New Delhi, India
March 25, 2009
But St John’s is emphatically not Mughal. The college was set up in 1850 by the Church Missionary Society; its first principal was the Rev. Thomas Valpy French, a fellow of University College, Oxford, and the first bishop of Lahore. The college building you see today dates back to 1914, when it was designed by Sir Swinton Jacob in the increasingly popular style that the British adopted in an attempt to show that they identified with India: a Gothic-Rajput hybrid style that didn’t always work. I came across a succinct and interesting description of this in a book called Stones of Empire: The Buildings of the Raj (by Jan Morris and Simon Winchester): "The obligatory quadrangle was there, without which no British college was really a college at all, but towering about it was a mighty edifice in Jacob’s favourite neo-Muslim, domes and pinnacles everywhere, which seemed deliberately to be recalling, in that ancient headquarters of the Moguls, the fervours of the Crusades: for besides looking partly like a Moorish castle, it flaunted its purpose with marvellous insouciance by surmounting the whole Islamesque pile of it with a gigantic Christian cross."
The cross is not that gigantic, but you can see it as the finial atop the large domed pavilion towards the centre of the building. Around it, on either side, stretch the corridors of the college, all with their own smaller pavilions, their balconies and dripstones. Some of the outlying buildings, like the college chapel, are more obviously colonial in style. Incidentally, the building was asymmetrical till well into the 1900’s, and acquired its present form only in the late 20th century. This came about as a result of the efforts of a principal who gathered funds (especially from alumni, including my father!) to build an additional wing.
We couldn’t enter the college since we visited on a Sunday. But barring weekends (and provided it isn’t during the summer of winter vacations), you can go and have a peek at St John’s during college hours.
From journal The Colonial Face of Agra