Hidden in plain sight next to Somerset House, the India Club has been a part of London life for nearly 70 years, but is now threatened with redevelopment.
The current manager of the Club, Phiroza Marker, explains why it should be saved.
Hidden up a flight of stairs on the Strand, it would be easy to overlook the India Club. However, recent redevelopment plans to turn the building into a modern hotel have brought the Club’s crucial history into the limelight.
There are few things in the UK which capture the complexity of Britain’s colonial past as well as the India Club. It was established at a significant moment in British/Indian relations by the India League, which was described by Prime Minister Nehru in the 1930s as “the only really ‘political’ organization representing Indians in the UK.”
Following India’s independence, the League resolved that its future role would be to focus on UK-Indian relations. As such, in 1951 it formed the India Club as a symbol of Indo-British friendship under the leadership of Krishna Menon, India’s first High Commissioner to the UK, and with founding members including Prime Minister Nehru and Lady Edwina Mountbatten.
India Club moved to its present location at 143-145 Strand in the mid-1950s, with a lounge, bar, restaurant and accommodation for leading Indian intellectuals, public figures and journalists. The new wings of the India League were operated from here, including the Free Legal Advice Bureau for Indian nationals and the Research and Study Unit. The building was also frequented by key figures of the League including Krishna Menon (Honorary President of India League), Julius Silverman MP (Secretary) and Dr Tarapada Basu (Honorary General Secretary).
The interior of 143-145 Strand, particularly the entrance, bar and restaurant remain in the same condition as they were during the occupation of the property by the India League. Visitors comment on the way in which it instantly transports one to a bygone era and it is a publicly accessible part of Indo-British history.
Historically rich, it is also the cultural importance of the building that has endured for over 50 years. It played a key part in immigrant experience in the UK, providing a home-away-from-home for first generation immigrants from the Indian subcontinent, particularly following the 1962 Commonwealth Immigration Act. Countless petition comments attest to the property being a focal point for the establishment of the South Asian community in the United Kingdom at a time when there were few sites providing such a social resource.
Today, India Club is true to its original purpose as various Indo-British groups use it as their base, including the Indian Journalists Association, Calcutta Rowing Club and Goan Association. A recent petition
to save the India Club has provided a snapshot of the wider public support and nearly 20,000 signatures have been added so far. Key themes from the comments include it being a ‘London institution,’ treasured by those living in the city. There are a range of attachments going back to the 1950s, setting out generations of visitors to the spot. It is very much part of London’s identity and has contributed significantly towards the creation of a distinctly diverse and multicultural capital city.
2017 was the UK-India Year of Culture and the 70th anniversary of India’s independence. It was also the same year that plans were lodged with Westminster City Council to redevelop India Club into a modern hotel. It would be particularly unfortunate to mark this year with the demise of a symbolic building which binds the people of the UK and India through a shared history. In an effort to preserve India Club’s legacy and history for future generations, the management have submitted an application to Historic England to list 143-145 Strand and await their decision.
The Save India Club petition can be found here.