25 January 2017
East India Company headquarters on Leadenhall Street
BBC One’s new period drama Taboo with actor Tom Hardy follows the story of James Keziah Delaney and his encounters with the East India Company. As the headquarters of the East India Company on Leadenhall Street was demolished in 1861 which is the present day site of Lloyds of London, the programme used Goldsmiths Hall in the city of London for their 'headquarters'.
Detail showing East India House from 'Plan of Queen Hith and Vintry Wards divided into Parishes from a New Survey'. Map of the City of London by Royce showing Leadenhall Street and East India House. Late 18th century. 1780-1800. British Library, P2337
Since the 17th century, the East India Company offices were based in east London. The history of the headquarters and new buildings constructed for the purposes of company affairs can be documented through the prints and drawings held in our collections. The earliest drawing of ‘Old East India House’ in our collection is attributed to William Vertu and dates to c.1711. Our catalogue records states: ‘The drawing shows the original home of the East India Company. It was formerly the house of Sir William Craven and was leased to him by Robert Lee and Anne, his wife, for twenty-one years by an agreement dated 22 May 1607, to which was added a schedule of the fittings (see P.E. Jones, 'East India House', ‘Notes and Queries,’ 25 March 1944, vol.186, no.6, 153, and lease and schedule, Corporation of London Records Office, no.131.1, now in Guildhall Library MSS.). The schedule is mostly concerned with the interior of the house, but mentions 'An fine paire of Gates with a Portcullis of wood' followed by a description of 'The Yard next Leadenhall Street'. The house was later leased by William, then Lord Craven and the owner, to the East India Company, 11 March 1661, and it was later purchased by the Company in 1710’.
In 1726, architect Theodore Jacobsen was commissioned to redesign and expand the headquarters. The project was completed by in 1729 under the direction of John James. The new East India Company headquarters was designed in the fashionable Palladian style. An undated print documents the facade of the building as it stood from 1729-1786 and is featured below.
Reflecting the great wealth of the East India Company, no expense was spared on the interior decorations. Palladian architectural features, including Corinthian pilasters and heavy moulding, continued throughout the interior. Lavish Georgian furnishing including ornately carved boardroom tables and velvet upholstered chairs for the Chairman and Vice-President, were commissioned. Works of art, including a series of paintings by George Lambert and Samuel Scott of East India Company settlements and full-length sculptures of eminent officials including Lord Robert Clive were made by Peter Scheemakers.
In 1796, the Company purchased an additional plot of land and work began to extend its premises. The designs and project was started by Richard Jupp and completed by Henry Holland in 1799. The front of the building faced Leadenhall Street; the premises included a new 'Sale Room, Pay Office, as well as rooms for the Committees of Correspondence, Shipping and Warehouses' (Hardy 1982, p.7). Art works and historic furniture commissioned in the 1730s continued to be displayed and used in the new building. In the illustration of the Directors' Court Room, you can see the Chairman's crimson velvet chair and the oil paintings by Lambert and Scott on display. The furniture featured in the illustration are held by the British Library.
Following the India Act of 1833, Uprisings of 1857 and the India Bill of 1858, the East India Company and the Board of Control offices merged to form the India Office. The building on Leadenhall Street was sold in 1861 and within months destroyed (Hardy 1982, p.9). The India Office retained the furniture and works of art mentioned above; these were incorporated into their new offices in Whitehall, now part of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. A selection of oil paintings and sculpture remain on display at the FCO; the rest are held at the British Library.
For readers interested in the India Office Records and the historical archives: East India Company, Module 1: Trade, Governance and Empire, 1600-1947 is available online from Adam Matthew and there will be access in our Reading Rooms in London and Yorkshire. Modules II and III will be published in 2018 and 2019 respectively.
William Foster, India Office Library: Prints and Drawings, India Office, 1924
William Foster, East India House: its history and associations, John Lane the Bodley Head Limited, 1924
John Hardy, India Office Furniture, British Library, 1982
Karen Stapley, A break-in at East India House, Untold Live Blog
Hedley Sutton, Treasures of the Asia and Africa Reading Room, Asian and African studies Blog
Visual Arts Curator