Bishop's House

The Bishop’s House at 51, Chowringhee Road, with its teak-wooden floors reverberates with tremor as someone walks in or out of it.  The rambling staircase with its polished banisters, all the better with age has many a story to tell.  The melodious chimes from the St. Paul’s Cathedral clock invade the rooms of this ancient edifice.  In an instance it comes to ones realisation, why in the year 1849, Bishop Wilson had his residence, the then Bishop’s Palace, removed from No. 5 Russell Street to the present location.

The original house was constructed by Major Mark Wood in 1763 on twelve bighas, the first construction on the street, according to Schalch’s map.  Before leaving India, the Major sold it to Captain John Ulric Collins in 1786 for Rs. 61,840.  The Captain, in turn, sold it to Russicl Lal Dutt in 1803.  His family was in the business of acquiring and then leasing residential properties to Europeans in Chowringhee.  His son, Uday Chand, sold it to James Pattle, a civil servant with the East India Company, on May 14, 1824, for rupees one lakh.

Patel leased it to the Company as the Episcopal residence at a monthly rent of Rs. 600.  Bishop Heber, the second Bishop of Calcutta, officially took up residence at 5, Russell Street in October 1825.  Till the consecration of the new Cathedral named after St. Paul, No. 5 was home to five Bishops.

It was the same Daniel Wilson, the fifth Bishop of Calcutta, to whose earnest efforts the success of building St. Paul’s Cathedral is mainly ascribed.  It is not desirable that a Cathedral, being the chief church in a diocese containing the Bishop’s throne, should have the Bishop’s residence and bishopric nearby but presently the Bishop’s House has the residence and bishopric in the same building.  The first Bishop of Calcutta also lived in a house near his office in St. John’s Church, which then served as the Cathedral.

The existence of the present Bishop’s House can however be traced back to the days before Bishop Wilson took possession of it.  It served as the residence of William Wilberforce Bird, the man who signed the act abolishing slavery in India, while officiating as Governor-General in 1844. He was the nephew of William Wilberforce a British politician, philantrophist and a leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade.

After 1919, Bishop’s Palace was re-christened as Bishop’s House.  A gigantic yet fascinating cast-iron bell hangs from its dragon-bracket in front of the entrance.  The bell is covered in beautiful and mysterious numerous characters of the Chinese language etched on its surface and belongs to the Manchu Period, built by Tek Cheong Wu in the city of Hongchu.