The Durbar Court
The Durbar court was originally part of the old India Office, was designed by Matthew Digby Watt in 1866 and is described as his masterpiece. Like the Westminster Cathedral it contains an eclectic mix of marbles and polished stones. ‘The ground floor Doric and first floor Ionic columns are of polished red Peterhead granite, while grey Aberdeen granite was chosen for the top floor Corinthian columns. The lower tiled frieze by Minton is in the style Della Robbia and the upper Frieze of polychrome tiles is by Maw, both forming a rich contrast to the surrounding Portland stone.’ He originally intended the floor of the court to be in the style of an Indian garden but this was changed at the end of the 19th century to the present pavement of Greek, Belgian and Sicilian marble. The court was then used for many State functions until it gradually ‘fell into disrepair, the grimy home of pigeons and the Foreign Office Communications Department until 1984, when the first phase of an extensive programme of refurbishment was begun.’7 After this it was again used for official functions. It was opened to the public in 2000 from May until July.
The Court is 110 ft. long and 62½ ft. broad; it was covered in, not long after its completion, by a huge glass roof, of which the ends (with much of the ornamental ironwork) were subsequently removed to admit more light and air; a floor of uniform level – composed of panels of green cipollino marble from Greece, with surroundings of white arabesque Sicilian marbles, and border lines of grand antique from Belgium – has since been substituted for the terrace-walks of the original plan.8
The central part of the Court is covered by a large rectangle of Karystian cipollino, approximately 12m by 2m., made up of 34 matching pieces in the Rorschach pattern (Plate 37A).There are four entrances with steps leading down to the Court, one at each end and two in the middle. The middle entrances have rectangular pieces of cipollino just below the steps measuring approximately 1m square, and made up of two panels each (Plate 8.37B). The other two entrances have two similar rectangular pieces on each side of the entrance. At each of the four corners of the outside edges of the court there are panels of cipollino made up of a strip of marble measuring approximately 8 m. long and 2 m. wide, with two other pieces of a different pattern set at right angles (Plates 8.37C & 8.37D).
7 A Brief History of the Durbar Court, Historical Branch, Library and Records Department, FCO, September 1993.
8 Foster, William, C.I.E., A Descriptive Catalogue of the Paintings, Statues, & C., in the India Office, HM Stationery Office, 1924.
Maps and Plates
Plate 8.37A Central rectangle of cipollino flooring in the Durbar Court, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, London.
Plate 8.37B Smaller panel of cipollino flooring in the Durbar Court, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, London.
Plate 8.37C Corner strip of cipollino flooring in the Durbar Court, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, London.
Plate 8.37D Detail of cipollino flooring in the Durbar Court, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London.