Did you know that Lucknow has a clock tower which was built to erase out what ever was Indian and introduce and enforce European concepts, a step to further strengthen the colonial footprints.
Yes, Lucknow has a clock tower. One must have passed by it many times but would have not realised that it’s a historical treasure, a heritage which requires our love and attention.
The Hussainabad Clock Tower (Ghantaa Ghar) which is located quiet close to one of the important landmarks of Lucknow-the Rumi Darwaaza (Rumi Gateway), is the one we are talking about.
The clock tower was constructed to welcome the British governor during the colonial era. Yes it was the time when many in the country were trying their best to find favour with the colonial masters, doing everything possible to please them, completely forgetting the atrocities committed by them a few years ago. The site where the clock tower stands today is close to the locations where many Indian revolutionaries were tortured and hanged. The site is close to the one of the location of religious importance of which the British had disregarded and converted the same into a storehouse for ammunition.
The Hussainabad Endowment Trust (HAT; the trust which was constituted by the Nawab Muhammad Ali Shah in 1838) constructed the clock tower in 1881 CE to mark the arrival of the first Lieutenant Governor of the United Province of Awadh and North Western Province, Sir George Couper.
No, Nawab Muhammad Ali Shah wouldn’t have turned in his grave at this act, he also had been favouring the British East India Company in his time; only Begum Hazrat Mahal would have turned in her grave in Kathmandu and Birjis Qadar sitting in his residence at Metiaburz near Kolkatta after 1887 CE would have shed a tear and probably given a thought on the futility of the events of 1857 or probably he would have been too busy to manage his affairs and find favours with the British Empire which had allowed him to return back to India.
The City Magistrate Lt. Col. Norman Horsford, Bengal Corps was the one who suggested and influenced the HAT to commission this clock tower. The clock tower standing tall at 221 feet (approx. 67 m) was built at a cost of Rs. 1.75 lakhs. It is the tallest among all the clock towers in India. It was built as a replica to the Big Ben of London. The designer and architect for the same was Richard Roskell Bayne (and not Roskell Payne as wrongly mentioned). Richard Roskell Bayne or R.R. Bayne (in India from 1866-1890 working for East Indian Railway) was based out of Calcutta (Kolkata); he was also the designer for Thornhill and Mayne Memorial Library and Mayo Memorial in Allahabad (Prayagraj) in this region along with many other structures in India.
An interesting fact to note is that the construction of this clock tower was a part of a larger thought process of the Colonial British rule. The British felt that the people in Lucknow had been long accustomed to hearing the time of the day announced by the muezzin (the official who proclaims the call to prayer (adhan) on Friday for the public worship and the call to the daily prayer (salat) five times a day, at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset, and nightfall) from the nearby Asifi mosque. Read about Asifi mosque here
The idea behind constructing the Hussainbad Clock Tower (a minaret in height in the vicinity) was to transform Gods time into European punctuality, efficiency and order not only through its clock but also through the gong that sounded the hour.
Bayne has not borrowed anything from the traditional Islamic architectures structures in India for this clock tower. The square plan, the horse shoe arches, broad band of relief columns and intersecting decorative arches would remind one of Minaret of Seville (Bayne had studied the same 20 years before the construction of Hussaianbad Clock Tower).
Big Ben of London was completed in 1859 and is an example of neo gothic style (Gothic revival during that time). Hussainabad Clock Tower’s similarity to the Big Ben of London could be because of the Neo Gothic influence on Bayne and also his attempt to create a structure similar to that created by British architects in his home country.
The clock with a dial in the shape of 12 petal flower (each petal denoting an hour) with bells around it and a gigantic pendulum having a length of 14 feet was designed and created by the famous clock maker of England-James William Benson. Gunmetal has been used for building parts of the clock. The gongs of the clock give different musical chime every time they ring.
There is also a wind vane in the shape of the bird on the top mounted over a small shiny dome.
The clock had become defunct since 1980’s. In 2010 the then district administration in Lucknow decided to replace the mechanical clock with an electronic one. Heritage lovers approached the administration to allow them to repair it. It was only because of their efforts that after a silence of 27 years, the giant clock chimed again.
Today the clock tower is in need of our attention, restoration and repair to keep this heritage not getting lost in oblivion.