Sir Samuel Swinton Jacob – British architect extraordinaire

Among the many beautiful WelcomHeritage properties across the country, are two built by an architect who helped to define colonial architecture and style. Shona Adhikari writes of the man and his work, with special references to the palaces he built in Kota and Bikaner, which are now WelcomHeritage hotels.

The Indo-Saracenic style that became an integral part of the architecture of erstwhile ‘Rajpootana’ during the Raj Era, owes much to the creative genius of a number of British architects of that time. Sir Samuel Swinton Jacob - engineer, architect and writer, was among those whose designs had a far-reaching effect on architectural features in the early 20th century.

Born on January 14, 1841, to Colonel W. Jacob of the Bombay Artillery and his wife Jane, grand-daughter of Capt.Samuel Swinton RN - said to have been the inspiration for Baroness Orczy’s ‘gentleman spy’ in The Scarlet Pimpernel. Among the numerous buildings Samuel Swinton Jacob designed in his distinctive style are two WelcomHeritage Hotels, located at Bikaner and Kota. The Lallgarh Palace at Bikaner built in 1902 and the Umed Bhawan Palace at Kota built in 1905, may be considered among his best work and are splendid examples of the architectural styles of the time.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Swinton Jacob joined the Bombay Artillery in 1858, qualifying five years later as a surveyor and engineer. With skills honed at the Public Works Department, in 1867 he was appointed Chief Engineer for the State of Jaipur. Under his guidance, the department was responsible for the construction of everything in the state, including walls, outhouses, guard houses, roads, canals and major public buildings.

Unlike many British officials in India, Swinton Jacob was noted for his respect for local building traditions and skills, which lead to his incorporating many Indian architectural features in his building designs. As a result he was considered among the pioneers of the Indo Saracenic style of architecture, incorporating Indian Islamic architecture into European neo-Classical or Gothic Revivalist styles.

Lallgarh Palace, an imposing red-sand stone palace, was built by Maharaja Ganga Singh in memory of his father, Maharaja Lall Singh. Often referred to as an ‘Unmatched Jewel in the Thar Desert’, it is known to have played host to a large number of dignitaries from all over the world. Despite the close proximity of the desert, the Lallgarh Palace continues to have lush green lawns.

Architecturally, the Lallgarh Palace offers all the ingredients that we associate with the state of Rajasthan, including intricate carving on red sand stone, a hall mark of the expertise of local stone carvers of the region. History lives on in the Palace, through the upper latticed windows of the Zenana quarters and open corridors with pillars running the length of the halls - lined with rare old prints and vintage copies of etchings, while hunting trophies, may be seen on the walls of the corridors, in keeping with the historical lineage of the Royal family that still occupies a part of this beautiful palace.

The central courtyard with its garden full of bougainvillea in bright colours and fountains, was earlier full of tame peacocks. Today one can walk through this beautiful garden to reach Sadul Niwas, the wing that was earlier occupied by Maharaja Sadul Singh, son of Maharaja Ganga Singh. A museum dedicated to him is located on the first floor of the Palace and offers a wide selection of memorabilia of the Bikaner Royal family.

Samuel Swinton Jacob’s design for the Palace he built for Maharaja Umed Singh in Kota, is vastly different from his design for the Lallgarh Palace in Bikaner. Lush lawns and courtyards, picturesque ceilings, hunting trophies of yesteryears and exquisite royal heirlooms complete the regal picture.The Maharaos of Kotah originally lived in the medieval fort inside the city. The desire for a modern palace for his personal use made Maharaja Umed Singh II commission Sir Samuel Swinton Jacob, widely acknowledged as the leading architect of the time, to design the building. Umed Bhawan came up in 1905, designed in the prevalent Indo-Sarcenic style. A plentiful supply of white ‘Khimach’ and ‘Pink Sandstone’, from nearby quarries went into the structure, while Italian marble, among other things, was imported for the flooring.

The one feature that singled it out from Swinton’s earlier creations was the addition of a clock tower. There were comments from many, when ‘the impressive building apart from a peculiar clock tower’, was unveiled Besides this clock tower, which may be considered a rather British architectural addition, popular at the turn of the 20th century, there was a badminton court, in the zenana (ladies) wing. The ornate Durbar Hall (investiture room) had the latticed windows above, from where the ladies were able to watch royal proceedings. The Edwardian Drawing Room with its original fireplace and draped curtains, a library, a billiard room with stuffed animals on the walls, a banquet hall and even a cinema hall. Every visiting dignitary, including Queen Mary, who visited Kotah State in 1905, was regally entertained at the Umed Bhawan.

In 1930, the Palace was enlarged to provide accommodation for Maharaj Kumar Bhim Singh and his bride and had a separate entrance. George Devon, the designer, took great care to ensure that the furnishings of the new wing blended well with the old. This part of Umed Bhawan continues to remain a private residence while the rest is operational as a WelcomHeritage hotel

Except for his early years spent in study at England, Swinton had virtually lived in India, from the time of his birth. In 1911, he chose to retire to England, but his reputation was such, that he was once again recruited by the Secretary of State for India, to assist Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker in designing the new Capital of British India in New Delhi. He once again returned to the land of his birth, but only for a few years. His failing health made him return to England where he passed away at Weybridge on December 4, 1917.

During his illustrious career Sir Samuel Swinton Jacob built a wide range of structures, churches, colleges, hospitals, and palaces. The main building at St Stephen’s College, Delhi, King George Medical College at Lucknow and Daly College at Indore, were all designed by him, as was the Scottish Presbyterian Mission Church at Jaipur. The Laxmi Niwas and Lallgarh Palaces at Bikaner and Umed Bhawan Palace in Kotah are among the last palaces that he built and are considered among his best creations.