Sir William Emerson

Sir William Emerson, President of the British Institute of Architects, designed and drew up the plan of this building, while the work of construction was entrusted to Messrs. Martin & Co. of Calcutta. Vincent Esch was assigned to supervise the construction.


Vincent J. Esch

More pictures at the bottom

 The building is 184 ft high upto the base of the figure of Victory, which is another 16 ft high. The groups of figures above the north porch represent Motherhood, Prudence and Learning. Surrounding the main dome are figures of Art, Architecture, Justice, Charity etc. The Memorial is situated on a 64 acres of land with the building covering 338 ft by 228ft.

The total cost of construction of this monument amounting to one crore, and five lakhs of rupees (Rs.1,05,00,000/-) was entirely derived from their voluntary subscriptions. The Architect entrusted with the design was W. Emerson. A pupil of William Burges, Emerson had first visited India almost forty years before. His early works in the sub- continent included the famous Crawford Markets in Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1865 and the splendid but incomplete All Saints Cathedral in Allahabad (1869-1893). In these and some other early projects Emerson experimented with medieval Gothic styles, in the manner of his teachers. But the design of his other great work in Allahabad, Muir College in 1873, is more eclectic. Drawing on Venetian, Egyptian and Deccani sources, this was one of the first essays in the Indo-Saracenic Movement. Like the contemporary Senate House in Madras (now Chennai) by R. F. Chisholm, it is a colourful and extravagant building, combining forms from the Islamic architecture of various regions with a European structure. Moving from British India to the princely state of Bhavnagar in Gujrat, Emerson continued in a similar way with the Takhtsingji Hospital (1879 - 93) and the Palace (1894 - 95). Here at the request of his patron, he introduced forms from Hindu architecture, such as corbelled arches.

Now based in England and approaching sixty, Emerson was clearly going to need an assistant, to supervise the construction of the building on site. The man appointed for this role was Vincent J. Esch. A generation younger than Emerson, Esch had like him, gone out to India at the start of his career and in 1899 he was appointed Assistant Engineer in the Bengal Nagpur Railway, a job which gave him much practical experience in large-scale construction and costings. In the New Year of 1902, Emerson engaged him to prepare a sketch of his original design for theVictoria Memorial and anxious to avoid any involvement of the Public Works Department, urged the Viceroy to put him in charge of the plan's implementation. More cautious, perhaps, Curzon seems to have tested Esch out with a couple of minor commissions. He employed him to design a Circuit House, bombarding him with advice to adopt the "simple old Italian style". At the same time, Esch prepared designs for the temporary Exhibition Building for the Delhi Durbar of 1903. In this case, consistent with his general plans for the Durbar, Curzon required something in the Mughal style, and he was pleased to find Esch compliant.

Even so, the appointment was not immediate. Building operations on the Memorial were slow to get started, and had not properly begun by the time Curzon left India at the end of 1905. They were then subject to further delays as his successors had less enthusiasm for this inherited scheme, and lengthy tests had to be made on the foundations. Meanwhile, the real break in Esch's career came in 1907 when he won the competition to design the Bengal Club, a prestigious building on a conspicuous site on Chowringhee. At the same time, he was concluding his service with the Bengal-Nagpur Railway by designing their new head office at Garden Reach. These two projects won him a reputation for capable design and efficient management, and launched him in private practice. By the time the construction of the Memorial began in earnest, in 1910, Esch had established himself as Calcutta's leading architect. He was then formally appointed the project's Superintending Architect. Esch's major clients in Calcutta included the Allahabad Bank, the Royal Calcutta Turf Club, and Duncan Brothers. From 1914 to 1921, he was also employed by the Nizam of Hyderabad, in an extensive reconstruction of the Nizam's capital. Esch designed numerous large public buildings in Hyderabad, including the Railway Station, the High Court, the City High School, and the Osmania Hospital.

Like many others, too, he could not help comparing the Memorial with the Taj Mahal. There is a certain resemblance with , more than the details mentioned which, lends the building a pervasive Indian character. It arises, first, from the material. From the very start, even before he expressed his views on its style, Curzon insisted that the Memorial should be built of white marble, and in the event the stone was brought from the same quarries in Makrana, Rajasthan, that supplied Shah Jahan. There is also a correspondence in the forms: the great dome, clustered with four subsidiary, octagonal domed chattris, the high portals, the terrace, and the domed corner towers. There is even some correspondence in the function: like Shah Jahan, Curzon conceived the building as a memorial to an Empress and as a powerful visual statement. This linking of the Mughal and British periods is sustained by the collection of exhibits within; and it is typical of the self-presentation of the late Raj, of which Curzon's Delhi Durbar and the whole Indo-Saracenic movement are further examples. In this context, the echo of the Taj Mahal need not have been an effect deliberately sought by the architect; but it is evident that Emerson greatly admired the Mughal masterpiece - a youthful lecture on it which he delivered to the RIBA in 1870 was a sustained panegyric.

A less desired similarity with the Taj Mahal was the length of time it took to build. Following the conception and design in 1901, construction of the substructure began in 1904. The visiting Prince of Wales laid a foundation stone in 1906, but it was a further four years before work on the superstructure got under way. On January 4, 1912, the Prince - now King George V - returned to inspect progress. In the preceding month in Delhi the royal visitor had been crowned Emperor, and in his speech on that occasion, he had announced the transfer of the capital to Delhi. Curzon had not foreseen this move and he much lamented it; it left his sanctum of the Empire high and dry in a provincial city even before it was completed. The work continued, but it was not until December 28, 1921 that another Prince of Wales came formally to open it. On the same tour, the Prince visited Hyderabad, where he saw Esch's buildings all but finished; and he inspected progress on the buildings in New Delhi, which already promised to surpass the Memorial in grandeur. Curzon's project had been overtaken by events.

If the Memorial's impact was diminished by delay, it was still a splendid gesture. Emerson's design was much enhanced by the sympathetic ornaments added by others. Vincent Esch's major contribution was the redesign of the foundations on innovative principles for which he was renowned, but he also supervised the production of the allegorical sculpture groups over the entrances and designed the elegant bridge on the north side, and the gates to the gardens. The gardens themselves were laid out by Lord Redesdale and Sir David Prain; their spaciousness and restraint emphasize the building's majesty. In the central hall, scenes from the life of the Queen were painted by Frank Salisbury, and the marble statue of the young Queen is by Sir Thomas Brock. A more elderly Queen in bronze by Sir George Frampton, sits enthroned on Esch's bridge, between narrative panels by Sir Goscombe Jhon. In the paved quadrangles and elsewhere around the building, other statues were added to commemorate Hastings, Cornwallis, Clive, Wellesley, and Dalhousie.

The Queen may have enjoyed their company, but whether these statues delivered an impartial history lesson, as Curzon had intended, successive generations may judge for themselves. Curzon himself seemed to consider impartiality achieved by the exhibition within, but equally approved the unambiguous message of the external ornaments.

"Much might be said about the external sculptures, one of which on the north side depicts a lion's head with water flowing out of it and passing into four troughs representing the four great Indian rivers - the Ganges, the Krishna, the Indus and the Jumuna - thus symbolising the life-giving work of Britain in India."

Text Courtesy: G.H.T. Tillotson from publication by MARG Publications.

The Plan as designed by Sir W.Emerson

  Vincent Esch surveying the allegorical sculptures in Italy for the centrepiece above the main entrance.

 The making of angel on the dome in Italy.

The Angel of Victory is 16ft
high and weighs 3 tons.
   Construction of the Memorial in January 1913.

The five cranes used for the construction of the Victoria Memorial.

Photo on 3rd Jan 1913 from the album of Vincent Esch, courtesy Vivian Esch.

  Connstruction as on 19th Nov. 1920, thirteen months before the official opening.

Corner view View of the west side 

 The Minar

 The stone fretwork over a door

 The Dome 

 The railing at the main gate





The Angel of Victory