THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

29 May 2017

Illuminations at East India House

The end of the Crimean War in 1856 was celebrated in Britain with a national holiday on 29 May.  Public buildings in the City of London were fitted with splendid gas illuminations for the evening: the Post Office, Mansion House, Royal Exchange, Custom House, and East India House.

   East India House illuminations 1856

 Illuminations at East India House - Illustrated London News 31 May 1856

Matthew Digby Wyatt, Surveyor to the East India Company, was entrusted with the task of organising the illuminations at East India House in Leadenhall Street.  Four tenders were submitted to provide the equipment for hire or for purchase, ranging from ÂŁ220 to ÂŁ550. Wyatt chose the lowest purchase tender of ÂŁ260 which came from James Meacock, a gas fitter based in Snow Hill.  Meacock was praised by Wyatt: ‘very great energy was displayed by the contractor in immediately getting the work in hand’.  The City of London Gas Company supplied the fuel, charging one penny per jet which included the cost of tapping the mains and supplying connectors.

  East India House illuminations 1856 - 2
London Evening Standard 30 May 1856 British Newspaper Archive

The illuminations consisted of ‘a stream of jets along the length of the building, with scroll-work inside of the pediment, and in Roman capitals the word “Peace”; underneath the pediment festoons and drapery going the whole length of the building’.  

Overall, Wyatt was  satisfied with the display.  He reported to the Company: â€˜The whole of the fittings contracted for were completed by dusk on the evening of the 29th.  Unfortunately the wind exercised an influence adverse to the successful lighting especially during the early part of the evening but upon the whole the display was stated by the public press to have been of an effective description… So far as I have been enabled to ascertain the outlay for the Honourable Company’s illumination will be very far below the amounts incurred for the principal government Offices’.

The lighting equipment was carefully stowed away for future use.  However the magnificent East India House would not exist for much longer.  The entire building was demolished in 1862 after the India Office took over from the East India Company and decided to move to new headquarters in Whitehall.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
East India Company Surveyor’s papers May-June 1856 IOR/L/SUR/1/3 ff.41, 53-54; IOR/L/SUR/2/1 ff. 478. 490-493.