Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Army and Navy Stores (1891), Mumbai- a nice colonial stucture

Army & Navy Stores,Bombay,1891The Victorian Web

Army and Navy Stores was a British establishment in colonial India. Formed in London  on 15 September 1871 as the Army and Navy Co-operative Society by a group of military officers, the main aim of the society was to run department stores  to supply consumer goods at the most reasonable prices.  The Society grew  in size by leaps and bound and during that period there arose a necessity for the retired, homesick military personnel  and civil servants in India to serve their needs. At their request the Army and navy store opened their branch in Mumbai to serve the military people in particular. The one at Bombay, was the  first Indian Army and Navy Store opened in 1891. The Calcutta, Simla and Ranchi  branches  came up later. It was a popular store in those days  among the British , who could the "tropical provisions"at reasonable price. The store was based on the existing middle cooperative societies - the Civil Service Supply Association and the Civil Service Co-operative Society" (House of Fraser Archive).

As for the building that housed Army and Navy Stores, in Bombay (Mumbai), it is a A Grade II heritage structure, originally designed by Frederick William Stevens (1847-1900) and David Gostling.  The building construction work was completed in 1891. It is  on Esplanade Road, Mumbai, between the former Mechanics Institute (now David Sassoon Library), and the former Watson's Hotel.

After a fire mishap the building was rebuilt in 1896.
and the building 'style is Italianate with neo-Classical features. The building seems to have a complicated history. It is believed  the original establishment was not opened until 1894 (House of Fraser Archive). That  how much of the original structure has survived is a moot question. The credit goes to  the firm of Gostling Chambers & Fritchley.

 In 1952, the Mumbai store was closed but only in 1998, the old structure was repaired and restore.  according to the information board, was "extensively restored in 1998. Presently various companies of the Tata Group function in that building.

Army & Navy Stores,Bombay,1891 Flickr1024 × 725

John Richardson writing in his book 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice' remembered the importance of the A&N Stores:-

"At its height — between 1890 and 1940 — the Army and Navy Stores was more than a mere emporium: it was a key cog in the machinery of the Empire. The two greatest jewels in the Stores' crown were the enormous branches in Calcutta and Bombay, which functioned as travel agents, bankers, caterers, undertakers, and insurance brokers, as well as purveyors of the pith helmets, thunder-boxes, plum puddings, and all the other myriad things listed in the Army and Navy's catalogue, which ran to more than a thousand pages. This catalogue was the bible of the British Raj. Kipling's Mrs. Vansuythen and Mrs. Hauksbee would have been unable to function without it." (vide: