From Graves to Glory - the Architects behind Mumbai's Heritage Buildings

mumbai Jun 18, 2017

In a quiet corner of the ever so busy Mumbai city lie the graves of two men who shaped some of the most iconic monuments that represent the city's heritage - Frederick William Stevens and George Wittet. This is a story that visits their graves and then traces a journey through the city, visiting the various monuments that these architects designed.

Architect: Frederick William Stevens

Photo: From BOMBAY TO MUMBAI, 1997, Marg Publication

Frederick William Stevens (1847 - 1900), the English architect designed the Victoria Terminus (now Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus), the Municipal Corporation Building that faces the terminus and the Royal Alfred Sailors Home (now the Mumbai Police Headquarters) - as well as other monuments.

Stevens was born in Bath in England and moved to India at the age of 19 when he passed the India Office PWD (Public Works Department) examination. After staying for some years in Poona (Pune) he settled down in Bombay (ref).

In 1870, he took charge of the design of the VT Station, the largest piece of colonial architecture in India until that time and its construction started two years later. Stevens, still in his thirties, for ten years until its completion in 1887, put his heart and soul into the fruition of this superb architectural work, which would become the symbol of Bombay. (ref)

Stevens received various honors. He was made a Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire "for services rendered in connection with public buildings in Bombay," and gained medals for his designs in exhibitions held in Bombay in 1872 and 1879, as well as becoming a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects (ref).

He was only 52 when he died of malaria at his home in the Malabar Hills in 1900, and was buried in Sewri Christian Cemetery, where his grave carries the inscription, "In loving memory of Frederick William Stevens, born 11th May 1847, died 3rd March 1900." (ref)

Architect: George Wittet

George Wittet (1878 - 1926) was a Scottish architect who designed the Gateway Of India, the Prince of Wales Museum and the equally imposing building on the opposite side of the street - the Institute of Science and the National Gallery of Modern Art - among other iconic monuments around the city.

Wittet joined the Indian government in 1904 when he was appointed as an assistant in the Office of John Begg, the Consulting Architect to the Government of Bombay. He met Begg for only 10 minutes on a station platform to secure the job, but his drawings and his bearing seem to have captured the day. On arrival in Bombay, he was put to work on the General Post Office (ref).

Wittet's design skills were much admired in Bombay and once established, the commissions just poured in. By the time of his death, he had completed 95 projects for the Government of Bombay and 44 for Merrs. Tata & Co., a company whose board of directors he also joined in 1919 (ref).

On 12 May 1917, Wittet, by then Consulting Architect to the Government of Bombay, was unanimously elected as the first President of The Indian Institute of Architects (ref)

Wittet practiced in Bombay for 22 years despite the efforts of his French wife to get him to leave India for Europe. He died early at the age of 48 years due to acute dysentery and was buried at the Sewri Christian Cemetery (ref).

The Shared Burial Grounds

Both these men who designed some of the most iconic buildings of the city found their ultimate resting place in the Sewri Christian Cemetery - a quiet relatively unknown quarter of the city that has other equally renowned occupants such as John Baptista - the ex-Mayor of Bombay, Francis Newton Souza - the famous painter and Dom Moraes - the famous poet (ref)

The Brompton Buddy Ride

It seemed so incongruous that such eminent people lay buried in a forgotten corner of the city unknown to most of its citizens like me who recognize some of their work as an integral part of its identity. To fix that incongruity, I decided to do a cycle ride starting from the cemetery and trace a route along the various buildings that these architects designed.

Accompanying me was my fellow Brompton bicycle owner of Mumbai - Piyush Shah, a proponent of vegan food and frugal lifestyle and who shares my passion for cycling. We decided that this was a good opportunity to do a Brompton buddy ride together.

Route Map

The route map was as follows:

I started from my home in Andheri while Piyush started from Ghatkopar and we met at Bandra before jointly riding to Sewri.

The Sewri Christian Cemetery

We reached the cemetery without much trouble locating it. It is a short walk away from Sewri station. The security guard is normally wary of visitors and one has to confidently declare one's intention of paying respects at a grave to be able to enter.

Once inside the cemetery, we desperately tried looking for the graves of the two architects in vain. At the time we went, I had not yet seen photographs of the graves nor had done sufficient research about their location. Hence we gave up our search and proceeded further along our route. (See this article for more clues that I found for locating Stevens' grave)

Before we went ahead, we stopped for a drink of cool sugarcane juice at a street vendor. The other customers did not fail to notice our unique vehicles and the inevitable first question of "How much does this cost?" was asked several times before other FAQs like "How does it fold?" and "Why do you ride?"

King Edward Memorial Hospital

Our first stop was in Parel, that is just next to Sewri. We visited the King Edward Memorial (KEM) Hospital. The hospital has a number of firsts to its credit in the field of medical care:

  • It was the first Indian college for modern medicine to be completely established and staffed by Indian medical professionals
  • It set up first occupational therapy school in Asia and physiotherapy school in South Asia
  • It was the first to set up a plasma fractionation unit in Asia
  • It established the first intensive cardiac care unit in the country
  • It was the first Indian hospital to perform a live donor kidney transplant in India as well as heart transplant surgery
  • In 1968 the doctors of KEM performed the first liver transplantation of the country.
  • It also has to its credit the first documented test tube baby in India

Thanks to the increased security, we were not allowed to take photographs of the building from inside the compound of the hospital. So all we managed was a photograph from across the road.

The first hospital in Bombay was the Grant Medical College in Bombay that was established in 1845. However, doctors of Indian origin were not given due recognition by the Europeans who ran the hospital, leading to dissatisfaction and dissent among the Indian doctors. The idea of KEM hospital emerged in such an atmosphere, charged with feelings of pride and patriotism, which were especially strong in the city of Bombay. Sir Pherozeshah Mehta, Sir Chimanlal Setalvad, Sir Narayan Chandavarkar and Dr. Jivaraj Mehata were the pioneers who built KEM hospital. (ref).

But how did such a group of nationalists end up naming the hospital as King Edward Memorial Hospital? The answer is the funding! King Edward, who had visited India in 1876 as the Prince of Wales, died on 6 May 1910. The people of Bombay presidency raised funds to build a hospital in memory of the late king. The Government of Bombay denoted 50,000 sq. yards of land on the estate of the Government House at Parel (ref). So the money and land were acquired by aligning the hospital's foundation to the memory of the dead king!

The renowned architect George Wittet was approached to draw up plans for the hospital and college. It was the first Indian hospital that had an outpatient wing along with the main hospital building. The hospital was designed with the administrative block in the center surrounded by four ward pavilions. (ref).

Wadia Maternity Hospital

The building next to KEM Hospital is also designed by George Wittet - the Wadia Maternity Hospital located just across the road. In this case, we did not even bother trying to get inside and merely took photos from the road outside.

Here are a photo and description from the Wadia Hospital's website. In the photo, one can see both, the Wadia Maternity Hospital and the King Edward Memorial Hospital next to each other.

In a country where Women’s Healthcare was only just being established and at a time when the focus was shifting to women’s requirements and their empowerment, Sir Ness Wadia understood the importance of catering to the medical needs of women across the board, regardless of their economic status.

True to the philanthropic tradition of the Wadia family, he set up the Nowrosjee Wadia Maternity Hospital in fond memory of his father Nowrosjee Wadia. It was designed by Architect George Wittet. The foundation stone was laid on 9th June 1925 and the hospital was declared open on 13th December 1926 (ref).

Incidentally, it was in 1926 that George Wittet died of acute dysentery. It's ironic and unfortunate that despite being the architect for two major hospitals, he could not be rescued from such an easily curable disease.

The Cotton Mills of Bombay

Having covered the areas in Sewri and Parel, we proceeded to the next cluster of buildings downtown via the Eastern Express Highway (EEH).

Along the EEH are several old cotton mills that have either been converted into modern structures for business or lie unused and neglected like this one.

These mills form an important part of Mumbai's history.

Before the middle of the nineteenth century, India used to export cotton to Britain, and then reimport the textile. In 1820 the total textile import cost only Rs. 350,000. However, these costs escalated tremendously until in 1860 textile imports stood at Rs. 19.3 million.

The impetus towards the founding of a cotton industry came from Indian entrepreneurs. The first Indian cotton mill, "The Bombay Spinning Mill", was opened in 1854 in Bombay by Cowasji Nanabhai Davar. Opposition from the Lancashire mill owners was eventually offset by the support of the British manufacturers of textile machinery.

By 1870 there were 13 mills in Bombay. Cotton exports grew during the American Civil War, when supplies from the USA were interrupted. At the end of 1895 there were 70 mills; growing to 83 in 1915. A period of stagnation set in during the recession of the 1920's. In 1925 there were 81 mills in the city. After World War II, under strong competition from Japan, the mills declined. In 1953 there remained only 53 mills in the city (ref)

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj (Victoria) Terminus

We reached our next stop - the magnificent Victoria Terminus now renamed as Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSTM), one of the most visible and well-known heritage structures of the city.

Photo: "Bombay to Mumbai, Changing Perspectives", 1997, Marg Publications

Designed by architect Frederick William Stevens in a Victorian Italianate Gothic Revival, the building incorporates many local influences. The overall design bears a striking resemblance to the St. Pancras Railway Station in London. The Great Indian Peninsular Railway started the construction of the building in May 1878 on the Bori Bandar area on the eastern shoreline of Mumbai. It took 10 years to complete (ref)!

The building is a fusion of a variety of architectural features and references: Italian architecture (the arches from the Doge’s Palace), high Victorian gothic like long spires and strong vertical lines, medieval touches like turret towers, and traditional Indian architecture seen in its deep corridors. Whimsical motifs of local flora and fauna have been added, some by local craftsmen. The materials used are also a blend of yellow sandstone, limestone, red sandstone and high-quality Italian marble. (ref)

Municipal Corporation Building

The other building just across the road is the Municipal Corporation Building that is an equally imposing structure. This is a Grade IIA heritage building (‘V’ shaped as viewed from top) and is also known as the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation Building, or BMC building for short (ref)

There was a competition held for the design of the building. The competition was won by Robert Fellowes Chisholm for his Indo-Saracenic design that is shown in the diagram above. However, the design that was finally selected was the Gothic design done by Frederick William Stevens. The building was completed in 1893 (ref & photo: "A Joint Enterprise: Indian Elites and the Making of British Bombay" By Preeti Chopra). On December 9, 1884, the foundation stone for the new building of the Bombay Municipal Corporation was laid (ref).

The above picture shows the two heritage buildings in 1950. The Municipal Corporation Building on the left and the Victoria Terminus on the right (ref &

Court of Small Causes

Next, we went to see the Court of Small Causes at Dhobi Talao that is designed by George Wittet. It is located on Lokmanya Tilak Road that leads from Vasudev Balvant Fanke Chowk (Metro Theater) to Crawford Market.

The Court of Small Causes, Mumbai has been established under the provisions of the Presidency Small Causes Courts Act, 1882 (ref & pic).

Question: So what is "Small" causes?
Answer: The Judges are empowered to hear and dispose of the money suits, wherein, the claims do not exceed Rs. 10,000 subject to exception laid down under Section 19 of the Presidency Small Causes Courts Act, 1882. The said Pecuniary Jurisdiction of Rs. 10,000/- has been enhanced to Rs. 25,000/- by the Government of Maharashtra (ref)

Crawford Market

On our way to the next destination, we stopped by at the recently renovated Crawford Market. We invited two other cyclists who were passing by to join us in the photograph. The one in the pink shirt is a milk vendor with a can of milk on his bike, and the other is a traveling salesman selling readymade clothes. His bicycle is his shop.

Ballard Estate

The next destination was Ballard Estate that was Wittet’s masterpiece. Conceived and laid out by him for the Bombay Port Trust between 1908-1914, it was intended to be the city’s premier business address. It was spread across 22 acres of land reclaimed during the construction of Alexandra (now Indira) docks, its building styles and heights closely followed Wittet’s guidelines, creating a unified, harmonious assemblage of Edwardian design (ref).

The First World War Memorial

The picture above shows the First World War Memorial erected by the erstwhile Bombay Port Trust in front of the gate of Alexander Docks, now renamed Indira Docks. On the memorial are the words – "This memorial commemorates the employees of the Bombay Port Trust who fell during WW1, 1914-1918, and also the Port Trust’s contribution to the war effort".

This beautifully carved sandstone memorial, with brass plaques on three sides, is a reminder of the extent to which the city, especially her docks, was part of the Allied war efforts during the Great War. The numbers mentioned are staggering ­– 18,70,000 troops and personnel embarked and disembarked at the docks; 3,046 transports and 668 hospital ships dealt with, and 22,28,000 tons of military stores shipped from Bombay Port. The first transport ship left the city on 21 August 1914, just 17 days after Britain entered the War (ref).

The Grand Hotel

But the building that stole our hearts was the Grand Hotel on the corner of Walchand Hirachand Marg and SS Ram Gulam Marg. It is maintained in impeccable condition and we felt like we were transported straight into the past just standing at that street corner. The imposing tower at the corner has square windows placed at interesting symmetrical positions.

A Google Earth view of the building shows that there are two L-shaped four-story structures that flank the tower at the corner. They leave an open courtyard in the center

The elegant Grand Hotel, once the place to stay and be seen by the city 's elite and visitors alike, continues to occupy its iconic corner plot. Those who didn't find space there could check into the Regent Hotel, which once occupied Darabshaw House, and now houses the Vogue India office. For travel weary sailors, the Prince of Wales Seamen's Club has since 1837 provided a comfortable home at reasonable rates and without discrimination (ref)

The Ballard Bunder Gatehouse

The Ballard Bunder Gatehouse, part of Naval Dockyard, is among the five entries from the city for the 2009 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Culture Heritage Conservation. The Indian Navy has proposed it for the Award. "We have entered it for the UNESCO Heritage Awards after it was restored by the Western Naval Command," said Vice Admiral N N Kumar, Admiral Superintendent, Naval Dockyards.

The Navy had dedicated the restored building, with a small museum included, to the city in 2005. "It was built in 1920 as a commemorative gateway to the erstwhile Ballard Pier in the altered alignment of the harbor, as envisaged in the development of Ballard Estate conceived by George Wittet, the chief architect (1908-1914) of the Bombay Port Trust," (ref)

The Monuments around Wellington Fountain

After Ballard Estate, we went to the Wellington Fountain Circle where the last four monuments are located:

  • Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (Prince of Wales Museum) by George Wittet
  • National Gallery of Modern Art (Cowasji Jehangir Hall) and the Institute of Science (Royal Institute of Science) by George Wittet
  • Maharashtra Police Headquarters (Royal Alfred Sailors Home) by Frederick William Stevens
  • The Gateway of India by George Wittet

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (Prince of Wales Musuem)

The first monument was the Prince of Wales Museum - now renamed as "Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya". It is one of the premier art and history museums in India. The Museum building, a Grade I Heritage building, is designed by George Wittet and is an example of his use of the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture and houses a world-class collection of over 60,000 art objects.

(Photo: A Joint Enterprise: Indian Elites and the Making of British Bombay
By Preeti Chopra)
On 14th August 1905, a number of prominent people of Bombay gathered at the Town Hall and resolved to erect a Memorial to the visit of the Prince of Wales (later King George V) in the form of a public Museum which, would be named after him. The meeting was attended by Sir Pherozeshah Mehta, Justice Badruddin Tyabji, Narotamdas Gokuldas, Justice Chandavarkar, Sassoon J. David, and many other dignitaries are known for their outstanding contribution in their respective fields and also in the development of the island of Bombay.

The Foundation Stone of the Museum was laid by the Prince of Wales on 11th November 1905 and the Museum was named Prince of Wales Museum of Western India.

The architect of the building, George Wittet, was selected after an open competition in 1909. Wittet is well known for the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture of which this museum is one of the best examples. The Indo-Saracenic style combines Hindu and Saracenic architectural forms, at times incorporating some elements of Western architecture. (ref)

National Gallery of Modern Art (Cowasji Jehangir Hall)

(Photo: The British Architectural Library, RIBA, London. Source: Marg Vol 46, No 1)
The building facing the museum is another structure designed by George Wittet. Originally built as Cowasji Jehangir Hall flanked by the Royal Institute of Science, it now hosts the National Gallery of Modern Art, The Institute of Science and other government offices. It was built in the Renaissance Revival style at a cost of 19 lakhs, with the balance of 11 lakhs being contributed by Sir Currimbhoy Ibrahim and Sir Jacob Sassoon. The only other public hall being Town Hall, the new hall filled a vacuum in the city’s social life (ref).

In 1996, the interior of the hall was renovated by architect Romi Khosla and it was transformed into the National Gallery of Modern Art. This involved constructing a structure within a structure to encase five exhibition galleries, one leading to another via a teak and chromium stairway, a lecture auditorium, a library, cafeteria, office and storage space for a permanent collection as well as traveling shows. (ref).

The (Royal) Institute of Science

At the back of the same building is the Institute of Science, established to provide science education in the erstwhile State of Bombay. The foundation stone of the building was laid on 5th April 1911 and the construction was completed by 1915. During the visit of his Majesty the King Emperor in 1912, the word ‘Royal’ was associated with the Institute and it was designated as Royal Institute of Science (ref).

The building is a massive stone structure and immediately inside the main entrance of the Institute is a marble statue of the founder, Sir George Clark, later known as Lord Sydenham, the then Governor of Bombay and a Fellow of the Royal Society, London.

(Photo: Bharath Ramamrutham. Source: Marg Vol 46, No 1)
The statue is located at the bottom of the dome, with the wide main staircase running around it to the top floor.

The interior is plain with wide verandahs running along one side of the rooms in all the wings. The Institute was empty for it was a weekend, but we did see some students reading in the verandah.

Maharashtra Police Headquarters (Royal Alfred Sailors Home)

The third building in the same circle is the Maharashtra Police Headquarters. Initially named as the Royal Alfred Sailors Home, it was designed by Frederick Willams Stevens.

(Photo: Unknown photographer in the 1870s -

The building was conceived to commemorate the visit of the Duke of Edinburgh in 1870. The construction commenced in 1872 and was completed in 1876 at a cost of Rs. 3,66,629 (Rs.2000 less than the estimated cost!). His Highness Maharaja Khanderao Gaekwad of Baroda had donated Rs.200,000 for this prestigious building (ref).

A sculpture of Neptune in has-relief adorns the pediment at the top, with red Mangalore tiles on the pitched roof. The sculptures were crafted by students of the J J School of Art under the supervision of John Lockwood Kipling (father of renowned writer, Rudyard Kipling), who had been appointed Professor of Architectural Sculpture at the School in 1865 (ref)

The Gateway of India

The final destination is George Wittet's masterpiece - the Gateway of India! It is the most familiar and visible achievement of Wittet's work in all of India. The arch commemorates the visit of their Imperial Majesties King George V and Queen Mary to Bombay and India in December 1911. For the visit, Wittet built a temporary structure solely for their visit in wood and concrete. A domed reception panel was connected to a specially constructed amphitheater and processional route through Bombay (ref: "Edwardian Architects of Bombay George Wittet and John Begg", Marg Vol 46 No 1).

The permanent gateway was built after the departure of the Emperor and Empress from India, as a marker of the historic visit. It was built from yellow basalt and in a style based upon models of sixteenth century Gujarati architecture found in Ahmedabad and Champaner (ref: "Edwardian Architects of Bombay George Wittet and John Begg", Marg Vol 46 No 1).

The Gateway has three arched openings, side panels of pierced stone from Gwalior, and interiors adorned with domes. The whole was to provide seated accommodation for six hundred people for ceremonial events, but the arch was probably little used for such purposes after its erection (ref: "Edwardian Architects of Bombay George Wittet and John Begg", Marg Vol 46 No 1)

Breakfast at Poornima

At the end of our journey, we deserved a treat! And we went to enjoy some authentic South Indian breakfast at a quaint but well-known place in Fort - Poornima Restaurant located just behind the Stock Exchange.

After a filling breakfast, it was time to depart back to our respective homes. We rode back via Marine Drive, enjoying the cool sea breeze.

GPS Route Map

Here is our actual GPS route:

This turned out to be a fun exercise. It started as a Brompton buddy ride with Piyush and ended up a journey through the history of our beloved city. Tracing the two architects from their graves through the various monuments they designed that provided glory to the city was truly a learning and fun experience!

Hope you enjoyed reading this as much as we did riding, researching and documenting the findings!



Ashutosh Bijoor

Adventurer, mathematician, software architect, cyclist, musician, aspiring wood worker