The world’s largest chandeliers

Durbar Hall - Scindia Palace - Gwalior

Durbar Hall – Scindia Palace – Gwalior

20 years ago, I discovered that my great-grandfather Henry Elworthy, a farmer’s boy from Devon, emigrated aged 16 to Calcutta in 1864 to work for F &C Osler a top line crystal manufacturer in Birmingham. There are many stories here but this is about the world’s largest chandeliers, installed in the Durbar Hall of Scindia Palace, Gwalior and built by Jayajiroa, Maharajah of Gwalior, in 1874. Of course I had to see them.

Each weighs around 3 tonnes and to test the strength of the roof, the Italian engineer Sir Michael Filose insisted on building a mile long ramp and coaxing 9 elephants on top to roam around for a week! There are 274 lamps in the larger chandelier and spare bulbs have to be made specially in Calcutta. The palace is vast, unusually in the Italianate style, the design researched by Filose by visiting European cities in advance as he had no architectural training. There are 400 rooms, 40 of which are devoted to the Museum.  The courtyard must be at least as large as two football pitches.

Nearly all the lighting, candelabra, and metalwork was supplied by Henry as Osler’s agent for Rajputana and finished in time for a visit by the Prince of Wales in 1875. Our hosts, staff of the Scindia Palace Museum, even turned on the lights for us. Have a look at some of the collection and note the banquet hall with its silver Basset-Lowke railway to take the brandy round after dinner:

Bizarrely I learnt that the great grandson of Filose had visited just three months before. Another world then and now, as ever India continues to surprise.

Durbar Hall with lights - Scindia Palace - Gwalior

With the lights on

Crystal balustrade

Crystal balustrade Colour pics: Jean Thomas




4 thoughts on “The world’s largest chandeliers

  1. Eileen Scholes

    Remarkable. As I said elsewhere to you, I hadn’t realised just what a vast
    market opportunity India’s rich represented for British companies in those days.

  2. Michael Thomas

    At first it does seem surprising that the Maharajahs offered such a large market. As I see it these were separate princely States where wealth was a symbol of power. In a century of relative peace (1815 to 1914) Pax Britannica released the rulers from raising armies to protect their States, which left them with money to spend on palaces, fittings, jewellery etc. Their role shifted too. Each was required to be more than a titular head and they were expected to be leaders, educated administrators, and powerful warriors even; manifest wealth was to be respected.

    The second half of the century was the period of the European Great Exhibitions, (Crystal Palace 1851, Paris Exposition 1867, Exposition Universelle 1889 etc.). Europe was the leader of fashion and hugely popular with Indian Princes who were often educated and travelled in Europe.
    Although the British had a head start the competition was fierce. Many palaces had artefacts by top firms such as Baccarat (crystal), Boucheron, Louis Vuitton (1854) and later Cartier. F & C Osler did not have it all their own way.

  3. Eileen Scholes

    Good old free trade, eh? That’s fascinating, Mike. And there must have been something of a reverse trade off in luxury manufactured Indian goods coming to Europe. I was taken with a couple of outsize metal jars in the palace at Jaipur. I think they had been taken to London as a present for George V at his coronation. Not sure why they were back again. I have a photo – can I post here?

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