Allahabad has always been a chosen city, not just of the Mughals but of the British East India Company and later the British Raj. For example, few in India know that Allahabad was declared the capital of British India for one day on 1st November 1858, when Lord Canning read the famous royal proclamation announcing Queen Victoria had assumed direct control of British India from the East India company.
Today, while Allahabad has been renamed as Prayagraj , the British legacy can be seen from the iconic British monuments that dot the city.
The Mughal city of Ilahabas founded by Emperor Akbar became the capital of his rebellious son, Shah Salim (later, Emperor Jahangir), when he held his coronation in the fort of Allahabad in 1600CE.
Decades later, Allahabad was besieged by Prince Khurram (later, Shah Jahan), after the battle of Jhunsi, when he revolted against Emperor Jahangir and Nur Jehan in 1623 CE. In 1659 CE, Aurangzeb also chased his brothers from this fort when he proclaimed himself Emperor of India. Battles continued among the later Mughals, who struggled to control the city and its well-armed garrison fort.
On 21st October 1764, the combined armies of Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II, Nawab Shuja-ud-Daulah of Awadh and Nawab Mir Qasim of Bengal took on Major Hector Munro of the East India Company in the Battle of Buxar. The Mughals and their allies lost this battle to the Company and, consequently, Emperor Shah Alam II was detained in the fort of Allahabad and a treaty signed between the East India Company and the Mughals.
The Treaty of Allahabad
This historic treaty was signed between Lord Robert Clive of East India Company and Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II on 12th August 1765. This treaty, signed inside the fort of Allahabad, changed the course of Indian history for centuries.
According to the treaty, the Mughal emperor was confined to the fort of Allahabad under the Company’s surveillance, and Allahabad was handed over to the British. The Diwani of Bengal (which included Bihar and Orissa), was also given to the Company, which meant that the Company had complete authority over the revenue of Bengal.
The treaty was a major turning point as it transformed the East India Company from a trading company into an administrative authority in India.
In the period between 1765 and 1800 CE, East India Company stationed its army unit inside the fort of Allahabad but the ownership of the fort kept switching between the Mughals and the Nawabs of Awadh. In 1801 CE, Allahabad was ceded by Nawab Saadat Ali of Awadh to the East Indian Company, thus setting in motion its transformation into a British city even before Delhi and Lucknow. The initial revenue settlement of Allahabad began in 1803 under Governor-General Lord Wellesley of the East India Company.
Allahabad in The Revolt of 1857
Allahabad became the centre of the Revolt of 1857, when the sixth Native Infantry stationed inside the fort killed a number of Englishmen inside the fort. In the old city, one of the individuals who led the revolt in Allahabad was Maulvi Liaqat Ali of Kaushambi. He gallantly fought and freed Allahabad from British control by setting up his own governorship from Khusro Bagh in Allahabad. However, this freedom was short-lived as British forces regained control over Allahabad within two weeks.
The natives were defeated when General James Neill of the Madras Fusiliers entered Allahabad and started killing the natives indiscriminately on 11th June 1857. History still remembers General Neill as the ‘Butcher of Allahabad’.
Queen Victoria’s Proclamation
Lord Charles Canning, who was the Governor-General of India during the Mutiny and a cousin to Queen Victoria, had taken up residence in Allahabad after the Revolt. Then, on 1st November 1858, Lord Canning read the famous proclamation of Queen Victoria, which ended the rule of the East India Company in India. The conquered territories of the Company were transferred to the British Crown and Queen Victoria became Empress of India and Lord Canning her Viceroy.
The Proclamation marked the direct rule of the British Crown over India. The site from where this epoch-making proclamation was read by Lord Canning was transformed into a park by Governor-General of India, Lord Minto, and a Proclamation Pillar made of marble was raised, on which the busts of Queen Victoria and Edward VII were installed on the orders of Lord Minto in 1908.
In the vicinity of Minto Park is a British cemetery which houses the graves of British commandants and soldiers who died in the Revolt of 1857. The site is a protected monument of the Archaeological Survey of India.
Civil Station or ‘Cannington’
In 1858, Allahabad was made the capital of the North Western Provinces and a new age was ushered in for the city when a crumbling town of the Mughals was transformed into a genteel city of the British Raj. A new White Town was planned on a grid-iron pattern under the supervision of Commissioner Cuthbert Bensley Thornhill. This new settlement, the largest before New Delhi was transformed by the British in the early 20th century, was called ‘Cannington’. There are historians who claim that the planning of Allahabad, later, became the blueprint for New Delhi when it was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens.
Cannington or ‘Civil Lines’, as it is now called, reflected the might of the British Raj in India. Mark Twain, on his visit to Allahabad, described the grandeur of Cannington. It was a flourishing city, with broad, tree-lined avenues and proper British bungalows which highlighted the lavish lifestyle of the Englishmen in Allahabad. There were Swiss and German companies with their exclusive outlets in the Civil Lines. There were theatres, cathedrals, clubs and parks, which made this city a famous destination for Anglicans in India.
In the years to follow, grand stone buildings housing public offices of the Government Press, Board of Revenue, Auditors Office, High Court and Police Headquarters of the Province were established on Queen’s Road in British Allahabad.
In the period following 1853, trains starting from Delhi terminated inside the Fort of Allahabad and on the other side, it functioned under the East Indian Railway company, between Calcutta and Mirzapore. On 15th August 1865, construction of a steel truss bridge was completed on the Yamuna River, which connected Delhi to Calcutta. Consequently, Allahabad became the base of the North Central Railway. By 1927, this bridge was transformed into a double-deck bridge, which had two-way traffic for railways as well as roadways.
Interestingly, one of the pillars of the bridge was designed in the shape of a shoe, to endure the currents of the Yamuna, which terminates at Sangam. Englishmen called it the ‘Gentlemen’s Shoe’ and with time, many folk tales were spun around the pillar by the local people.
In the following years, as the railway expanded, two other iron girder bridges – Curzon Bridge and Izat Bridge – were constructed on the Ganga River to connect Allahabad with Lucknow and Benares, respectively.
Allahabad High Court
In 1834, when the North Western Provinces was formed, the Sadar Diwani Adaalat functioned for a year in Allahabad before it was shifted to Agra. In 1861, the Indian High Courts Act was passed by the British Parliament, and the Supreme Courts of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay were replaced by High Courts. In 1866, the Sadar Diwani Adaalat of the Province was replaced by the High Court of the North Western Provinces, and in 1869, it was shifted back to Allahabad, making it the fourth-oldest High Court in India.
Earlier, the Allahabad High Court began functioning in the old-stone building on Queen’s Road. In 1916, a new building was built to accommodate the increasing workload and this is where it proudly stands even today. The new High Court building was inaugurated by Lord Chelmsford on 27th November 1916. This is a huge domed structure built using white sandstone and has borrowed elements from Anglican as well as Indian architecture.
The Allahabad High Court gave India its first woman advocate in Cornelia Sorabji. It continues to be the busiest court in India and has the distinction of producing great legal luminaries like Sir John Stanley, Sir John Edge of the Privy Council, Justice Mehmood Khan (son of Sir Saiyid Ahmed Khan and the first Indian Judge of the Allahabad High Court), Motilal Nehru, Tej Bahadur Sapru, S K Dhar and Kailash Nath Katju, among many others of British and Indian origin.
To commemorate the visit of Prince Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh, to Allahabad, this massive 133-acre park was established in 1870, on the ruins of native villages which were wiped out in the aftermath of the Revolt of 1857. The foundation of this park was laid by Prince Alfred himself, who was invited by the then Lieutenant-Governor of the Province, Sir William Muir.
The park is divided into sections and the central portion is called the ‘Bandstand’. It even houses the erstwhile Gymkhana Club on one side and a cricket stadium as well. The park was a popular venue among the British crowd who visited it for High Tea parties and Band Nights. There are memorials of Queen Victoria and other British officials built inside this park.
It was inside this park, on 27th February 1931, that revolutionary and freedom fighter Chandrashekhar Azad of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Party killed himself when he was surrounded by British police officers. Post-Independence, the park was named after him as ‘Chandrashekhar Azad Park’.
The National Museum of Allahabad is situated in one corner of Alfred Park. It was set up here by then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1954. Its prized-possessions include the pistol of Chandrashekhar Azad and the Ford V8 lorry in which the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi were carried for immersion at Sangam.
There are other galleries inside the museum as well, which display archaeological artefacts from India, medieval collections, and the personal collection and gifts which Nehru received on his foreign visits. A gallery dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi as well as manuscripts of distinguished writers like Sumitranandan Pant, Munshi Premchand, Mahakavi Nirala, Harivansh Rai Bachchan and Mahadevi Verma are also on display.
Thornhill And Mayne Memorial
Inside Alfred Park, the Thornhill and Mayne Memorial is a public library built by the then Commissioner of Allahabad, Francis Otway Mayne, in memory of his close friend and town planner of Allahabad, former commissioner Cuthbert Bensley Thornhill, in 1870. It was designed by a reputed architect from England, Sir Richard Roskell Bayne, in Scottish Baronial architecture and was completed in 1878. The structure represents a structural polychromy, with lofty towers and arcaded cloisters, and includes sharp pillars and turrets of granite and sandstone.
There are seated gargoyles and eagles placed around the roof of the structure, a reminder of British might and loftiness. The tower is neatly built and there are some awe-inspiring stained glass windows and Victorian woodwork, which retains the originality of the building.
On 8th January 1887, the first session of the Legislative Council of the North Western Provinces of Awadh and Agra was held inside the Thornhill And Mayne Memorial. Currently, it houses the Public Library of Allahabad, which is the largest in Uttar Pradesh and holds around 70,000 British records and various medieval and colonial manuscripts including an original copy of Firdausi’s Shahnamah and Persian translations of Prince Dara Shikoh.
Another memorial inside Alfred Park is the Victoria Memorial, which was built in 1905. It is a hugely decorated canopy sculpted from marble, which once housed an Italian-made imposing Statue of Queen Victoria. It was inaugurated by the then Lieutenant-Governor of the Province, Sir James LaTouche.
The statue of Queen Victoria was removed in the 1960s and shifted to Municipal Museum of Lucknow, where it lies in utter neglect. The canopy has been vacant since then.
All Saints’ Cathedral
In the vicinity of Cannington, an Anglican Cathedral called All Saints’ Cathedral was built on land granted by the then Lieutenant-Governor of the North Western Provinces, Sir William Muir. The foundation stone of the church was laid by his wife, Elizabeth Huntly Wemyss, in 1871.
The church was designed by British architect William Emerson in the Gothic-Revival style of architecture. The cathedral was modelled after 13th century Gothic style churches and it was built using white sandstone.
The cathedral’s nave is 40 feet wide and 130 feet long, and the internal width is 56 feet. It can easily accommodate 400 people. The pulpit is a fine piece of workmanship, made in alabaster by Thomas Nicholls of Lambeth, England. The cathedral was consecrated in 1887.
The interior of the cathedral is even richer and includes a marble font and well-crafted altar. The woodwork is equally imposing. The cathedral has many memorial plaques and it is known for its stained glasswork, which was done by skilled workers in Europe. The Lantern Tower of the cathedral, known as ‘Victoria Tower’, has been dedicated to Queen Victoria.
Currently, the cathedral is under the Church of North India, which governs many reputed educational institutions in the city including the Boys’ High School and Girls’ High School, which were established in 1861. Boys’ High School has alumni like Amitabh Bachchan, Markanday Katju and Vikas Swaroop.
Muir Central College and University of Allahabad
Muir Central College in Allahabad was founded by Lieutenant-Governor of the Province, William Muir, in 1872. The college was the result of a concerted effort by him to get it built. Historians like Avril Powell refer to debates between Sir Saiyid Ahmed Khan, founder of the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College in Aligarh, and William Muir, which led to the establishment of an oriental college in Allahabad.
The buildings of Muir Central College were designed by British architect William Emerson, who also designed All Saints’ Cathedral in Allahabad and later designed many buildings in Bombay and Calcutta. The structure is designed in Indo-Saracenic style and it is a beautiful blend of Indian and Persian elements. Made of white sandstone, the huge dome and rising tower surrounded by arched corridors create an air of grandeur around the structure.
The main hall of the college, called ‘Vizianagaram Hall’, is made in white marble and it is heavily embellished with Persian floral patterns. The stained glasses and mosaic work makes it even richer. The building was inaugurated in 1873 by Governor-General of India, Lord Northbrook.
In 1887, the University of Allahabad was founded as the fifth-oldest University in India, after Calcutta, Bombay, Madras and Lahore universities. The Senate Hall or the main administrative building was completed in 1912 and inaugurated by the then Lieutenant-Governor of the Province, Sir John Hewett.
The building of the Senate Hall was designed by Sir Swinton Jacob and reflects elements drawn from Islamic, Rajasthani and Anglican styles of architecture. It has archways and grand corridors and even houses a clock tower. The clock in the central tower belongs to the Big Ben family of clocks. In 1921, the Senate Hall welcomed the then Prince of Wales, Edward Albert, who ascended the throne as Edward VIII in 1936 and abdicated later, in the same year.
In 1921, Muir Central College merged with Allahabad University and became its Faculty of Science. The Senate Hall campus commanded the Arts Faculty. The University of Allahabad was once hailed as the ‘Oxford of the East’.
St Joseph’s Cathedral
A flamboyant Roman Catholic Cathedral governed by the Diocese of Allahabad was built on 11th February 1879. The church has Italian architecture and most of its marble work was done by skilled workers from Italy. The bell tower of the cathedral is built in Dominican Style.
The interior of the church is very ornate and the altar is intricately made. The sculptures placed in the cathedral were also imported from Italy. The patron saint of this church is St Francis of Assisi and the cathedral is dedicated to St Joseph.
Two renowned institutions – St Joseph’s Collegiate (1881) and St Mary’s Convent (1866) – have equally imposing architecture and massive campuses and are governed by the diocese of this cathedral.
Mayo Memorial And Town Hall
This memorial was built as a tribute to Governor-General of India, Richard Southwell Bourke, the 6th Earl of Mayo, who was assassinated in 1872 at Andaman. The building was completed in 1879 and its foundation stone was laid by Lord Lytton, the then Viceroy and Governor-General of India.
The hall was designed by Richard Roskell Bayne and the elaborate interior was designed in marble by Professor Gamble of the South Kensington Museum, later named the Victoria And Albert Museum. It has walled busts, well-decorated pillars in granite and an arched porch.
The hall includes a 180-foot tower and the memorial was meant to hold public meetings, balls and other ceremonies. Currently, it houses a sports complex named after Amitabh Bachchan and it is not in very good shape.
United Provinces Exhibition
In 1910-11, after the persistent efforts of the then-Lieutenant-Governor of the United Provinces, Sir John Prescott Hewett, a national exhibition was organized in Allahabad, the capital of the Province. The exhibition was organized in a way that it coincided with the Magh Mela of Allahabad.
The court and the grounds of the Exhibition had permanent departments built in Rajasthani and Mughal styles of architecture. Handicrafts from all over the world were kept on display. The exhibition had 12 sections, of which one was for German Engineering Works and another for Agricultural Sciences. There was an Educational Court, a Ladies Court, Textile Court, Forestry Court and many others. Unfortunately, all these amazing structures were demolished post-Independence and it is not really known what is left of those grand courts built for the exhibition because the area is restricted to the military now.
The exhibition began on 1st December 1910 and continued till 28th February 1911. The German Crown Prince, many members of British royalty and American journalists were among the visitors to this grand exhibition. Celebrated courtesans of the age, Gauhar Jan of Calcutta and Janki Bai Ilahabadi, were also invited to perform at the cultural programmes of the exhibition.
The world’s first official Airmail flight flew from the grounds of this exhibition. French pilot, Henry Piquet, took off in his biplane from Allahabad and landed in Naini at a distance of 13 km. The organizer of the aviation display, Sir Walter Windham, was able to secure permission from the Postmaster General of India and Airmail was sent on the flight.
It was at this exhibition that the model of a clock-tower was built, which impressed one of the native merchants of the city to such a degree that he funded the construction of a similar clock tower in Allahabad. The clock tower was built in 1913 in Chowk and it locally came to be known as ‘ghantaghar’.
There’s a lot more to the grand colonial history of Allahabad which transformed this Mughal town into a cosmopolitan hub. There are at least 15 more churches which belong to the colonial era, many public buildings, including Kotwali, the Collectorate, Commissionerate, clubs, theatres, hospitals and marketplaces which gained glory during the British Raj. The city also boasted many imposing bungalows, of the Anglicans, Parsis, Anglo-Indians and Indian elite, including merchants and industrialists.
Allahabad, which went to ruin under the weak administration of the later Mughals, saw its meteoric rise under colonial rule. Ironically, Allahabad, where the British Empire set its foot to formally rule and govern India, became a hub of the freedom struggle after the fourth session of Indian National Congress was organized in Allahabad with George Yule as its President. The city was also home to the Nehru family, which guided the freedom struggle. Mahatma Gandhi announced many national movements from Allahabad.
Nehru’s palatial residence Swaraj Bhawan and Anand Bhawan were the hub of political activities for at least three decades. Nationalist leaders like Madan Mohan Malviya and Purushottam Das Tandon hailed from Chowk and served the Congress party. There is an endless list of people who struggled for India’s independence and hailed from Allahabad.
The colonial heritage of a city which was established as a Mughal capital gives a distinct identity to Allahabad. It is not just the confluence of rivers that makes this city so important but the confluence of cultures that has also contributed to the rich Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb of Allahabad.
Akshat Lal, the founder of Allahabad Heritage Society, is a writer based in Allahabad and works for the conservation of the region’s heritage.