In 1923 Arnold Thornely and Herbert J Rowse won a competition, assessed by (Sir) Giles Gilbert Scott, to design a speculative office block for Sir Richard Durning Holt and the Alfred Holt & Co shipping line, combining offices, a bank, and post office in one building. India Buildings was constructed from 1924-32 by Dove Brothers of Islington, with the steelwork produced and erected by Dorman, Long & Co. Ltd of Middlesbrough; all at a cost of £1.25 million. Although not included in the competition entry, the final building also included a shopping arcade that cut right through the centre of the building from Water Street to Brunswick Street.
India Buildings is located on one of the oldest streets in Liverpool, leading down to the River Mersey. Water Street was originally called 'Bonke Street', meaning 'Bank Street', and during the C19 and early-C20 the street was lined with financial and commercial institutions. Thornely and Rowse's building replaced an earlier 'India Building', which was constructed in the 1830s for the merchant, George Holt (Alfred Holt's father).
The building was named to commemorate the ending of the East India Company's monopoly, and became the head office of the Ocean Steam Ship Company (Blue Funnel Line) founded in 1865 by Alfred and Philip Holt. The new India Buildings was constructed in two halves; the south-western half being constructed first alongside the original India Building, with the latter then being demolished to make way for the second half of the new building. India Buildings was heavily damaged by bombing during the Second World War and was reconstructed under Rowse's supervision.
Originally the ground floor housed a public hall, Lloyds Bank (the bankers of Holts), the Post Office, and Imperial and International Communications Ltd, whilst the second floor was occupied by the Maritime Insurance Co.
Sir Arnold Thornely (1870-1953) is a well-known Liverpool architect who, after training under a number of architects, including William Edward Willink (1856-1924) and Philip Coldwell Thicknesse (1860-1920), established his own practice in Liverpool in 1898. Thornely later joined Frank Gatley Briggs (1862-1921) and Henry Vernon Wolstenholme (1863-1936) in partnership as Gatley, Wolstenholme and Thornely, and later with F.B. Hobbs (1862-1944) as Hobbs, Thornely, Briggs and Wolstenholme. He latterly worked in partnership with his brother Herbert Lionel Thornely (1868-1944).
Arnold Thornely was President of the Liverpool Architectural Society in 1910-11 and also served on the RIBA council at this time. He received a knighthood in 1932 for his services to architecture. Thornely has numerous listed buildings to his name or associated with him, including the Grade II* listed Port of Liverpool Building, Liverpool (1907), and Bluecoat School, Liverpool (1903-6), the Grade II listed Barnsley Town Hall (1933), Wallasey Town Hall (1914-20), and the Grade B listed Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Northern Ireland (designed 1925 and constructed 1928-31), which was awarded a RIBA bronze medal.
Herbert J Rowse (1887-1963) was one of the most influential regional architects of the inter-war years. Having trained at the Liverpool University School of Architecture under Charles Reilly, Rowse was a joint winner of the Holt travelling scholarship, which saw him travel to Italy where he developed a lifelong interest in Italian Renaissance architecture. In the early 1910s Rowse travelled extensively in North America and worked briefly in both Chicago and New York.
The fourth and fifth floors were occupied by Government departments, Income Tax Surveyors, Income Tax Collectors, and Post Office telephones, and Messrs Alfred Holt & Co occupied most of the sixth, seventh and eighth floors. A constitutional club also occupied part of the seventh floor, and other original building tenants included solicitors, merchants, consuls, shipping companies, and other businesses. A cafe and hairdresser's occupied the basement on the Fenwick Street side of the building originally, and was followed in the 1970s by a nightclub.
After returning to Liverpool he established his own practice in 1914. India Buildings was the first in a series of large-scale commercial buildings designed by Rowse in Liverpool, including the former Martins Bank (1927-32, Grade II*). Other buildings in the city by Rowse, include the Philharmonic Concert Hall (1936-9, Grade II*) and the Mersey Tunnel entrance approaches, portals and ventilation towers in Liverpool and Birkenhead (early-1930s, Grade II).
Office building incorporating a bank, post office, shopping arcade, and access to the James Street underground station, 1924-32, by Arnold Thornely and Herbert J. Rowse. Steel-framed construction clad in Portland stone, green Lombardic-tile roof coverings. 9-storeys plus mezzanine, basement and sub-basement. Italian Renaissance style with American Beaux-Arts influences.
Influenced by the cities of the north-east United States, India Buildings occupies an entire city block and is bounded by Water Street on the north-west side, Brunswick Street on the south-east side, Fenwick Street on the north-east side, and Drury Lane on the south-west side. The building has a figure-of-eight plan derived from the incorporation of two massive light wells that commence above the mezzanine level. Both Water Street and Brunswick Street slope downwards from their eastern ends towards the River Mersey. Consequently, the building's basement level is at street level on the western halves of the Water Street and Brunswick Street elevations, along with the entire Drury Lane elevation, and incorporates a series of shopfronts accessible from the exterior.
Internally a shopping arcade runs through the centre of the building from Water Street to Brunswick Street approximately on the line of an old street, Chorley Street. Octagonal lobbies are set to each corner of the ground floor surrounded by offices with a mezzanine level above. A large former banking hall occupies most of the Fenwick Street side of the building, whilst a similarly-sized space occupies the Drury Lane side of the building; both have later inserted mezzanines. The upper floors of the building are office space; a number retain their original layout with a central corridor running around the entire building and the light wells, with offices off to the outside, and offices, toilets and service areas off to the inner side.
All the building's windows are recessed and the majority do not incorporate surrounds. Originally all the floor levels, except the fifth and sixth, had sash windows, but these were replaced by metal casements following bomb damage incurred during the Second World War; the fifth and sixth floors retain their original steel-framed windows. At the time of writing, secondary glazing is in the process of being added to the building's windows. Carved panels and reliefs exist to each elevation.
India Buildings' ground floor and mezzanine levels are set upon an ashlar plinth and incorporate vermiculated rustication. Most of the building's ground-floor windows have round-arched heads with console keystones and ashlar surrounds incorporating aprons. Smaller square-headed windows are located at intervals and incorporate aprons decorated with a carved relief of the head of Neptune set amongst garlands. The original mezzanine level, which only exists at the Water Street and Brunswick Street ends of the building, is lit by square-headed windows with a dentilled cornice above; a further, deeper dentilled cornice sits above the sixth floor.
The first to fourth floors have paired windows with single windows located to the outer bays, and each elevation incorporates first-floor, balustraded, ornamental balconies of varying size. The fifth and sixth floors are lit mainly by wide steel-framed windows flanked by paired giant pilasters with composite capitals, forming a pilastrade. A Greek key frieze is incorporated below the fifth floor windows, forming a sill band, with similarly styled detailing also adorning the lintels of the sixth floor windows. The building's two uppermost storeys (seventh and eighth floors) are each stepped back behind the deep dentilled cornice located above the sixth floor, and are hidden from view when viewed from the immediate street level. The seventh floor is lit by square-headed windows set within round-arched surrounds, whilst the eighth floor has paired square-headed windows. The building's hipped roof is covered with green Lombardic tiles and sat atop at each end of the main roof are two large plant rooms, also with hipped roofs and green Lombardic tile coverings.
FRONT (NORTH-WEST) ELEVATION: this 13-bay elevation facing Water Street incorporates the building's principal entrance, which consists of three tall arched openings set to the centre of the elevation with surrounds incorporating cable moulding and coffered intradoses, and large console keystones surmounted by alternate male and female heads. The openings are flanked by four large, elaborate bronze lamps, which were modelled on those at the Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, and are by the Bromsgrove Guild. Flights of steps, along with a later ramped access on the left, access recessed entrance doors set within glazed screens (both the screens and doors have been replaced), which lead into a large elevator hall and the shopping arcade beyond. The three entrance openings are also connected laterally through the presence of arched openings in the side walls, which also retain original bronze signage and directory boards
A large ornamental balcony above the main entrance is supported by scrolled brackets and is set in front of three windows with egg-and-dart decoration to their frames. The windows' surrounds also incorporate egg-and-dart decoration and a central shield relief depicting imagery, including anchors. Above the windows are console-supported flat hoods. Both the balcony and windows are replicated on the Brunswick Street elevation. Above the entrance, and forming part of the sill band below the fifth floor, is a large sculpture by Edmund C Thompson depicting Neptune flanked by mermen, which is also replicated on the Brunswick Street elevation. Set to the far left (north-eastern end) of the elevation at ground-floor level is an arched doorway containing panelled double doors and a solid tympanum decorated with relief imagery depicting angels. This is one of the original entrances to the former Lloyds Bank and an identical doorway exists to the north-east return fronting Fenwick Street, forming a corner entrance.
Located to the basement level, which due to the sloping ground is at street level on the right (western) half of the elevation, are four shopfronts with highly decorative, green and gold painted, cast-iron shopfronts incorporating mouldings to both the shopfront and mullions and transoms, and a decorative crest to the top. Each shopfront incorporates a decorative pierced stall riser and an integral fascia with a small space for the shop's name. Set to the right of the shopfronts are two sets of deeply recessed double doors, which form the Water Street entrance to the James Street underground station.
SOUTH-EAST ELEVATION: this 13-bay elevation facing Brunswick Street is virtually identically styled to the Water Street elevation, with the exception of a single rather than triple-arched entrance. The entrance also incorporates a flight of steps accessing replaced recessed doors set within a glazed screen. Set within the entrance are bronze signage and directory boards, and a rare bronze George V wall postbox with a relief depiction of a crown and a large scrolled cipher 'G R' with a smaller 'V'; all in gilded lettering. To the far right of the elevation is a splayed east corner incorporating the main entrance into the Post Office, which consists of a classical doorcase containing panelled double doors set within a panelled screen. A hanging sign is affixed above the entrance and to the left is a brass name plaque reading 'POST/ OFFICE/ CORN EXCHANGE/ BRANCH'. The single windows to the floors above are identically styled to those on the flanking elevations. Located to the basement level of the Brunswick Street elevation, which due to the sloping ground is at street level on the left (western) half of the elevation, are five shopfronts, which share similar styling to those fronting Water Street; three have later roller-shutter boxes.
NORTH-EAST ELEVATION: this 15-bay elevation facing Fenwick Street has taller arched windows to the ground-floor of bays 5-11 lighting the former banking hall, with console keystones incorporating alternate male and female heads. The rest of the floors share the styling and arrangement of the other elevations. Set in front of this elevation is a green and gold-painted pierced balustrade, which is similarly styled to the building's shopfront stall risers. The balustrade is set atop a Portland-stone base with solid end walls surmounted by green and gold-painted street lamp standards with decorative bases and fluted columns surmounted by ball lights.
SOUTH-WEST ELEVATION: this 14-bay elevation facing Drury Lane is similarly styled to the Fenwick Street elevation, but also incorporates a basement at street level. The basement level has a series of shopfronts, which are similarly styled to those to the Water Street and Brunswick Street elevations; some of the shopfronts have later roller-shutter boxes and have lost their dividing mullions. Some of the shop units, like those on the other elevations, have also been amalgamated internally. The elevation also incorporates a car park entrance and goods entrance at basement level; both with their original sliding, panelled access-doors.
Two massive light wells, which help to form the building's figure-of-eight plan are faced with silver/grey bricks with moulded concrete dressings to the seventh-floor windows and replaced roof lanterns.
INTERIOR: although the interior was heavily damaged by bombing during the Second World War, it was reconstructed under Herbert Rowse's supervision. Consequently, most of the immediate post-war works are indistinguishable from the original. Original glazed and dark-stained, solid-wood doors and door furniture survive within the interior, along with post-war replacements of lighter oak, which were installed following bomb damage. Some door architraves within the building are of marble, whilst some are of painted timber imitating marble. Original bronze electrical riser and fire hose housings also survive, along with directory and signage boards, and some pendant and wall lights. Later suspended ceilings have been inserted in some areas.
At the Water Street and Brunswick Street ends of the ground floor are two large entrance foyers/elevator halls that lead into the shopping arcade that runs through the centre of the building, on the line of the old Chorley Street. Each elevator hall has three painted and coffered saucer domes to the ceiling, in part supported by fluted Ionic columns of Travertine marble, along with Travertine-lined walls incorporating pilasters. Two lifts are located to each side of the halls flanking the arcade (there were originally three lifts on each side at the Water Street end of the building); the lift cars to the Brunswick Street are believed to be original and retain inlaid veneer panelling. The halls also contain early pendant lights, bronze directory boards, and a later fibreglass cornice concealing lighting; the latter feature is also present in the arcade. Arched openings at each north-east and south-west end of the Water Street elevator hall, with ornate carved surrounds and bronze latticework to their tympanums, lead to short stair flights (also in Travertine) providing access to doorways leading into office space and the former Lloyds Bank, which have raised floor levels. Similarly styled openings, but with plainer surrounds, exist in the Brunswick Street elevator hall and lead into office space and the Post Office, which are on the same raised floor levels.
The Brunswick Street elevator hall also contains a bronze wall-mounted war memorial commemorating workers from the building killed during the First World War, and a clock above the entrance. The shopping arcade has Travertine walls and floor, and a coffered barrel-vaulted ceiling retaining early pendant lights. It is lined by ground-floor shop units with decorative bronze shopfronts incorporating bronze cresting, rosette reliefs and cable moulding, as well as original doors and later hanging signs. Each shop has a mezzanine storage area above and the party walls of some shops have been knocked through to amalgamate them internally. A fire-escape stair has been inserted to the centre of the arcade's north-eastern side and is hidden behind Travertine panels; the original shopfront has been retained within the arcade. A goods lift serving the basement up to the eighth floor also exists towards the Brunswick Street end of the building.
Two principal stairs are located at each north-west and south-east end of the building. Each stair splits into two on the first floor and descends to the ground floor as two separate stairs on each side of the arcade. These stairs have galleried half-landings at the mezzanine level overlooking the arcade, as well as terrazzo walls and Travertine floors between the ground and first floor levels, whilst the stairs on the floors above have plaster walls and terrazzo floors and treads; all have decorative gilded-metal balustrades incorporating barley-twist and splat balusters, and a brass ramped handrail.
Occupying the south-western side of the ground floor is office space (latterly used as a solicitor's and now empty) that was originally constructed, in part, as a public hall. The space is accessed via a grand triple-arched entrance off the south-west side of the arcade with an imperial stair set between fluted Ionic columns and with balustrades identical to those on the principal stairs. The stair leads into a large atrium space containing a late-C20 inserted mezzanine level along the Drury Lane side, which is accessed via two stair flights (similarly styled to the original stairs within the building) and a glass lobby lift; these late-C20 features are not of special interest*. The atrium space, which was originally subdivided, has wall pilasters, mouldings and two large roof lanterns, which are later replacements. The entrances located off the elevator halls lead into large, Travertine-lined octagonal lobbies at each end of this space, which are surrounded by modernised office space. Both have decorative painted coffered ceilings; the Brunswick Street lobby has been altered and glazed over on the mezzanine. Original dog-leg stairs provide access to the original mezzanines, which have been altered and modernised and are of lesser interest.
Occupying the principal portion of the north-eastern side of the ground floor is the former Lloyds Bank. The building's corner entrance off Water Street and Fenwick Street leads into a circular lobby, which has Travertine-lined walls, decorative metal gates in front of the entrance doors, and a sun motif incorporated to the centre of the floor. A short stair flight leads up into a much larger, Travertine-lined, octagonal lobby (an identically styled lobby lies at the opposite end with access off the Post Office entrance at the corner of Brunswick Street and Fenwick Street), which is more elaborately detailed than those on the south-west side of the building.
The lobby has a polished marble floor incorporating a star-shaped motif to the centre, elaborate plaster decoration (including depictions of horses and bee-keeping), and ornate gilded-metal doors and screens decorated with cherubic imagery and oval medallions depicting the Lloyds Bank emblem of a rearing black stallion with a green background and the date '1677' (the stallion and date refer to the goldsmith and early banker Humphrey Stokes who adopted the stallion symbol for his shop in 1677. Stokes' business was later taken over by Barnett, Hoare & Co, which in turn was taken over by Lloyds in 1884; Lloyds subsequently decided to retain the black horse as its symbol). Alternating tall arched doors and lower square-headed doors line the lobby walls; the arched doors have console-shaped keystones above. Individual offices with moulded cornicing, inlaid doors and dados with marble plinths lie off the lobby, two of which have ceiling roses reminiscent of compasses.
The banking hall has a richly painted coffered ceiling supported by square marble-clad columns with painted plaster 'capitals' incorporated to the inner and outer sides and central medallions decorated with 'LL' in stylised relief lettering (probably referring to Lloyds Bank Limited, established in 1889). A heavy dentil cornice is interspersed with relief rosettes and below are a plain frieze and decorative mouldings. Original counters line a central walkway that runs the full length of the banking hall and also retains original counting tables. The counter screens are of bronze and incorporate imagery relating to bees, including beehives and bees (the beehive was the symbol of Taylor & Lloyd, the forerunner of Lloyds Bank and represents industry and hard work), as well as the Lloyds Bank symbol. Set above the counters and a range of offices behind, and spanning part of the central walkway, is a modern mezzanine inserted in the early-C21, which incorporates stairs at each end of the hall and is not of special interest*. Original dog-leg stairs with simple painted-metal stick balusters and a brass ramped handrail exist at each end of the banking hall and lead down to fortified strong rooms below. The Post Office occupies a relatively small space at the south-east end of the ground floor and has been modernised; it is not of special interest*. On the Fenwick Street side of the ground floor is a small former cable office located off the south-eastern octagonal lobby, which has been subdivided.
A number of the building's upper floors retain their original layout. The sixth and seventh floor have been modernised, with walls knocked through to create open-plan spaces and modern services inserted and are of lesser interest; at the time of writing, the fifth floor is also in the process of being refurbished and modernised. Large lift lobbies exist on each floor with Travertine-lined walls and floors (the rear walls of the lift lobbies have been altered/removed on the modernised floors) and black marble surrounds to the lifts and some doors (some door surrounds are of painted timber imitating marble). Most lift lobbies also retain original tenants' name/directory boards. Many of the building's toilets retain their original black-marble stalls and many of the gents' urinals are also believed to be original.
The basement interior contains a car park and loading bay on the Drury Lane side of the building, and storage rooms to the remainder, and is not of special interest*. The sub-basement contains service areas and plant rooms and is not of special interest*.
The Water Street entrance to the James Street underground station forms part of India Buildings and consists of a wide stair with marble tile and tessarae-lined walls incorporating decorative borders, and a central handrail supported on decorative fluted newels that descends in a dog-leg fashion to an underground walkway leading to the James Street underground station. Further handrails line the side walls, which incorporate scrolled and some cable moulding decoration to the top part, and the half-landing has a twin-vaulted ceiling with painted decoration. At the foot of the stair is a small booking hall, which shares the same styling as the stair with tiled walls and a vaulted ceiling, and retains two original narrow doors, which originally led into telephone booths.
The front of the ticket office has been altered and is clad with blue glazed tiles. The plain glazed-tile lined underground walkway, which leads from the booking hall to James Street Station several streets away is not of special interest*.