One of the most remembered landmarks of Madras, this is an edifice that is still missed, particularly as the Christmas and New Year’s season begins. It was the brainchild of Lt Col Sir George Moore, President of the Corporation of Madras in the 1890s. He was of the view that a market at a central location would solve two problems – get rid of the old and insanitary market off Broadway and provide a home for hawkers who sold their wares at a place called Guzili Bazaar between Memorial Hall and Central Station.
The foundation stone for the building was laid by Sir George in August 1898 and the completed structure was thrown open to the public by Governor Sir Arthur Havelock in November 1900. The design was by R.E. Ellis and the contractor was A. Subramania Aiyar. The architecture was Indo-Saracenic and the market occupied 40,000 sq ft. It took its name from Sir George Moore. Located as it was between Central Station and Victoria Public Hall, it soon proved to be exceedingly popular.
The Corporation Handbook of 1950 gives us details of how the market looked and was divided: “Quadrangular in shape, with an open space in the centre laid out as a garden and with arcades all around, the market is a great convenience to the middle and upper classes of the population. It is well ventilated and kept in a clean condition. To the east and north of the Market are the supplementary structures called Hawkers’ Stalls allotted to the vendors of worn-out and second-hand goods, who formerly vended their wares in what was known as the Guzili Bazar near the Memorial Hall.”
But to get an idea of its true colour and chaos you need to read the account of veteran Tamil writer SaVi. This was part of a series that he wrote about popular landmarks of the city in the 1950s under the title Inge Poyirukkirirgala (Have you been here?). Moore Market emerges from SaVi’s pen as a place of hustle and bustle – there are second-hand goods shops for anything and everything, the central courtyard is filled with fancy goods that attracted women, bookshops abounded as did toy shops, and there was a section devoted to meat and to live birds to be sold as pets. Hawkers surrounded visitors and, unfortunately, so did pickpockets. There were palmists, acrobats and even a proselytiser or two, eager to make a conversion!
It is, however, as a mecca for second-hand books and gramophone plates that Moore Market is chiefly remembered today. It was a must on every tourist’s itinerary as much as Calcutta’s New (Hogg’s) Market continues to remain one.
Moore Market’s heydays lasted till the 1970s. It thereafter began to go to seed though it remained filled with people and did roaring business.
Pressure on urban space began mounting in Madras in the 1980s. The railways wanted land for expansion. And when the market rather conveniently caught fire in 1985, it was doomed. The railways could have saved the structure and creatively reused it, but that was not to be. The building made way for a tasteless piece of high-rise that is in no way in harmony with what surrounds it. In front of this building, in a small patch of lawn, stands a scaled down model of Moore Market. It is a fine piece in its own way, but its maintenance is shocking, to say the least.
The vendors in Moore Market were hastily accommodated in a new building, which was built on land reclaimed by filling in the beautiful Lily Pond. But somehow it never caught on. The vendors vanished one by one and those that remain sell gimcrack goods. Strangely enough, Guzili Bazar has survived and continues to function from behind Central Station.
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