My Ladye’s Garden is the sole remnant of what was once People’s Park – the brainchild of Governor Sir Charles Trevelyan. Its entire management was transferred to the Municipality in 1866. At the geographical centre of the city, some of its portions housed “zoological and ornithological collections, five lakes, a bandstand, reserves for football, tennis and other games.” By 1878, a gymnasium was started inside the Park near the Vepery gate. A band played twice a week at the bandstand, with attendance on Saturdays being “invariably numerous”.
That year went down in the annals of the Park as being that of the first Madras Fair; it was managed by a Committee of Municipal Commissioners and commenced on December 30th. From 1921, its management was vested with the Health Officer. The Park’s heydays were undoubtedly in the 1920s and during Christmas Week, when numerous events would take place in its commodious grounds. The Music Academy held its annual conferences here between 1930 and 1935.
Far more noisy and attracting huge crowds was the Park Town Fair and Carnival organised by the South Indian Athletic Association which occupied the Moore Pavilion and, later, the Victoria Public Hall for several years. The SIAA’s Fair, notwithstanding a devastating fire in 1886, was an annual feature in the city’s social calendar. Chief attractions were Gunboat Jack who performed daredevil stunts on a motorcycle in a barrel-like enclosure, wrestling bouts with King Kong and, last but not least, a local attraction – rekla (two-wheeled cart) races. The Fair was discontinued in the 1970s.
By 1979, the large nursery maintained in People’s Park on “72 grounds had to be handed over to the Southern Railway for expansion of the suburban railway system.” Most of the green cover in the park has been taken over by constructions such as sports stadia and the new Moore Market shopping complex. The Corporation’s nursery, however, has been revived since 2007 in various parks in the city.
The park had three main attractions – the Ashoka Pillar lawn, the tea party lawn and the Royal Bath. The last named was sponsored by the Rajah of Kirlampudi and thrown open to the public in 1922. It remained in use till the 1970s. What is missed today is Ashok Vihar, the recreation and family welfare centre that once functioned from here.
My Ladye’s Garden in the middle of People’s Park was and continues to remain the Mayor’s official garden. Quaintly named, it still exudes a charm that is unparalleled, with several age-old trees and a few statues executed in the 1930s by a student of the Madras School of Art. People’s Park as a whole and My Ladye’s Garden in particular were film-makers’ favourites and several were the classics of the black and white era that had at least one song sequence shot in the area.
Between 1933 and 1973, My Ladye’s Garden was the venue for the Mayor’s civic receptions and tea parties. It was also the place where the annual flower show was held for over a century, at a time when the city had more gardens than buildings. It was part of the Mayor’s duties to inaugurate the flower show. The Ashoka Pillar, unveiled in 1948 by Mayor Dr. U. Krishna Rau, was the centrepiece during those flower shows and was lovingly bedecked with flowers (as our sketch from the past shows). My Ladye’s Garden survives gloriously. Maintained lovingly, it is a paradise for birds and early morning and late evening walkers and joggers.
You may want to read about other Madras landmarks – some gone and some surviving: