Plans for London’s historic India Club cook up storm

Staff clean tables as people eat lunch inside the India Club restaurant in London on October 16, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 17 October 2017
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Plans for London’s historic India Club cook up storm

LONDON: Plans to renovate a historic and beloved Indian restaurant in central London are causing a stir, pitting the developers against high profile defenders, including intellectuals, Anglo-Indian businessmen and lawmakers from both countries.
The India Club, a restaurant and bar on the Strand near London’s West End, is trying to use its storied history to block proposals by owners Marston Properties to turn the seven story building into an upmarket boutique hotel.
“This is a very historic place, we haven’t changed anything,” Yadgar Marker, the club’s current director, told AFP during a recent lunchtime dosa — an Indian pancake — and various curry dishes flew out the kitchen.
“Even these tabletops are from the early ‘50s... It’s like a museum,” he said.
The club was set up in its current location by Krishna Menon, India’s first High Commissioner to Britain, in the early 1950s, and counted Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s inaugural prime minister, among its founding members, Marker said.
It has served as a meeting place for writers, intellectuals and politicians, Marker wrote earlier this month to Westminster Council, the local authority in charge of planning decisions.
Marston Properties submitted its application on September 8 to Westminster Council to partially demolish and extend the building.
It currently houses a bakery and convenience store on the ground floor and the India Club and Hotel Strand Continental on the upper levels.
Marker, who has run the club and hotel for the last 20 years, said he was “quite surprised” to learn of the plans in an email from the company.
With their seven-year lease set to expire in 2019, he fears it will mean the end of the club.
The club has applied for the building to receive protected status from Historic England, which recommends which sites of cultural value the British government should designate.
A spokesman for the public body confirmed it had visited the club earlier this month, and would make a decision on whether to recommend listing it by January 19, 2018.
Simon Marshall of Marston Properties told AFP it was cooperating with Historic England “to establish the true heritage links of this building.”
He said the company had commissioned its own independent historical research into the club.
“The extent of (the) heritage links... are not in fact particularly clear,” he added.
Marshall stressed no final decision had been made to redevelop building.
Loyal longtime customers have been voicing their support.
A petition launched by the club had garnered over 14,000 signatures by Monday.
“It means the world to generations of Indians,” said Kalyan Thapa, a patron since the 1960s, as he ate with friends there on Monday.
“You can’t knock it down and erase history.”
High profile fans including sculptor Anish Kapoor, writer Will Self and Indian lawmaker Shashi Tharoor, have also leapt to its defense, writing letters of support that Marker has sent on to Westminster Council.
“I think the loss of the club would constitute another step-up in the social, ethnic and cultural ‘cleansing’ of central London’s commercial environment,” Self told AFP.
“Already, smaller and more diverse businesses are being lost from the West End in droves, it creates an arid, aseptic environment in which every cubic foot of space feels commoditised.”


Ethiopia says British museum must permanently return its artifacts

Updated 24 April 2018
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Ethiopia says British museum must permanently return its artifacts

  • The artifacts were plundered by British troops from the fortress of Emperor Tewodros II 150 years ago
  • Among the items on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum are sacred manuscripts and gold 

ADDIS ABABA: Britain must permanently return all artifacts from Ethiopia held by the Victoria and Albert Museum and Addis Ababa will not accept them on loan, an Ethiopian government official said.
The call comes after the museum, one of London’s most popular tourist attractions, put Ethiopian treasures plundered by British forces on display.
“Well, it would be exciting if the items held at the V&A could be part of a long-term loan with a cultural institution in Ethiopia,” museum director Tristram Hunt said.
“These items have never been on a long-term loan in Ethiopia, but as we look to the future I think what we’re interested in are partnerships around conservation, interpretation, heritage management, and these need to be supported by government assistance so that institutions like the V&A can support sister institutions in Ethiopia.”
Among the items on display are sacred manuscripts and gold taken from the Battle of Maqdala 150 years ago, when British troops ransacked the fortress of Emperor Tewodros II.
The offer of a loan did not go far enough for Ethiopia.
“What we have asked (for) was the restitution of our heritage, our Maqdala heritage, looted from Maqdala 150 years ago. We presented our request in 2007 and we are waiting for it,” said government minister Hirut Woldemariam said.
Ephrem Amare, Ethiopian National Museum director, added: “It is clearly known where these treasures came from and whom they belong to. Our main demand has never been to borrow them. Ethiopia’s demand has always been the restoration of those illegally looted treasures. Not to borrow them.”
The V&A could not immediately be reached for further comment on Monday.
In launching the Maqdala 1868 exhibition of what Hunt called “stunning pieces with a complex history” this month, he said the display had been organized in consultation with the Ethiopian community in London.
“As custodians of these Ethiopian treasures, we have a responsibility to celebrate the beauty of their craftsmanship, shine a light on their cultural and religious significance and reflect on their living meaning, while being open about how they came to Britain,” he said in a blog on the museum website.