The woodcarving and furnishings of the Durbar Hall were originally created for the Colonial and Indian Exhibition held in South Kensington in 1886. One of the most popular features of the Exhibition was the full-sized reproduction of an Indian Palace, intended to represent a typical Indian royal residence. On the upper storey, the Durbar Hall was used for the Prince of Wales's official receptions.
Designed by Caspar Purdon Clarke, a noted authority on Indian art, the work was executed by Muhammad Baksh and Muhammad Juma, two skilled carvers from Bhera Shahpur in the West Punjab, now in Pakistan. It took nine months to construct, from June 1885 to April 1886, and is made from teak, Himalayan cedar or deodar, and shisham.
At the close of the Exhibition, the Durbar Hall was acquired by the first Lord Brassey, one of the Commissioners, for use as a smoking room and museum at the back of his house at 24 Park Lane, London. The museum housed the collection of ethnographic material acquired by Lady Brassey. The layout was similar, but not identical to the building you see today in Hastings.
Lord Brassey also incorporated into the Durbar Hall other works of art that he acquired from the Exhibition, including a triple arch from Lahore, which now forms the entrance to the building from the main Museum, a door from Saharanpur, North- West Provinces, panels of pinjra work, and other carvings from Tibet, Bombay and South India.
The cloak was acquired by Lord Brassey in 1876 -7. Originally given by Queen Pomare of Tahiti to Sir Thomas Trigge Thompson in recognition of his services in resisiting French claims to Tahiti : it was given to the Brasseys in the Sandwich Islands.
From 1889 to the death of the first Lord Brassey in 1918, the Lady Brassey Museum in the Durbar Hall at 24 Park Lane was open to visiting groups by arrangement. In 1919 the second Lord Brassey presented the building and many of its contents to the town of Hastings where it was re-erected as an extension to the Museum in 1931.
The Durbar Hall is, therefore, a cultural hybrid to be seen today as representative not of India as such, but a British view of what India should be.