Exterior of India Office (now the Foreign and Commonwealth Office) from beside Clive Steps, Whitehall. Sir George Gilbert Scott and Sir Matthew Digby Wyatt. 1861-68. By the 1820s, The Foreign Office had premises in and behind Downing Street, but building subsidence there, along with sheer lack of space, drove the initiative for a new purpose-built structure commensurate with Britain's burgeoning role in the larger world. In 1856, a competition was announced for its design. The panel of judges included Brunel. Although George Gilbert Scott only won the third prize with his Gothic design, after a great deal of argument he was appointed as the architect in November 1858. Meanwhile,
After the Indian Mutiny in 1857, the government of the subcontinent passed from the East India Company to the newly appointed India Office. The Company's old office was too small and too remote for the new organization so it was decided to build a new office on the site looking on to St James's Park and adjoining that of the Foreign Office. Scott's commission was extended to include the building of the India Office but, as Matthew Digby Wyatt [who had been superintendent for the execution of Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace, and responsible for the arrangement of exhibits at the Great Exhibition] was already the India Office's Surveyor, the two reached a gentlemanly agreement that Scott would be responsible for the Foreign Office and exterior of the India Office while Wyatt should retain sole responsibility for the India Office interior. [p.2]
As is well known, when Palmerston entered his second term as Prime Minister in 1859, he deplored even Scott's new Byzantine design: the loser at this point in the "Battle of the Styles," Scott was then prevailed upon to come up with a more classical design. Work began on this Italianate building in 1861, and by 1868 the Foreign and India Offices were complete. (In the same year, Scott was able to start building the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras, to just the kind of high Gothic plans that had been rejected here.) Scott was also the architect of the Colonial and Home Offices, which completed the complex between Whitehall and St James's Park, "forming an irregular rectangle with the Foreign and India Offices" (p. 3). These were finished in 1875, and have since been listed and renovated, with most of the India Office itself having been completed by 1887. They remain in full government use today.
Various factors have combined to make the India Office particularly impressive to modern visitors: the shared desire of Scott and Wyatt to provide a sumptuous setting for affairs of state and diplomatic functions; the extra resources which came from the sale of the old East India House in Leadenhall Street, as well as from Indian revenues; the blend of High Victorian decor with the exotic; and Wyatt's decision to bring in some of the furnishings from the East India House, making the building a monument to the whole history of the Raj's London headquarters.
Photograph and text 2006 by Jacqueline Banerjee. You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.
J. Mordaunt Crook. The Dilemma of Style: Architectural Ideas from the Picturesque to the Post-Modern. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.
Dixon, Roger, and Stefan Muthesius. Victorian Architecture. London: Thames and Hudsonm, 1978.pp, 160-63.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office: History (information provided at the Office on the London Open House Day, 17 September 2006).
Last modified 26 October 2006