The Site

The block of offices known as India Buildings, which was completed early in the year 1931, occupies an island site, facing the main thoroughfare of Water Street and Brunswick Street and with side frontages on to Fenwick Street and Drury Lane, in the heart of the business and banking quarter of Liverpool and within five minutes walk of Princes Landing Stage on the River Mersey.

The name is a historic one in Liverpool. Nearly one hundred years before the date of the completion of the new India Buildings, George Holt conceived the idea of erecting a block of light and airy premises to consist entirely of offices, whereas before then the business transactions of merchants and ship owners had been conducted on the ground floors of private dwellings, or more frequently in dark and dingy "counting-houses" partitioned off from warehouses.

In 1833, the foundation stone of old India Buildings was laid and the handsome structure facing on to Water Street and Fenwick Street and built to the designs of Franklin, the Architect, was completed in 1834. Rumor has it that the walls were made exceptionally strong, so that, if the novel idea of a block of offices were not a success, the building could be converted into warehouses.

Well designed and well built it certainly was and presented a dignified appearance until its demolition in 1928.

Old India Buildings occupied, however, less than half the area of the new. A narrow lane called Chorley Street crossed the centre of the new site. India Buildings, Fenwick Chambers, Fenwick Court and The Atlantic surrounded a court yard on the upper side of this lane, while Canton and Commercial Buildings, Seaton Buildings, Cereal chambers and other (later and much inferior structures) came between Chorley Street and Drury Lane.

In June , 1922, negotiations were commenced with The Liverpool Corporation in regard to the frontage lines of the new Building. It was obviously essential in the interests of the City that Water Street should be widened, less necessary, but still desirable, that Fenwick Street should be increased in width, while it was decided that the Brunswick Street face line should remain unaffected, as any future widening of this potentially important street would have to be on the other side, so as to bring more into line with Cook Street farther up.

The agreement eventually reached provided that Chorley Street should be closed and the site built over and that the building line along Water Street was to be set back eighteen feet to compensate for this privilege.

Furthermore, Fenwick Street was to be widened to forty-two feet between building lines throughout (involving a set back of twelve feet at the Water Street end) less 4 ft 6 ins for an area and Drury lane was to be widened by eight feet on the India Buildings side.

Permission was also obtained to build to a height of 120 feet to cornice level from the pavement at the corner of Water Street and Drury Lane, exclusive of two stores set back at the above cornice level. This gave room for a basement on the street level at Dairy Lane and about ten feet below it along Fenwick Street, a lofty ground floor and eight stores above this.

The Associated Architects for the Building were Messrs Briggs and Thornely F.F.R.I.B.A. and Mr Herbert J Rowse F.R_I.B.A.,Mr J. R. Sharman M.Inst C E ., acted as Consulting Engineer for the steel framework and Mr. A. G. Ramsey, AM.Inst.C.E., for the heating and ventilation.

The General Contracts were Messrs. Wm. Thornton and Sons. Ltd., of Liverpool. Messrs Borman, Long & Co., Ltd., supplied and erected the steel framework.


Architectural Design

or the convenience of Messrs Alfred Holt & co., and other tenants of old India Buildings, it was essential that the new building should be constructed in two separate and independent parts, divided roughly by the line of the upper side of Chorley Street, so that old India Buildings might remain intact until the first part of the new building was completed and ready for occupation.

With this condition in view, a principal entrance was planned at the centre of the Water Street and Brunswick Street faces, with lofty Elevator Hall at each entrance and an arcaded corridor running across the building at ground floor level between them. One wall of this corridor and parts of the Elevator Halls had to be omitted from Part I, the gap being temporarily screened by wooden hoardings which somewhat restricted the public space. On the other hand, there was just room to get in the steel stanchions on that side of the corridor and so to complete the staircases, which were carried up from the elevator halls on each inner face of the building, with Part I.

Two light courts are formed above first floor level, running across the main axis of the building, with sky-lights which give light to the main corridor and to the lofty portion of the ground floor on each side. On the upper corridors run from elevator lobby completely round the building, serving on each side of them rooms which are adequately lit from either from the light-courts or from the outside of the block.

The site as finally determined is a quadrangle with the following lengths of fronts:
Water Street 214 feet and Brunswick Street (opposite) 210 feet Fenwick Street 257 and Drury Lane (opposite ) 243 feet, but no corner is a right angle.

The interior columns are, however ranged on lines parallel to main axes at right angles to each other and the two parts of the building are thus symmetrical in every way from the first floor level upwards, except for the depth between the corridors and the outside walls, which varies uniformly from corner to corner.


War Damage
During all the many air raids on Merseyside from August 1940 until the enemy made most determined effort to cripple Britain's main war port in the early days of May 1941, India Buildings received only superficial damage. The raids in May, 1941, proved to be the last real attacks on Merseyside. Unfortunately they were disastrous to this building, which at the time fully occupied by firms whose staff numbered three thousand, nearly all engaged in the war effort.

In the early hours of Saturday 3rd May, the enemy attacked the business centre of Liverpool with land mines. In the bright moonlight three of these were observed at different times to be drifting towards the building on a strong south-easterly wind. The first two landed short of the property but the third hit the front of the Com Exchange Building, which collapsed and left its debris piled against India Buildings, completely closing Brunswick Street. The blast of the third mine shook India Buildings and smashed nearly all the windows on the main elevations and in both light courts as well as the fanlights in the corridors. Many of the internal walls were displaced and structural damage was extensive throughout the building. All the buildings to the south and west of India Buildings were also damaged in varying degrees.

In the evening of the same day the enemy directed a new attack on the business centre with incendiary and flame bombs. The damaged and now unguarded properties to the south of India Buildings were easy victims. In view of the vulnerable state of the building, the strength of the India Buildings fire fighting party on duty that night had been more than doubled and the one incendiary bomb which hit the building was quickly extinguished. One by one the buildings in the neighborhood were set on fire and the strong wind which was still, unfortunately, blowing from the south east fanned the flames and they rapidly engulfed the greater part of the properties extending from James Street to Brunswick Street. Embers of burning wood were carried by the wind into the windowless building and caused a multitude of small fires on all floors above street level. During the first few hours the buildings fire fighters extinguished these fires as fast as they occurred. Meanwhile, the Corn Exchange and other buildings were ablaze from top to bottom and the flames from the roof of the Corn Exchange, driven by the wind and pulled by the natural draught into the shattered and windowless building, formed a complete bower of flame across Brunswick Street. The only possible counter to this new threat was to us the hydrants provided on each floor, but the pressure of the supply became so low that water was no longer available and the fire fighters were rendered helpless. The second floor was soon gutted and the other floors followed quickly. The fires spread from the Brunswick Street frontage along the Fenwick Street side of the building with remarkable rapidity.

The wind then changed direction from south east to east and carried the fires along the length of Water Street frontage and into the West side to complete the destruction of the greater part of India Buildings. Burning material from India Buildings was blown into the damaged buildings on the other side of Water Street and into those to the west and they in turn took fire and were burnt out. The strong wind, the draught up the light courts, stairways and lift shafts, and the dryness of the internal fittings and furnishings towards the end of a season of central heating all contributed to the rapid gutting of the upper eight floors of India Buildings The basement shops in Brunswick Street and Drury Lane and the south west section of the ground floor and mezzanine were also for the most part burnt out. The remainder of the building was damaged by blast but the garage in the basement, apart from the loss of the doors by fire, suffered no fire damage and the cars which the proprietors had been advised to keep at the back of the premises away from the doors were intact.

On account of the poor pressure of the water, little could be done above street level and attention was directed to the ground floor premises. These had been protected by internal partition walls from the fall effect of blast and the danger from drifting embers. These premises were, however, menaced by burning debris falling down the light courts and through the sky lights into the ground floor. The saving of Lloyds Bank premises and of the other ground floor offices were the only successes that fell to the fire fighters on the night of trial. For the most part their highly meritorious efforts were made in vain. Their failure to save the upper floors was due to the circumstances over which they had no control - the failure of the water supply. In this, fate treated them unkindly. The India Buildings fire fighting organization had commenced its duties three days before war broke out and the members never let up day or night until the disaster of the 4 May.

rior to the outbreak of war in 1939 India Buildings was practically fully let and became fully occupied during 1940. This satisfactory position continued until the building was to a large extent destroyed by enemy action on the 4th May, 1941.

Although India Buildings was designed prior to the second world war, the building, with its wide corridors and generous circulating spaces, sensible ceiling heights and large windows, was well conceived and the building would undoubtedly still have been regarded as 'modern' but for certain important factors concerning both the fabric and the equipment which would have caused the building to lose its claim to be modem compared with the new Exchange Buildings and other new commercial buildings which were bound to be erected.

These factors concern the lifts, affecting the accessibility of offices on the upper floors, the inefficiency of the wells as lights courts, resulting in very appreciable loss of natural lighting in the inside premises and the impossibility of adjusting the heating in the various sections of the building to different conditions of temperature and wind.
The opportunity was therefore taken to make such alterations in the design, planning and equipment of the building which once again make it a comfortable and up-to-date business centre, cable of competing successfully with the new commercial buildings.

Reconstruction of the building was finally completed early in 1953.

Of recent dates there has been an large amount of controversy surrounding this majestic structure.



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