Did you know July 1 is the birthday of the oldest High Court in India? It was on this day in 1862 that the High Court of Judicature at Fort William in Calcutta was formally inaugurated, with Sir Barnes Peacock as its first Chief Justice. It later came to be known as the Calcutta High Court.
It was one of the three High Courts in India established at the Presidency Towns by Letters patent granted by Queen Victoria, dated June 26, 1862. The other two were the High Courts of Bombay and Madras.
Although the name of the city changed from Calcutta to Kolkata in 2001, the Calcutta High Court still retains the name as an institution.
The present building of the Calcutta High Court was completed in 1872. Designed by architect Walter Granville, it is said to have been modelled after the 13th century Cloth Hall in Ypres (Belgium). Interestingly, Jan Morris, in her book ‘Stones of Empire: The Buildings of the Raj’ writes, “Anglo Indian legend claimed that when the original was destroyed in the First World War, the Mayor of Ypres asked the Mayor of Calcutta, for a set of the plans so that they could start reconstructing it.”
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However, Granville also introduced characteristics from the 19th century Gothic Revival Style of architecture, which gave the building a unique presence.
A central tower rises over the main entrance of the red coloured building while a series of arches and pillars (topped by carved capitals) adorn the front. The carvings on the pillars are a fascinating study in symbolism, according to architects. The building is an enclosed quadrangle with an open space in the centre. Around the four arms of the building are the main court building, court rooms, administrative offices, the bar library, etc. Long arched corridors connect the building.
City walks around the Benoy Badal Dinesh Bagh (formerly Dalhousie Square) include the High Court building. Unfortunately, entry inside the building is restricted and so is photography.
For those who are interested in records, according to the website of the Calcutta High Court, Romesh Chandra Mitter was the first Indian officiating Chief Justice and Phani Bhushan Chakravartti was the first Indian permanent Chief Justice of the court. The longest serving Chief Justice was Sankar Prasad Mitra.
If you are keen to know more about the Calcutta High Court, you may take a look at the three part documentary here.