Crowned with a lofty dome and decorated with tall Corinthian columns, the imposing building of the General Post Office of Calcutta, standing proudly on the western side of the Tank Square (subsequently renamed as Dalhousie Square and now known as BBD Bag), is considered by many as one of the most conspicuous landmark of the city.
Warren Hastings, the first governor general of Bengal, was the man behind the introduction of the postal system in the city of Calcutta in 1774 and the first Post Office of the city was situated on a stretch leading towards the east gate of the Raj Bhawan, which is now known as Old Post Office Street. In fact, the road owes its name to the Post Office. However, after a short stint, the office shifted to the corner of Hastings Street and Church Lane, where it continued for a decade, from 1774 to 1784. Subsequently, it moved to a building at the corner of Lyon’s Range and Clive Street on the 1st day of November 1784, which was later occupied by James Finlay & Company and much later, Allahabad Bank took possession of the white and blue building. Nevertheless, after six years, the GPO moved again on the 1st of April 1800, to the site of the Palmer House, next to Harmonic Tavern, which was pulled down in 1914 for the construction of the present Lalbazar building complex. Thereafter, it shifted again on 5 May 1808 to a building at 2 Bankshall Street, the site of the present Small Causes Court. However, the nomadic situation ended on 5 May 1808, when the General Post Office was finally shifted to its newly constructed magnificent building, located at the corner of Koila Ghat Street and Netaji Subhas Road.
The imposing structure of the Calcutta GPO, which assumes a completely different look in comparison to the other neighbouring buildings, was designed by Walter Long Bozzi Granville, the designer of Calcutta High Court and the Indian Museum, and constructed by Mackintosh Burn Ltd. Construction of the building started in 1864 and was handed over to the postal department on 2 October 1868.It stands on the site of the southeast corner of the old Fort William, which was destroyed by Siraj-ud-Daula in June 1756.The removal of the old foundation was difficult, due to the extreme hardness of the earlier construction.
Today, one can find a brass plate affixed on the staircase at the eastern side of the building, which indicates the eastern end of the Old Fort William. Later, a marble plaque was also installed on the Eastern wall of GPO, which highlights the Brass Plate. A narrow passageway by the northern side of the building was the site of the old guardhouse, which once was said to be used as the infamous 1756 Black Hole of Calcutta.
The General Post Office of Calcutta, which handles most of the city’s inbound and outbound mails and parcels, is in fact the central post office of the city of Calcutta and the chief post office of West Bengal. The outstanding architectural feature of the GPO building is its lofty dome, rising over 220 feet on the southeast Corner and supported by a row of aesthetically arranged Corinthian columns, topped by decorative leaves and scrolls. A multi-dialled illuminated clock, manufactured by the same company that made the Big Ben clock in London, was installed on the outer side of the dome in 1896.
The huge building consists of two lofty floors. While the east and south fronts of the building are decorated with a row of tall majestic Corinthian columns, the southeast façade is semi-circular and it leads to a lofty circular hall, decorated with a beautiful statue of a ‘Runner’, the postman of the early days, who used to carry the posts on his shoulder and run during the night with a lantern and a spear in his hand to deliver the posts in the morning. The circular hall houses the postal counters and the public letter boxes. The ground floor covers a huge area of 49,471 square feet while the first floor covers 29,713 square feet.
The massive building of Calcutta GPO is also equipped with a Philatelic Bureau, complete with a Postal Museum, situated at the southwestern end of the building, which displays an excellent collection of artifacts, first day covers and stamps.