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Foto: Public domain

Why is the Bus House called the Bus House?

Sterre van der Hee,
7 december 2022 - 12:14

Just blocks away in the Bus House. The what house? The Bus House! That stately building on the Kloveniersburgwal. Why is it called that? We found out for part one of a two-part series about the Bus House.

Anyone who wants to deduce the meaning of a word first looks in an encyclopedia. There it turns out that “bus house” is equivalent to “arsenal”: “a warehouse for war supplies, often with an associated workshop.” Synonyms are "armamentarium," "harness house," or "country house. “Bus” is also Old Dutch for “cannon,” as in gunpowder, which around the fifteenth century was also called “thunderbus powder” or “thundercruut.”

Foto: Public Domain
Painting from 1672. Shown: the Kloveniersburgwal with the Bus House

The Bus House was a gun storehouse, according to data from the City of Amsterdam's Bureau of Monuments and Archaeology. Downstairs was the municipal armory; upstairs were three granaries. The Bushuis arose around 1550 on the Kloveniersburgwal and was owned by the city. When the new City Bus House was built in 1606—on the site where the University Library now stands on the Singel—the original Bush House was leased to the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC), which had just come into existence. The Amsterdam VOC used the building as a warehouse and slaughterhouse: thousands of oxen would have been slaughtered there annually. The meat served as provisions for shipmates.


Because the VOC needed meeting space, it was decided in 1606 to build an annex: the East India House. This became a permanent term and the VOC departments in Delft, Enkhuizen, Hoorn, Rotterdam, and Middelburg also got an East India House (also called "Oostindisch Huis" or "East India House"). Nationwide, it was the first building built specifically for the VOC. The Amsterdam department used it for meetings, but the central management—the Heren XVII—also met there. The VOC did its accounting and kept maps there. When the company went bankrupt, the building became available to the colonial administration until 1808. The original East India House was demolished around 1891 to accommodate a new post office.

“The building was a warehouse and slaughterhouse: thousands of oxen would have been slaughtered there annually. The meat served as provisions for shipmates”


Both buildings were restored in 1976. In the East India House, the ceilings were reconstructed based on a drawing from 1771. In the late 1990s, the bewindhebberszaal was also recreated, complete with the old and new coats of arms of Amsterdam, an ornate green fireplace, and seventeenth-century paintings of the various VOC departments. Not a perfect reconstruction, but a "decor intended to be theatrical," historian Lodewijk Wagenaar previously told Folia. The Bus House and the East India House now serve, among other things, as the university library and are used primarily by the Faculty of Humanities.

Foto: Public domain
Engraving of the East India House from the mid-seventeenth century

Three years ago an uproar arose over the Administrators' Hall: the portrayal of colonial history was out of date, a Diversity Committee concluded. But UvA professor Remco Raben (postcolonial cultural history) also argued that it needed to be discussed. “The hall has a fraught history. You should not brush it away but rather name it. The building was the epicenter of a trading empire that made a lot of money, but also involved slavery and exploitation.” Explanatory texts in the front hall have since been adapted, Raben now says. “I wrote some texts that were placed next to the old texts, in extensive consultation with the faculty. The Amsterdam VOC Café also received a lot of criticism and changed its name this year.”


Hey, I've read this article before

That's right. This article was written by Folia editor Sterre van der Hee in 2019. For the episode about the Bus House in Folia's building series, this article is relevant once again.

Those who want to see more of Amsterdam's VOC history can find several properties in the city. One example is the East India Warehouse on Oostenburgervoorstraat in Amsterdam (now converted to apartments) or the VOC warehouse on Prinseneiland, listed on the housing website Funda two years ago for €1.8 million. Remnants of the City Bus House on the Singel can still be seen at the façade of number 423, right next to the current university library. Other parts of the building are, sadly, long gone.


This is the first part of our two-part series on the Bus House. Watch our video with students about the Bus House on Thursday.

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