Clive House, situated at 91 Rastraguru Avenue, Dum Dum, is probably one of the oldest residential buildings in Calcutta, as it was in existence even before 1756. As a dumb witness of the glorious past, a desolate plaque at the entrance of the dilapidated and distressed structure proclaims that Lord Clive did stay here and hence it acquired the name Clive House. After the battle of Plassey, Clive made it his country house and renovated it.
He introduced some changes in the building’s architectural pattern and added the upper storey. He also laid the lush green extensive gardens and the walks. The origin of the Clive House, also known as Burra Kothi, still remains veiled in the mist of mystery. In fact, no authentic account of the origin of this building is available. Some believe it to be a Portuguese or a Dutch Factory or a Godown of Cotton and Salt Pete (Potassium Nitrate, a salty white powder used to preserve meat, and also used in producing explosives and fertilizers). It is also presumed that this building was actually constructed during the late Mughal period and later somehow it became the property of Nawab Alivardi Khan and his grandson Nawab Siraj-ud-daullah. According to local hearsay, the mound on which the Clive House stands were built in a single night. If that is true, it is really a mystery, as to what “demonic agents” had toiled so fiercely for making this mound within a night and to what purpose. It is believed by the locals that the grounds and the house are haunted.
The name of the house was probably mentioned for the first time in the ‘History of the War in Bengal’, a book written by Robert Orme. He stated that, in the dense fogged morning of 8th February 1757, when Clive marched through the camp of Nawab Siraj-ud-daulah at Sealdah, he crossed the Dum Dum Road. There was an old building on that Road, constructed on a high mound. Another article of 1911, written by a civil servant Lewis O’Malley, reported that, the name Dum Dum is originated from the word Damdama, which means heaped mound or battery. It also seemed to O’Malley that, originally it was a one storied block house and it was constructed in such a manner as to secure a flank fire position from every side and it was well equipped with underground chambers too. From the point of defense, the walls of the building were very thick and strongly built. It may also be noted here that, in respect of the pre-existing structure, O’Malley had commented that, the old building with its elevated position and strong structure, seemed to be quite capable of a stout defense against anything but artillery.
Unfortunately, no authentic account about the original owner of the building or the date of construction is available. It is also enigmatic, as to why such a fort like building was constructed in the first place. However, it is said that, probably it was a Dutch or Portuguese factory of some kind.
What ever may be the case, after the battle of Plassey, Lord Clive renovated the building and turn it to his country house. In the process of renovation, he built a fine upper storey and altered the ground floor in such a way, as to destroy its character as a defense position. He also added a beautiful garden to the building, created in the prevailing Dutch style at a great expense.
After Clive, the house changed hands several times. Before it was rebuilt, the officers of the Bengal Artillery lived in it for field practice. After their departure, it was rebuilt again and since then the house and gardens were well-maintained. Bishop Heber, who visited the house in the 1820s, expressed his utter satisfaction about the excellent beauty of its gardens. It served as a private residence of notable Englishmen. As late as 1891, it served as a headquarters of Presidency Volunteer Reserve Battalion. After the army men left the building, it was let out for rent. Sir Owain Jenkins, lived in this place for a few years in the 1930s. He came to India to work for Balmer Lawrie and with time became a distinguished industrialist of independent India. In his book about his memories of India he commented that he was constrained to leave the place as he was unable to tolerate the unwanted foul smell of the adjacent market.
After independence and partition between India and Pakistan, about 20 to 25 refugee families from the erstwhile East Pakistan took shelter in the building and the peripheral area. Some of the families still continue to live on the peripheries, even after the Clive House was taken over by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in 2003. Even about 15 years ago, the building was in fairly good shape and the roof was intact, though porous. But after some more monsoons, a portion of the roof caved in and as a result, the encroached families left the house in awe. The core of the building was piled high with debris and the strong and tall columns of yesteryears looked unsteady and unreliable. It was already overgrown with huge trees by that time.
Accidentally in 2001, a decorated part of pottery was found from the mound, which attracted the attention of the chief of the Archaeological Survey of India during that time. His experienced eyes could sense the possibility of its immense age. At his drive and initiative, an extensive excavation started in the north portion of the mound of Clive House. As expected, the excavation revealed the remnants of a very early civilization dating back far beyond the days of Christ. It was a real surprise, since there was no idea about the existence of any such ancient civilization prevailing in this area of south Bengal It is said that, the unearthed articles from the site – the statuettes, terracottas and the seals or the emblems – belong to the Sunga-Kusana period. Moreover, these unearthed items are said to have a strong resemblance to those found in Chandraketugarh, located along the Bidyadhari river in 24 Paganas, near the township of Berachampa. This in turn signifies that, Calcutta or greater Calcutta was not born and flourished during the last two hundred years, it has a more glorious history of an ancient civilization.
It was reported in 2006 in a local News paper that, the deep-rooted trees were up-rooted and removed from the existing structure and the huge mass of debris heaped inside the southern side of the building was also cleared. After removing the debris blocking the northern side, a crescent-shaped stairway leading to the arched opening was discovered. The pillared balcony, almost hanging in a precarious state, was repaired and strengthened. Some stairways were restored, but the main staircase on the north western side remains untouched.
Unfortunately, for reasons unknown, the progress of the work has since been suspended for quite a long time.