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HERITAGE CLUBS OF CALCUTTA – The Bengal Club

The Bengal Club

The Bengal club was opened in 1827 as The Bengal United Service Club, by a group of East India Company officials.  The first President, as well as the First Patron of the Club was, Lt Col J Finch, the then Military Secretary to Lord Combermere and at the same the Commander-in-chief of the East India Company’s army. His life-size portrait dating back to 1829, hangs majestically in the Dining Hall. Its first members were mostly senior army personnel and top administrators. In the first roster of 141 names, only six merchants and heads or directors of banks were mentioned. Indians were, of course, kept out. The list of Presidents for the first 40 years contains some of the important names of British Indian history – Colville, Grant, Metcalfe, Cotton, and Outram. During 1842 – 1844, the chair of the President was occupied by the Governor General of India, Lord Ellenborough. But it was customary to re-elect a President for several years. It is interesting to note that, Sir Charles Metcalfe held the chair for 11 years in succession. Probably since the early years of the 20th century, the system of customary annual rotation has become the practice.

The United Services Club
The United Services Club

The Club started functioning in a modest, rented two-storeyed building on Chowringhee. From there the Club moved to the Esplanade and later to the Tank Square (B.B.D.Bagh). In 1845, the long contemplated plan of moving from Tank Square to new premises was accomplished.  The same building was once the official residence of Lord Macaulay, while he was in India as Law Member of Supreme Council from 1834 till 1838. Ironically, though the Club was meant for only Whites, the said building belonged to the famous 19th century Bengali writer Kali Prasanna Singha. A plaque at the entrance of the building indicates that it was Lord Macaulay’s residence during the period mentioned above.

The Bengal Club - 1865
The Bengal Club – 1865

With time The Club bought the adjoining plot on 33 Chowringhee and a magnificent building dominating the skyline across the Maidan was built and commissioned in 1911. In the mean time, The Club was registered as a limited company in 1907. But due to financial crisis caused by its restrictive membership policy  and heavily encumbered by debt, the Club had to leave the front building and consolidate on the adjoined building with its entrance on Russell Street, which, much renovated and refurbished, is the present home of the Club. On the other hand the Chatterjee International Building and Metro Rail Bhavan were constructed in the space vacated by the Bengal Club.

The Bengal Club

After independence of India and the consequent  partition of Bengal in 1947, the question to continue the Club with the same name came up. At this juncture, Sir C. Rajagopalachari, the then Governor of Bengal, advised the Club officials to retain its heritage name. During1950s, the Club reformed its regulations radically and first established married quarters in 1954. Membership for Indians were opened in 1959 and then in 1990 they took the revolutionary decision to accept ladies as members in their own right. Dress codes were constantly reviewed from time to time and altered, if necessary.

The Club’s continental  dishes  have always been appreciated. Its bars and residential Chambers are much patronised.  The Rooftop, a space of 6000 sq.ft with open sky, was added to its attraction in 2013 for hosting events and parties. The Club is proud of its Library, which carries a rare collection of old books, selection of new publications, leading periodicals and critically selected classic and contemporary feature films. The Reading Room is well equipped  with internet browsing facility. The Bengal Club Founders’ Day is celebrated every year enthusiastically on 1st February.

The Bengal Club  is the oldest surviving club of its kind in India  and  is considered as one of the oldest clubs in the world.

The Bengal Club Now
The Bengal Club Now
Dibyendu Banerjee
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.

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