Bombay's first crack at freedom

The stained glass of George Gilbert Scott's university building was at the receiving end on the stroke of midnight. Victoria was laid low. Fifty years on will she rise again?

At the stroke of midnight exactly 50 years ago, Queen Victoria's face splintered and fell from stained-glass windows of the library at the University of Bombay. Or Mumbai as the Indianisation of place names prefers. Some say it was a cricket ball that felled her. Others blame a badly aimed catapult pinging at mangoes.

Fifty years later the wedding cake of a library, with its 280ft (95m) clock tower, carved stonework, ornate Minton tiled floor and stained- glass windows in the high Gothic style, is in need of more than just a facelift. Its creator was George Gilbert Scott, he of the newly restored Albert memorial and St Pancras station. Now his Indian library needs the same treatment. Chronic surgery is required to dismantle all 69 glass panels, clean, mend and refit them and restore the defective iron and stonework. The citric yellow glass panel that replaced Queen Victoria is to have a designer floral bunch in its place. The British Council, the Department of Trade and Industry and the University of Mumbai have embarked on the first phase of the project, training nine craftsmen under the auspices of British stained-glass designers with a conservator, Anthony Peers, 30. In six months this year, until the monsoon stopped work, they have restored one of a pair of windows and estimate they need at least another year and another pounds 100,000 from sponsors to complete the project.

So how important is the continuous British love affair, not just with India but also with the Victorians that drove it in the first place? While Scott may be back in fashion in Britain, the Indians associate the divine crenellations of high Gothic style with British imperialism. Anthony Peers is dismissive: "It's nothing to do with bringing back the Raj but a magnificent building which is used, and needs to be looked after. Historic buildings do grow older and die but as a conservator, we like them to grow older as slowly as possible." The Indian Heritage Society agrees. Built at the height of Bombay's growth as a commercial centre in the mid to late 19th century, the cluster of high Gothic buildings that remain makes it an architectural oddity unchallenged anywhere in the world. In 1926 Aldous Huxley panned it - "Bombay had the misfortune to develop during what was perhaps the darkest period of all architectural history" - an attitude that lay behind a great deal of the demolition of Victorian architecture in Bradford, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool. Yet when he visited India on a British Council trip to talk about conservation and was asked to compile a report on the University library, he became impassioned by the library and clock tower.

Anthony Peers won't be drawn on whether other, more pressing sites should have taken priority, which is a good thing. Single-mindedness is essential in a country so full of spectacular ruins that preserving them is like picking out cardamom from a curry. Le Corbusier's model town Chandigarh, where crimson saris and turbans hang out to dry over its algaed walls, and cows wander in and out around the pilottis, is a chastening reminder to architects of form and function. Scott never visited India to see his library and clock tower. Building work with local craftsmen was supervised in the1870s by Lieutenant Colonel JE Fuller of the Royal Engineers. Its patron was a Parsi businessman, Prem Chand Roy Chund, who specified only that the clock tower should be ornate. That it certainly is, its 280ft (95m) Gujarati stone face carved with the most astonishing figures and gargoyles dreamed up by the Bombay School of Art, where, at the time, Rudyard Kipling's father, Lockwood Kipling, was head of the architectural and sculpture department. Prem Chand Roy Chund also insisted that the tower be known as Rajabai after his wife, which it still is, even as familiar place names change in the city. Big, brash Mumbai is not sentimental. No longer on the seashore now that reclaimed land has set it back 300 yards from the sea, the building is set about with billboards from Bollywood - the film industry - which threaten to dwarf it.

As the city hits a second boom, 21st century style, pressures on the existing municipal services are great. Mumbai already accommodates 50 per cent of its population in slums. Sewage disposal and clean water are big problems. With that kind of town planning impasse how useful will it be to have nine craftsmen trained in traditional stained-glass window making?

Anthony Peers believes it will be very useful. "Bombay has more stained- glass glaziers than Britain, largely because the country has a tradition for it and there is a call for them in hotels and convention centres." Unless you have stood enthralled as the tour guide in the darkened core of a Mughal pavilion in India lights a candle to make the walls come alive with myriad light from coloured glass tiles you will never know the power of stained glass in Indian architecture, Hindu or Mughal, Raj or real estate. And the team has to be hand-picked for training in preservation techniques because modern stained-glass designers work with copper foil, not lead, which is what holds 100-year-old stained-glass windows together.

Anthony Peers is stern about this detail: "Lead gives a little and that has been important over time in not buckling and splintering. If we changed the fabric of the building now it would be disastrous." Besides, traditional stained glass has ground glass, iron oxide and a binder burnt into the glass sheet in a kiln so that the colour becomes an intrinsic part of it, rather than an applied art.

While he awaits news of sponsorship funding and the end of the monsoon, Anthony Peers is making modern stained-glass windows at his home in Oxford. And hoping that the pigeons who like the library almost as much as he does will have moved out on his return

Divine Facades: Views of Indian Architecture, is an exhibition of 80 specially commissioned architectural photographs in celebration of the 50th year of Indian independence. The exhibition runs from 16 August to 5 October at the Impressions Gallery, York, tel: 01904 654 724.

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?