Sir Frederic Salmon Growse was born in 1836 at Bildeston, a village in south-west Suffolk, England. He was a scholar at Oriel and Queen’s College in Oxford where he completed his masters. In 1859 he passed the competitive examinations for the Indian Civil Service and in 1860 he joined the Bengal Civil services with a posting in the North-Western provinces.
In 1864 he was posted as an assistant magistrate in the Mainpuri district which was one of the six that together constituted the Agra division of the North-Western Provinces in British India. This is where his passion for craft revival first came to the front with his work on the art of Tar-kashi or brass-inlaid wire work on wood. In his own words “an enthusiastic votary of the Gothic revival” he introduced Gothic patterns to the local artisans but soon realized that the succeeding copies became increasingly remote from the original work. The Gothic tracery did not do justice to the authenticity of the style and tradition of the craftsmen and he realized that the real Gothic principle necessitated “the encouragement of native talent to develop in its own ways“. He discovered the community of Indian artisans of tar-kashi making smaller objects like pen cases, drawers and boxes. He then provided training and encouraged the artisans to put their skills to larger objects. Growse wrote, “Such an application of the work is entirely an idea of my own, no doors of the kind having ever yet been set up in a native house, though the details and fittings are all strictly Indian in character.” Through these objects he earned a 1st class certificate and a gold medal in 1884 Calcutta exhibition.
In his time in Mainpuri he understood that design and craft share a symbiotic relationship when practiced together. This led to his understanding on the importance of local buildings and crafts and he realized that the work of Indian traditional artisanship will not be appreciated or sustained until it would not profit Europe. This understanding made for “his model of architectural practice in India under foreign influence“.
A post by LatestLY was dedicated to Growse on his 128th death anniversary that infoemed:
“In 1861, when Growse joined as a member of the Asiatic Society, he was introduced to Indian literature, history, and scriptures. Even though British, he grew a keen interest and fondness for Indian culture. He studied aspects of Indian culture, art and archaeology wherever he was posted during his service. He translated Tulsidas’s Ramcharitmanas into the English language. In 1876, Asiatic Society General published Growse’s English translation of the Ramcharitmanas.”
Growse commissioned an unnamed “local native photographer” for the frontispiece and three other plates. There is a lithographed drawing of the wrath of Shiva by a Bengali artist on one plate. The other thirteen plates reproduce miniatures from a finely illuminated manuscript in the collection of the Maharaja of Benares, who kindly supplied Growse with photographic negatives.
Growse’s interest in the study of architecture emerged when he was transferred as a Joint Magistrate to Mathura in 1870. He was promoted as a collector and a District Magistrate after a year. The district town had an Anglican Church built in an Italian Renaissance style of architecture that had been consecrated in 1856. However, there was no Catholic Church there at that time. Growse, being a Catholic determined to construct the church in a befitting architectural style. He contributed one-third of the costs for construction of the church and secured some Rs. 13,000 in subscriptions from local residents. He laid out the ground plans “in accordance with ordinary Gothic precedent” but later the rest of the building became “purely oriental in design“. He wrote, “the carving in the tympanum of the doorways, the tracery in the windows, the cusped arch in front of the altar, the kiosks set along the roof, were all favorable specimens of native art”. It was a rare example of the Hindu temple’s shikara form of dome that evoked the nearby sacred Hindu shrine of Brindaban. The aim was to offer this church to a “mixed congregation of Europeans and Orientals” which stood as an example of Indo-Saracenic architecture before it became completely appropriated in India. The building infuriated the evangelicals and therefore, he was transferred to Bulandshahr before the church was even completed.
Growse used his literary scholarship and wrote essays on “Indian antiquarian discoveries, origins of towns, village names and meanings” which were subsequently collated as a book “Mathura: A District Memoir“. Along with this, he founded the Mathura Museum in 1874 which to this day remains one of the richest collections — especially of Buddhist material — in northern India with excavations by him, Alexander Cunningham and other established archaeologists.
He was transferred from Mathura to Bulandshahr which was a purely agricultural region of the province where his “craft revival vision would be wasted“. However, he rebuilt the simple town “into a picturesque consortium of towers and gateways and arcades, and many handsome public and private buildings.” Growse initiated a “rebuilding” that, as he wrote, made the place into the “most architectural modern town of its size in the Province”. With the local skills available, he gave artisan-builders the freedom to put their artistry into several buildings in Bulandshahr. The funds were raised through public subscription because he found the Indian elite willing for his rebuilding path.
Thomas Metcalf in his book ‘An Imperial Vision: Indian architecture and Britain’s Raj’ writes:
“During his stay, as he sought to realize a vision both playful and Mughal-like, he reconstructed the market square, built a Bathing Ghat on the river bank, laid out a public garden and tank, and began constructing a new Town Hall; in the outlying municipality of Khurja, the district’s commercial center, he built a new marketplace and bazaar. Together, these structures, with their conscious use of indigenous methods of construction, represent perhaps the most sustained effort undertaken in India to incorporate the ideals of the arts and crafts movement into architecture.” [p. 166]
Since the finances were supported through local gentry and merchants, Growse collected some Rs. 12,700 for the Bathing Ghat, and a further Rs. 14,800 for a masonry reservoir called the Lyall Tank, while Rs. 30,000 needed for the Town Hall was contributed by one wealthy landowner, Raja Baqir Ali Khan of Pindrawal. Many of them supported him in order to remain in favor of the British rulers but after recognizing that their collector’s view on architecture did not accord with his British superiors, they rebelled against contributing funds.
He grew vocal about the Public Works Department and its “tide of utilitarian barbarism” with tedious similarity that characterized all government buildings in towns with almost no distinguishing features. Growse was outspoken to charge that these “standard plans” were “forced upon universal acceptance throughout the length and breadth of the province, with little or no regard to local conditions as regards material, or the habits of the people, or the capacity of the workmen.” His work and resistance towards PWD in his obscure publications irritated the department which consequently got him banished to another remote post to Fatehpur in 1884.
Even in Bulandshahr he held archaeological excavations in some sites and was able to find inscriptions and coins which are currently sitting in different museums across India and England. He was also gazetted C.I.E. i.e. Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire in 1879 on New Year’s Day.
Growse took leave from Indian civil services due to poor health and retired to Haslemere, Surrey in England in 1891. E.B. Havell mentioned Growse as “a martyr to the cause” but by the early twentieth century many architects emerged to regard Indian artisans and building traditions much more sympathetically even if they felt their own ideas were superior.
In later stages of Growse’s life, he immersed himself in worshipping Lord Rama. He passed away on the 19th of May, 1893, at the age of 56, and was cremated.
“In losing him, the world of Oriental literature has lost a fellow-labor, whose work, in its own peculiar sphere, was conscientious and thorough, and at the same time frequently graced by an eminently artistic style.”
Growse, F. S. (1879). Bulandshahr Antiquities. Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. 48, No. 4, pp. 270–276. https://archive.org/details/journalofasiatic48asia/page/274/mode/2up
Growse, F. S. (1888). The Art of ‘Tar-Kashi’ or Wire- Inlay.” Journal of Indian Art and Industry, no. 22, 51–56. https://umedia.lib.umn.edu/item
India, P. B. N. S. (2021, May 19). Frederic Salmon Growse Death Anniversary: The Britisher Who Translated Ramcharitmanas Into English: 📰 LatestLY. LatestLY. https://www.latestly.com
Mallick, B. (2018, March 11). (thesis). Agency of Labor Resistance in Nineteenth Century India: Significance of Bulandshahr and F.S. Growse’s Account . University of Cincinnati. Retrieved from https://etd.ohiolink.edu
Metcalf, T. R. (2002). An imperial vision: Indian architecture and Britain’s Raj. Oxford University Press. https://archive.org/details/AnImperialVision/page/n89/mode/2up
Notes of the Quarter (April, May, June, 1893). (1893). Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 621-668. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25197161
Review of F.S. Growse, Bulandshahr: or Sketches of an Indian District, 1884. (n.d.). HINDIDOX. http://www.hindidox.com/hindidox-reviews.html
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Singh, N. (2021, April 26). The Shalbhanjikas of Mathura Museum [web log]. http://justrippingg.blogspot.com/2021/04/the-shalbhanjikas-of-mathura-museum.html
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Tarapor, M. (1980). John Lockwood Kipling and British Art Education in India. Victorian Studies, 24(1), 53-81. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3826879
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Saloni Tehri is a fourth-year architecture student from Jindal School of Art and Architecture in O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat. She is an ardent learner and researcher who likes to contribute to the cultural heritage and histories of places.