London's 'marvellous' India Club under threat from plans for upmarket hotel

The Strand’s famous India Club could be under threat from plans to refurbish the historic restaurant and bar to make way for an up-market hotel.

If plans are approved, owners of the buildings 143 and 145 the Strand will be able to launch extensive modernisation that could wipe out the carefully preserved club, which has stayed the same since the 1940s - writes

“I’m very, very saddened because I wanted it to remain as it was,” said Yadgar Marker, who has been director of the club for 20 years. “I could have easily modernised it but it has such a strong heritage. It is a really marvellous place.”

The ambitious plans submitted to Westminster Council by freeholders Marston Properties envision interior remodelling that would replace the India Club's first-floor canteen-style restaurant and lounge bar with en-suite hotel rooms.

They would also allow for partial demolition of the ground floor, which currently houses a Greggs bakery and a newsagents, to allow better access to the Strand Continental Hotel, which sits above the India Club and is also run by Mr Marker.

The club - whose lease expires in 2019 - was started by Krishna Menon, India's first High Commissioner to the UK in the late 1940s.

It served as a meeting place for the India League, a British organisation that campaigned for India's independence, and founding members included Lady Edwina Mountbatten and India’s first post-independence Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

During and after India's break from British hegemony in 1947, it hosted leading writers, intellectuals and politicians associated with the nationalist movement. On the walls hang portraits of Gandhi and Britain's first Asian MP, Dadabhai Naoroji.

“We have preserved it, kept it all the same. The ambiance is still the same, the furniture is still the same. People feel as if they are in Mumbai or Calcutta as they walk up the stairs,” said Mr Marker. Celebrity fans include writer Will Self, who described the club as "beautifully old-fashioned... like one in 1950s India".

A spokesman for Marston Properties, which owns the freehold, told the Standard that the plans submitted to the council represented one of several options for the building under consideration.

"No one has stated or indicated at any time that the India Club or any other tenants in the building will be asked to vacate the premises," he said.

He added: "The submission of a planning application for the building is just one explorative option open to Marston in their long term strategy setting - and while [it] remains an option, it is certainly not a notice whatsoever of our intention and must not be interpreted as such."

A petition launched to ensure the future of the club had gathered more than 1,000 signatures at the time of publication.

"Remember coming here in the 70's as a child. And been many times since. Unique, full of history and a delight. Please save - it's irreplaceable," wrote one signatory.

Another wrote: "Heritage can only be preserved if we care for it an look after it. History is what the world learns from and makes a better life for the generations ahead."

Read more news of London here.

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