, it has been mentioned that the name Dum Dum has originated from the word Damdama, which means heaped mound or battery and the house was called Dumdum house and Burra Kothi meaning the grand house. It is also presumed that the house was constructed during the late Mughal period and later somehow it became the property of Nawab Alivardi Khan and his grandson Nawab Siraj-ud-daulah. According to oral traditions, the mound on which the Clive House stands was built in a single night!
A building of social and political significance!
According to O’Malley originally the structure was a single-storied blockhouse and it was constructed in a manner to secure a flank fire position from every side. Moreover, the house was well equipped with underground chambers too. It even had an underground tunnel leading up to another house in the modern-day Mall Road area. The walls of the house were also very thick and strongly built. As a building of political significance, in respect to the pre-existing structure, O’Malley had also mentioned that the old building with its elevated position and strong structure, seemed to be quite capable of a stout defense against anything but artillery which is why it caught the eyes of Clive and he decided on adding another floor to it and making it his country house.
After Clive, this garden house had been passed on further to the hands of many other Englishmen. For some time it was also used for field practice by the officers of the Bengal Artillery. In 1891 this garden house served as a headquarters of the presidency volunteer reserve battalion. It also acted as a shelter for around 20 refugee families after the partition between India and Pakistan.
Significance of Clive House as of today
Today the Clive House stands as one of the oldest buildings in Kolkata. This two-storied garden house at 91, Rastraguru Avenue, Dumdum now acts as a tourist spot filled with the rich cultural heritage of Bengal. Included under the department of tourism, the government of West Bengal, the Clive House has become a must-visit place for tourists and has earned its place in the top 15 places to visit in Kolkata.
The Clive House is also an important archaeological site. Despite being under serious neglect for several centuries, the Clive House was in decent shape until the late 1990s when chunks of its roof started to fall off. There was a proposal to restore the slowly decaying Clive house in 1997 on the 50th anniversary of India’s independence from the British Raj. However, it turned into a debate on the grounds of nationalist sentiments as numerous Indian leaders believed that it was not a matter of importance to restore the decaying residence of “a dishonest man Clive” who laid the foundation stones of the British Empire that squandered India for 300 years.
But this old building caught the attention of ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) in 2001 when a decorated shred of pottery was taken from the mound. The debris concealing the semi-circular stairs leading to the entrance at the north of the house was cleared and the stairs were renovated by ASI. There were two varieties of bricks, the original arches and the ones used to block them. The ASI has removed the latter and has put up bamboo barriers instead.
Leading to the extensive excavation of the mound at the North of Clive House, it revealed the ruins of a civilization dating far before the days of Christ, which will surely revolutionize the history of South Bengal. ‘The initial excavations, which were done on a 10×10 meters single trench in a horizontal method yielded fascinating results. We discovered terracotta figurines, semi precious stones, coins belonging to the eighth century A.D. and even earlier,” said Bimal Bandhopadhyay, Superintending Archaeologist, ASI, Kolkata. Subsequently, a floor made of lime and brick jelly, covering the length of almost an entire trench, a hearth, and around it a lot of tortoise shells and fish scales were found.
Realizing the historical importance of the Clive house, this excavation led to the first systematic attempt towards the conservation and restoration of the oldest building in Kolkata. ‘The site is unique in the sense that it is home to the successive genre of architecture that evolved in medieval Bengal, culminating in the British occupation of the city.
In a nutshell, it is the microcosm of Calcutta’s history’, according to Cruickshank, who had shot a documentary on Clive House in 1996. At present, the Clive House is a protected monument with the main entrance cordoned off and a fenced back entrance to deny entry into the premises. However, only a few people in Dum Dum have heard of Clive’s house and the first sight of it across a football field is most impressive but, upon inspection, the signs of decay and collapse are everywhere and it is in dire need of a proper restoration!