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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week