Members Zone

A Brief History

The history of The Bengal Club dates back to 1827. Epitomizing elegance and class, it is one of the social clubs in the world that outlasted its colonial founders and yet retained its majestic legacy- blending in modernity with tradition.

Set up by a group of East India Company officials, the first president of Bengal Club was Lt Col J Finch. Military Secretary to Lord Combermere, Commander-in-Chief of the East India Company’s army and also the first Patron of the Club. His life-size portrait dating back to 1829, still adorns the Dining Hall wall.

During those days membership was largely confined to senior military personnel and top administrators along with a few medical professionals. Only six merchants and heads or directors of banks find mention in the first roster with 141 names. The Club soon became the city’s favourite social club.

The list of Presidents in the first 40 years includes some who’s who of British Indian history: Lord Metcalfe, Colville, Grant, Cotton, Outram, Frere- among others. During the 19th century it was customary to re-elect a President for several years and in keeping with this tradition, Sir Charles Metcalfe held the chair for 11 years in succession. During 1842 to 1844, the Club had Lord Ellenborough as its President- who was then the Governor General of India. The current custom of electing president on annual rotation started only since the early years of the 20th century.

The Club initially began its journey in a modest, rented two-storied building on Chowringhee. From there the Club moved to the Esplanade and later to the Tank Square (Benoy Badal-Dinesh-Bagh). In 1845, the Club moved in to its new premise which was occupied earlier by Lord Macaulay during his residence in India as Law Member of Supreme Council from 1834 till 1838. Ironically while Indians were kept out of membership during those times, the premise and building the Club chose, was originally owned by Kali Prasanna Sinha, the renowned Bengali writer.

The Club bought the adjoining plot on 33 Chowringhee and built a magnificent building in 1911 dominating the skyline overlooking the Maidan. The Club was registered as a limited company in 1907. However due to financial constraints faced by the Club, the grand edifice could not be preserved. Added to the woes were the restrictive policy on membership and the apathy of the city authorities towards preserving a heritage building. In 1967, the Club, encumbered by debt, took the decision to leave the front building and consolidate on the Annexe with its entrance on Russell Street, which underwent renovation and refurbishing- and is the present address of the Club.

In a historic milestone, in 1959, the Club opened its door to Indian Members.

The Club while maintaining legacy and tradition, has always had a modern outlook and kept up with the times. Over the times the Club started inducting senior business people and members of the legal, medical and other professions. In 1947, when Bengal was partitioned, the question of the continuance of the name arose, but based on the advice of then Governor of Bengal, Sir C. Rajagopalachari, the Club retained its name.

Essentially a male bastion, the Club first established married quarters in 1954 and then took the radical step of admitting ladies as members in their own right from 1990. Dress codes were constantly reviewed and appropriately altered in keeping with the changing times.

The Club bought the adjoining plot on 33 Chowringhee and built a magnificent building in 1911 dominating the skyline overlooking the Maidan. The Club was registered as a limited company in 1907. However due to financial constraints faced by the Club, the grand edifice could not be preserved. Added to the woes were the restrictive policy on membership and the apathy of the city authorities towards preserving a heritage building. In 1967, the Club, encumbered by debt, took the decision to leave the front building and consolidate on the Annexe with its entrance on Russell Street, which underwent renovation and refurbishing- and is the present address of the Club.

The Club Emblem

While there is no fact to confirm this but legend has it – that a snake crawled out of the pit dug for the foundation stone laying of the Club. The priest in charge of the ceremony advised that the snake be offered food and the stone be laid only if the snake accepts the offering. The snake did!

The Bengal Club today has evolved as one of the most prestigious clubs in Calcutta- a heritage the city is proud of. It has the right blend of tradition and modern outlook -holding universal appeal for old and the new.

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