Archive for the ‘Chennai (Madras) History’ Category

Brick by brick, the Vidya Mandir story

February 8, 2016

I felt like Benjamin Disraeli when he acquired the Suez Canal shares – Madam you have it, he is reported to have said to Queen Victoria. Only in our (Karthik Bhatt & me) case, Madam had gone, taking her last bow on February 2, a day before Vidya Mandir completed 60 years. I refer to Tara Satyanarayana beloved Principal of the school during the time when I was a student. I would have loved to have met her with a copy, but that was not to be.



For some reason, posting two images in WordPress is like having twins – the one that comes out later is the older. Similarly, the back cover has come up first.

The book was released this morning at the school following a rollicking speech by Justice V Ramasubramaniam. To me, VM was the only school and I look upon my Calcutta alma mater as a penitentiary in comparison. But let us not get into that. I am glad both my sons studied at VM for the full duration of their schooling and emerged typical VM-ites- fun-loving, multi-talented and with a whacky attitude to life.

By way of what the book has to offer, I give below the preface that Karthik and I wrote for the book. I also give my profile as it appears in the book, which I hope is in the true VM spirit. This morning I got to know that the book title, which was suggested by our editor Minnie Amirapu, is very similar to that of the IIM-A book. To that I would only say ‘Ah yes, the other centre for excellence on the west coast.’

For those who want to read the book, an e version will soon be out.

By the way, given that we grew up singing The Animals went in two by two, it is appropriate that two of us wrote this book.

And now for the Authors’ Note:

“The two of us had always hoped that we could co-author a book. It was also always a dream for each of us individually that some day a book on our school ought to be written. We never ever thought that these two would become one project. We deem this to be a blessing of our alma mater and the teachers who taught us while we studied here.


We thank the Committee of the school, in particular V Srikanth who mooted this idea and helped us throughout the process. Our gratitude is also to Shoba Raman, the Principal, who came forward generously with permissions, access to archival material and arranged with the school’s secretarial staff to fix interviews with various teachers, students and other associates of the institution, past and present.


The people who opened their homes and hearts to us while we went about the process of interviewing and collating information were many and our heartfelt thanks to each one of them.

At this moment, we also recall with affection the many teachers who are no longer with us and who therefore we could not connect with. We also record here that not all past teachers could be contacted and we assure them that though their voices are not in the book, their presence looms large in every line.

Our thanks to Rukmini Amirapu, our editor of many books, for having suffered our prose once again and converted it into this readable format. Many thanks to Shweta Joyson for photographing the school as it is now, and to Malvika Mehra who despite the short time duration available, came up with this design. Our thanks are also to Sudarshan Graphics for printing the book.

Having said all that, we now feel like a couple of school children who having submitted their answer sheets in an exam, are eagerly awaiting the teacher’s feedback. We hope that the reader, like the Vidya Mandir teachers, will look upon this work kindly and give it an A. Can we hope for an A+?



Sriram V.

Karthik A Bhatt





February 3, 2016.”

My profile as it appears in the book:

“Sriram V, born in 1966, studied at Vidya Mandir from LKG to Standard VI and was then exiled to Calcutta, Delhi and other places, where he finished schooling, did his engineering and acquired an MBA. Having never grown out of the VM influence, despite the best efforts of other schools, colleges, universities and the organisations where he worked, he now runs his family businesses which are into industrial hydraulics and software. He is however better known for his work on the histories of Carnatic music and Chennai city. The author of many books on these subjects, he is also a columnist with The Hindu and the associate editor of Madras Musings, the fortnightly founded by historian S Muthiah, that keeps alive the heritage of the city. Sriram’s heritage walks/tours in Chennai and other historical locations of Tamil Nadu very popular events.”

Coming back from the event today I thought I should have collected some sand from the playground in a small jar and worshipped it at home. I owe everything in life to my grandmother and this school in that order.

All right Karthik, you can let the autograph seekers in.






Know Fort St George – 18, The Wallajah connect

January 25, 2016

As you reach the southwest corner of Fort St George, you see a long road cutting across the Fort from the south to the north. This runs parallel to Charles Street, continues along the western face of Parade Square and the wall of the Kings Barracks before culminating at the northern wall of the Fort. Intriguingly, this thoroughfare does not have a signboard announcing its name any longer, though it is historically significant. The old books refer to it as Palace Street.

During our exploration of Charles Street, reference was made to the fact that the Nawab of Arcot, Muhammad Ali Wallajah petitioned George Pigot in 1758 for a house in the Fort where he could retire in the event of a necessity. This was granted, though we do not know how long the ruler really lived there before shifting back to Arcot. Ten years later, circumstances had so arranged themselves that the Nawab felt safer in Madras than in Arcot. He moved into Mylapore, probably near the Devadi Street area, for that thoroughfare was originally Deorhi Sardar ul Mulk Dilawar Jung Bahadur, thereby indicating that it was the Deorhi (doorway) to the house of Sardar ul Mulk Dilawar Jung Bahadur, all of those words being honorific titles of Wallajah. He later petitioned Governor Palk for space within the Fort where he could build a suitable residence. This was granted and the road that ran along the allotted area came to be referred to as Palace Street.

What happened thereafter is not entirely clear. It is said that the Directors of the East India Company were not happy with the idea of the Nawab living within the Fort. Others have it that his advisors pointed out to him that if he moved into the precincts he would end up a prisoner of the British, just as Chanda Sahib had once been in durance vile at the hands of the French. The palace when it was eventually built was outside the Fort, at Chepauk. Its triple arched entrance gate was to the southwest of the Fort. The road on which it stood, accessed via Mount Road, was originally named Benfield’s Road, after the contractor who built the palace for the Nawab. Today we know it as Wallajah Road.

Wallajah Gate

Between 1768 and 1805 at least, there would have been ­considerable comings and goings between Chepauk Palace and Fort St. George. Considering that the southwest corner of the Fort was closest to the palace, it was perhaps natural that the bastion that stands there became the Wallajah Bastion and the gate the Wallajah Gate. They retain their names to this day and, along with Wallajah Road, form an interesting connect between the British and Nawabi histories of Madras.

Wallajah Gate is an arched tunnel on the western inner wall of the Fort. You can walk through it and, as you do, pause for a while to look at the thickness of its walls. At the other end, you come into a wilderness of sorts through which cuts the road to the outer Wallajah Gate. The moat runs in bet­ween and is crossed by a bridge here. The two gates are at sharp angles to each other, making you realise that any enemy who managed to penetrate the outer gate would never know who was waiting in anticipation in the inner gate. There are steps on either side of the outer Wallajah Gate that allow you to climb up and stand on top. You get a panoramic view of the western side of the Fort from here. On your return journey back into the Fort, you will notice a vast empty space to your right, now enclosed within grille gates. This was once the tennis court of Fort St George much used by officers when a garrison was stationed in the Fort.

Today it is possible for pedestrians to walk in and out of Fort St George via the Wallajah Gate. Vehicles drive in and out as well, but in the past, it was mostly one way, though whether it was for entry or exit kept changing over the years. In 1845, it was for entry only, though as the United Services Gazette noted rather cattily, such regulations were meant only for ‘little men’, a situation that has sadly persisted in Chennai till now. The then Governor of Madras, the Marquis of Tweeddale considered himself above such rules and one afternoon, being “in an extraordinary hurry to get home from council” ordered his carriage to exit the Fort via the Wallajah Gate. Unfortunately, the timing of his exit coincided with that of the entry of a civilian into the Fort. The two carriages faced each other under the archway thereby creating an impasse. His Lordship refused to consider retreating and ­insisted that the civilian ought to do so. This, the latter was willing to do, but his horses were made of sterner stuff and stubbornly stood their ground. The Marquis according to eyewitnesses, “waxed mighty wrath” and directed the corporal of the guard to unyoke the horses of the civilian’s coach and push the vehicle aside. This was done and the gubernatorial cavalcade could pass, but not before Lord Tweeddale had ­ordered the impounding of the offending civilian’s carriage at the Town Major’s office. The civilian was able to retrieve it after some time, though he was in no way at fault.

In 1865, the Wallajah Gate area was back in focus, once again in not very edifying circumstances. The toilet arrangements then, as now, were not great in the Fort and all that existed then were twenty ‘ill ventilated cells’, their filthy condition ensuring that most men preferred to relieve themselves in public. That year, efforts were made to distribute toilets all across the Fort and one of the first came up between the Wallajah Gate and bastion, for the exclusive use of the employees of the Arsenal and other military offices in the southwest corner.

Given that it was one of the principal entrances (or exits ­depending on which period of history you are reading about) to the Fort, the Wallajah Gate was also the venue for many processions and pageants. One of the earliest accounts that survives dates to June 3, 1799 when the standard of Tipu Sultan was brought from Mysore and entered the Fort in ceremonial parade following his defeat and death. Present on the occasion was the Governor General Lord Mornington, shortly to be elevated in the peerage as the Marquis of Wellesley, as well as the Governor of Madras, Edward, the second Lord Clive. With a royal salute being fired by the garrison and answered by the ships in Madras Roads, the standard was taken in procession by Lieutenant General Harris into the Church of St Mary’s.

It was also customary for troops to form two facing rows stretching from Wallajah Gate to the Sea Gate each time a General of the Madras Army retired from service and left for England. The Wallajah Gate was also where the Governors of Madras were traditionally handed over the keys of the Fort amidst great ceremonial. An account dating to March 5, 1839 is perhaps the most detailed. The new Governor, Lord Elphinstone had just arrived at the Sea Gate and after taking the necessary oaths of office was escorted to the Wallajah Gate where the Town Major presented him with the keys, after which he drove to Government House.

Standing at Wallajah Gate today, you can merely imagine all these happenings. It is now a functional entrance, and suffers from poor maintenance. Its massive wooden doors still survive, though, judging by the soil that hems them in, it is clear that they have not been shut for quite a few years. The space, however, is one of the most charming spots of the Fort and, being slightly isolated, is very peaceful.


This article is part of a series, to commemorate 375 years of Fort St George. You can read the earlier parts in the following links:


  1. The Fort, its topography
  2. The Flagstaff
  3. The Sea Gates
  4. The Moat
  5. The Cornwallis Cupola
  6. The Assembly and Secretariat
  7. The Parade Square
  8. The Barracks
  9. The Great House on Charles Street
  10. Arthur Wellesley’s House
  11. Charles (and James) Street
  12. The Church of St Mary’s
  13. The yard of St Mary’s
  14. The interior of St Mary’s
  15. Some funerary monuments in St Mary’s
  16. The romance of Church Street
  17. St Thomas Street


Know Fort St George – 17, St Thomas Street

January 11, 2016

santhomestreetIf you turn right as you come out of St. Mary’s Church, you will come across a small cordoned parking lot which houses the cars belonging to the Chief Minister’s cavalcade. Next is a platform of polished granite, a material that is incongruous with the rest of the fort but is sadly what is in vogue with all parties in power. You are now almost at the front of the Fort and there you need to turn right into a street that is still very impressive – filled with colonnaded buildings. A signboard informs you that you are in St.  Thomas Street, also known as Snob’s Alley.
This is one of the oldest thoroughfares of the Fort. It gets its name in all probability from the fact that it stretches south, towards San Thome. In 1688, the East India Company ordered the preparation of a Rent Rowle of Dwelling Houses, Godowns & c, within the Garrison or Christian Town and as per this document, St. Thomas Street was among the best areas of the Fort, probably because it fronted the sea and therefore provided a good breeze.

This thoroughfare was then largely owned by Portuguese settlers within the Fort and had 21 houses and godowns in it. This community had built a church for itself near where the Namakkal Kavignar Maligai now stands (and of which more anon), and this appears to have been the house of prayer for the Christian fisherfolk who lived by the beach. It was then the practice for the funeral processions of these ‘macqua’ men to enter the Fort via St Thomas Gate and wend their way to the church via St Thomas Street. The Company honoured this practice and when residents petitioned that they be allowed to extend their houses on to the road space, it permitted them with the proviso that the passageway must in no way be impeded for the funeral processions. But even then there were changes afoot.

In those early years, the Company had its hospital, which was built by public subscription, on this street, probably because of its favoured location in terms of sea breeze and morning light. In 1688, this building was acquired by the Government and converted into residential quarters for junior officers. It is described as large square edifice standing near the Rt Hon’ble Company’s Sorting Godown and St Mary’s Church and it was probably at the intersection of Church and St Thomas Streets. It also housed the first College of Fort St George, the institution being abolished in 1712. The building itself was demolished in 1719.

By 1701, St Thomas Street had become a fashionable thoroughfare, with buildings that could impress visitors. It became part of the processional route and when Daud Khan, then deputy to Nawab Zulfikar Ali Khan came on a visit, he was taken into Town by ‘Messrs Marshall and Meverell, the Streets being loin’d with soldiers from St. Thoma Gate up to the Fort, and the works that way man’d with the Marrein Company handsomely clothed with red coats and caps.’


The Town Hall shifted into St Thomas Street in 1688. This was originally in Choultry Gate Street, the northern counterpart of St Thomas Street, being diametrically at the opposite end and leading to what would eventually become Rajaji Salai. One of the most memorable events to be held at the Town Hall, while it was at St Thomas Street, was the establishment of the Corporation of Madras, on September 29, 1688, which makes our city’s civic body one of the oldest in the world. On the appointed day, the Corporation was inaugurated with all due solemnity, the Mayor and the Recorder taking their respective oaths, these being administered by the President (as the Governor of Madras was then known). Post this, the Mayor and Recorder administered oaths to the Aldermen and Burgesses. Among the Corporation’s many objectives was the building of ‘a Town Hall or Guild Hall.’ This took its time but was eventually built by 1697, during the governorship of Nathaniel Higginson, an American by birth and who in 1688 had become the first Mayor of Madras. Love identifies the new location as being ‘South of St Mary’s Church but on the opposite or east side of St Thomas’ Street.’ Paintings by Lambert and Scott dating to 1732 show this to be a lofty building with an ornate vaulted roof, surmounted by the cupola that terminates in a weather vane. This served as the Mayor’s Court and below it was the prison. The cost of construction came to 4000 pagodas and the Corporation, which had borrowed the money was burdened with an interest of 50 pagodas per month. The Councillors repeatedly represented about this expense to the Governor. The Corporation was finally assigned the scavengers duties in 1695 and with this, along with around 900 pagodas paid by the heads of various castes, the debt was repaid a year later.

For all its loftiness, the Town Hall’s prison appears to have been most basic in character. There are accounts of prisoners complaining about the cramped conditions in which they were lodged. There were six cells, of which three were below the Town Hall and three more at the back or east side of the building, closer to the Fort entrance. By 1733, these along with the Town Hall itself, were considered to be in a ruinous condition. The entire premises was demolished in the 1750s, with a new Town Hall being put up once again on Choultry Gate Street. Today there is no trace of the old Town Hall on St Thomas Street.

Walking down St Thomas Street today, you cross on your right a building belonging to the Church. Next to it is the eastern façade of the Ex Servicemen Health Service Hospital, the western front of which is on Charles Street. Next to it is the Big Warehouse, dating to the 1720s. If you peer into this building, you will see vast rooms of at least 20 feet height, the roofs being supported by giant masonry pillars. The left side of St Thomas Street has similar buildings, all of them occupied by army health services. The first is the Nursing Sister’s House. Dating to the 18th century it has partially collapsed. Proceed till the end of the street and look at the very dilapidated three storey structure that stands on the left. Known as the Last House on Snob’s Alley, this is historically significant, for it is the oldest house in the Fort, probably of the same vintage as the old Fort House that is now enclosed within the Assembly building. Last House is in a shockingly bad state of preservation, its doors and windows having long gone and its various floors being propped by casuarina supports. The Archaeological Survey is supposed to be protecting this monument but of that there are no signs.

Last house in Snobs alley

Last house on Snob’s alley, Fort St George. The ASI is said to be restoring it.

Immediately after Last House is an empty plot of land. This was where the first Post Office of Madras once stood. Cross over this area towards the east and you will find yourself standing on the front rampart of the Fort, with a fantastic view of Rajaji Salai and the harbour. Look carefully below and you will see several underground chambers, all filled with debris. If only these were cleaned up and could be explored.

Opposite Last House is a thick growth of vegetation. Inside this are the ruins of the Chaplain’s House. This was where the chaplains of St Mary’s once lived. By the 1940s the building was no longer a residence and was used to display the silver plate and records of the Church. When these were shifted to the Fort Museum the building was abandoned and it collapsed a few years ago.

It is not clear as to when St Thomas Street became known as Snob’s Alley. Given that no historical record before the 1920 mentions this, the name appears to be of relatively recent origin, chiefly because the senior officers of the army resided here till Independence.

This article is part of a series to commemorate 375 years of Fort St George. The earlier parts are as below:

The Fort – its topography

The Flagstaff

The Sea Gate

The Moat

The Cornwallis Cupola

The Assembly and Secretariat

Parade Square

The Barracks

The Great House on Charles Street

Arthur Wellesley’s House

Charles (and James) Street

St Mary’s Church

The yard of St Mary’s

The interior of St Mary’s

Some funerary monuments in St Mary’s

The romance of Church Street


Yet another heritage building catches fire

December 22, 2015
Lawley Hall

Lawley Hall

The recent rains did not wreak as much havoc on heritage buildings as we feared. The roofless Bharat Insurance Building and Gokhale Hall (both declared structurally weak over a decade ago) are still standing and may they continue to remain till their owners see the light and begin restoration activities. But the iconic India Silk House building on Anna Salai/Mount Road was not so lucky. A suspected electric short circuit caused a fire that left a large part of its interior damaged. This incident, the latest in several electricity-caused conflagrations in our city, has robbed us of another piece of history.

For the record, the building, officially known as Lawley Hall, belongs to the Anjuman-i-Himayat-i-Islam (AHI) Trust. Constructed in the first years of the last century, it was meant to be a hostel and training centre for indigent Muslim children. Built in the North Indian style with chattries and named after the then Governor, Sir Arthur Lawley, the building has had the honour of hosting a lecture by Mahatma Gandhi in 1915. The Trust moved elsewhere in the 1930s and the structure was leased to several commercial entities. India Coffee House was on the first floor for several decades, but the one surviving occupant from early times is India Silk House and the edifice is synonymous with this retailer of garments. The building is listed as being in Grade 2 A category according to the ruling of the High Court of Madras, thereby making it a structure of local importance with no changes possible on its façade, though its interiors can undergo modifications.
Given Chennai’s history of heritage buildings catching fire (see below), the administration has had ample data to analyse and come up with fire safety codes for heritage structures so that more of these do not fall prey.

But that has not happened. Most of these buildings have immense quantities of dry and seasoned timber, which is susceptible to catching fire especially when it exists in close proximity to old wiring. We are not entirely certain about the age of the electric cables in Lawley Hall but anyone who has passed by it can vouch for the fact that the building itself has been shoddily maintained – ugly signage that covers the front façade, a whole lot of fabric stored in the upper floor, and plenty of wires hanging loose. If this is not a recipe for a fire, what else is?
This is where we would have expected the Heritage Conservation Committee of the CMDA to be more proactive. With so many old buildings being burnt down, was it not its task to visit other prominent edifices, see for itself their condition and then advise the owners of what they needed to get done to prevent any accidents from happening? But the Committee has long remained somnambulant. Moreover, there are doubts about its very existence, the State Government having passed in 2012 a heritage bill that calls for the establishment of a new Heritage Conservation Committee which, incidentally, is of identical composition as the earlier one. The trouble however is that nobody has got around to constituting the second committee and the first one is uncertain about its legal status! In such a scenario, what further can be expected other than more and more buildings falling down or catching fire?

The AHI, which is the owner of the India Silk House building is yet to release a statement on what it proposes to do by way of action. It is to be hoped that a sensitive restoration will be embarked upon.

This is a list of heritage buildings consumed by fire in Madras:
Spencer’s Building – 1983
Victory Building (White­way and Laidlaw, later Swadesamitran) – 1984
Moore Market – 1985
D’Angelis (later Bosotto) – 1986
Madras GPO – 2000
The Lodge, Government Estate (later Gandhi Illam) – 2006
Chepauk Palace
Bombay Mutual Building – 2012
State Bank of India on First Line Beach – 2014

Know Fort St George – 16, The romance in Church Lane

December 14, 2015

Church Street is one of the oldest thoroughfares in the Fort, for there are records of its existence from the early 18th century. There is some doubt as to its exact location, the name having been given to at least two passages in the early years but by the mid 18th century, the alley that connected James (now absorbed by Charles) Street and St Thomas Street was known variously as Church Lane/Row/Street. HD Love states that it was immediately south of the Church and ran on an east west axis. Today no such thoroughfare exists. When you walk out of the southern doorway of the Church of St Mary’s, you step into a beautiful walled garden on the other side of which is the immense bulk of the ex servicemen hospital. At the end of the garden, just before the health facility’s wall is a paved walkway with wrought iron arches at either end, connecting it with Charles and St Thomas Streets. If so, is the garden and the walkway the space occupied by Church Street? We can only hazard a conjecture.

If this was indeed Church Street, it was not so peaceful in its heyday. Located on it were the Company’s calico godowns for quite some time, at least till the 1750s. As early as the 1690s, Nathaniel Higginson, the first Mayor of Madras and by then Governor, was writing about these godowns being much afflicted by the ‘white aunt’ by which he presumably meant termites and not a female relative. There are records of these structures being renovated shortly thereafter. By the 1770s, Church Street appears to have become what we would today call a mixed zone – there were warehouses and residences. One of the latter was where Warren Hastings came to live, at a rent of 108 pagodas a month. It is not clear as to who was the owner of the property.

By the time he came to Madras, Hastings was an old India hand. Born in 1732, he had in 1749 been appointed a Writer in India. He proceeded to Bengal and while there, married in 1756 the widow of a Captain Campbell who had been in Company service. Three years later his wife died. But Hastings continued to fare well professionally, becoming a Member in Council at Calcutta in 1761. He opted to return home in 1764 and five years later, having lost all his money in helping impecunious relatives, was bound for Madras, this time taking office as Second in Council.

Hastings sailed on board the Duke of Grafton and his fellow passengers were Baron and Baroness von Imhoff. In contrast to the grand title, the couple was impoverished. The husband Christohof Adam Karl von Imhoff had served in the Seven Years War and was out of employment since 1763. He had been living at Nuremberg off the hospitality of relatives whose kindness he repaid by doing their portraits, an art in which he was not overly talented. In 1769, he decided to go to India, to try his hand at painting the native rulers and making a fortune off these low hanging fruits. Accompanying him was his wife Anna Maria Apolliana Chapuset.

Hastings’ biographers vary in their views on the Imhoff marriage – Lord Macaulay claims she had nothing but contempt for her husband but GR Glieg simply states that they were not suited to each other. But the circumstances of the voyage threw Hastings and Baroness Imhoff together, particularly so when he fell dangerously ill and she treated him with tender care, watching over him and administering medicines with her own hand. When he recovered, Hastings realised that he was deeply in love. Characteristically, he was to do nothing in a hurry. Having taken time to think matters over, he called in the Imhoffs and it was decided between them that the husband would file for divorce proceedings and till this was granted, they would continue to remain in the eyes of the public a married couple.

Arriving in Madras, Hastings took up residence in Church Street. He threw himself into his work as the number two in the council, reporting to Governor Du Pre. To quote from a third biographer Capt. LJ Trotter, “the Company’s investments in silk and cotton goods had been of late so carelessly overseen that the roguery of the native contractors had brought about a marked decline in the quality of goods shipped to England.” The men referred to were clearly the dubashes. Hastings set about cleaning the system. He had the duties of the Export Warehousekeeper entrusted to a separate officer under whom a team of trained clerks began working. Being proficient in native languages, he started dealing directly with the headmen of the weaving villages and soon the Company began to see the fruits of his labours.

But in the meanwhile tongues in Madras kept wagging about his unusual private life. The trio had lived together till Imhoff, after ten months and having painted half the settlement, wanted to move to Calcutta to try his luck there. Anna Maria remained behind but Hastings very properly set her up in a different house and visited her regularly. Then in October 1771, she sailed for Calcutta to join her husband. It may have ended as a shipboard romance but the East India Company suddenly decided to play cupid. It promoted Hastings as Governor General (he was the first to be given that title) and ordered him to move to Calcutta. Sometime during his tenure in Madras, Hastings appears to have purchased the house on Church Street for in his farewell note to the Council, he offered it for sale at 4,000 pagodas.

Once in Calcutta, Hastings moved in with the Imhoffs, spending much of his time in building a vast house for the time when he would marry Anna Maria. The husband left India in 1773, to file for divorce in his native Franconia. He received a thousand pounds in two instalments from a relative of Hastings in return for a portrait of the Governor General. Anna Maria, by now Hastings’ beloved Marian, remained in Calcutta with the Governor General at Belvedere, his palatial home, his exalted status ensuring everyone kept silent at least in public about this. The divorce came through in 1777 and then Hastings married her, the bride being given away by Sir Elijah Impey, the Chief Justice and a schoolmate and close chum of Hastings. She was presented to Calcutta society in a glittering public event on August 11th and took up her official position as First Lady, though in private wags labelled her Hastings’ Governess.

There were to be rumours that Marian dominated over him on official matters as well, leading to decisions that bordered on gross misuse of office but the marriage was a great success. They were to never have children of their own but Hastings adopted Marian’s three offspring from her first marriage. She was to see him through several tribulations most noted of which was his impeachment when he returned to England. Acquitted after seven years, Hastings retired to a life of peace and contentment with his beloved. He passed away in 1818, aged 86, at Daylesford. Marian lived till 90 and died in 1837. The two are buried side by side at the Daylesford church. And to think it all began at the Church Street by St Mary’s in Madras!

It is most likely that Church Street vanished in the reconstruction of Fort St George in the 1780s. The last we see of it is a reference in what would today be referred to as a classified advertisement dated July 13, 1791. Mrs Laney, who was running a tailoring establishment in the Fort, had a shop at her house on Church Street where she had a variety of European articles for sale and could also execute orders at the shortest notice and ‘in the first stile of Elegance, having received the latest and newest fashions by the ships of this season.’

This article is part of a series to commemorate the 375th year of Fort St George.

The earlier parts can be read here:

1. The Fort, its Topography
2. The Flagstaff
3. The Sea Gates
4. The Moat
5. The Cornwallis Cupola
6. The Assembly and Secretariat
7. The Parade Square
8. The Barracks
9. The Great House on Charles Street
10. The House of Arthur Wellesley
11. Charles (and James) Street
12. St Mary’s Church
13. The yard of St Mary’s
14. The interior of St Mary’s
15. The funerary monuments in St Mary’s

Remembering Sir Alladi on #ConstitutionDay

November 26, 2015
Sir Alladi Krishnaswami Aiyar

Sir Alladi Krishnaswami Aiyar

The Government has declared November 26 as Constitution Day. This is because this was the day in 1949 when the Constituent Assembly accepted the draft. The Government is linking it with DR BR Ambedkar’s 125 birth year. While not in any way denying the contribution of Babasaheb, which was immense, I would like to only quote what James Madison said when he was referred to as the father of the US Constitution – “It is not, like the fabled Goddess of wisdom, the offspring of a single brain. It ought to be regarded as the work of many heads and many hands.”

The Constituent Assembly first met on December 9, 1946. The man designated Constitutional Advisor was Sir BN Rau ICS, a man from Madras who was then a Judge of the Calcutta High Court and who would later become a Judge in the International Court of Justice. Of the 296 seats in the Assembly, the representation from Madras Presidency was considerable (see list) and several played an important role. But the most stellar was that of Sir Alladi Krishnaswami Aiyar, the eminent jurist. This was despite his chronic ill-health.

Alladi’s was a rags to riches story. At an early age he had made his mark at the Madras Bar and by 1929 he had become Advocate General, one of the youngest to occupy the post. He held it till 1943- for a record 15 years. In the Constituent Assembly, Sir Alladi made it to the drafting committee, other members of which were BR Ambedkar, Sir Brij Lal Mitter, Sir N Gopalaswami Aiyangar, KM Munshi, Md Saadullah, V Madhav Rao and DP Khaitan. When BL MItter died in 1948, his position was filled in by TT Krishnamachari. Though Ambedkar was elected Chairman, he expressed his surprise at this and in his speech while presenting the draft said that the post ought to have been Sir Alladi’s.

In the final document that emerged, it is accepted that Alladi’s imprint can be seen in the following topics – citizenship, fundamental rights, directive principles, judiciary in the Union and the States, distribution of legislative powers, articles dealing with the powers of the President and the Governor, and adult suffrage. Two others who made significant contributions were Munshi and Gopalaswami Aiyangar. It was said the trio were the Three Musketeers with Ambedkar being D’Artagnan.

The Constitution came into effect on January 26, 1950. Sir Alladi passed away in October 1953. His palatial house, Ekamra Niwas still stands on Luz Church Road though it is no longer visible, the beautiful lawn long having made way for development. It is a historic property, for one part of it encompasses what was once Norton Lodge, the residence of the Norton family, which too played an important role in the judicial history of Madras.

This article borrows heavily from the book A Statesman Among Jurists, A biography of Sir Alladi Krishnaswami Aiyar, by his son Alladi Kuppuswami, former Chief Justice of the High Court of Andhra Pradesh (published by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1993).

Other Madras Presidency members of the Constituent Assembly:

OV Alagesan, Ammu Swaminadhan, M Ananthasayanam Ayyangar, Moturi Satyanarayana, Dakshayani Velayudhan, Durgabai Deshmukh, Kala Venkatarao, Sir N Gopalaswamy Ayyangar, D Govinda Das, Rev. Jerome D’Souza, P Kakkan, K Kamaraj, VC Kesava Rao, TT Krishnamachari, L Krishnaswami Bharathi, P Kunhiraman, M Thirumula Rao, VI Muniswamy Pillay, Raja Sir MA Muthiah Chettiyar, Nadimuthu Pillai S Nagappa, PL Narasimha Raju, B Pattabhi Sitaramayya, C Perumalswamy Reddy, T Prakasam, SH Prater, Raja Sir Swetachalapati Ramakrishna Ranga Rao of Bobbili, Sir RK Shanmukham Chetti, TA Ramalingam Chettiyyar, Ramanath Goenka, OP Ramaswamy Reddiyar, NG Ranga, N Sanjeeva Reddy, K Santhanam, B Shiva Rao, Kallur Subba Rao, U Srinivasa Mallayya, Dr P Subbarayan, C Subramaniam, V Subramaniam, MC Veerabahu, PM Velayudapani, AK Menon, TJM Wilson, Mohamed Ismail Sahib, KTM Ahmed Ibrahim, Mahboob Ali Baig Sahib Bahadur, B Pocker Sahib Bahadur

Names taken from the Indian Parliamentary Debates records –

Know Fort St George – 15, the monuments in St Mary’s

November 23, 2015

One of the most striking aspects of St Mary’s in the Fort is the number of funerary monuments, commemorative plaques, intramural tombstones and statues that dot its interior. Going through each one of them is perhaps a chore best left to epigraphers and historians, but some of them do merit a second look. Before we go on to them, however, a word about the hidden altar of the church would be in order.

Today, as you stand facing the east, all you see is Willison’s depiction of The Last Supper dominating the altar wall. Thanks to its dark brown background, it gives the entire church a slightly gloomy feel. This was not always so, for behind the painting is a full length stained glass window that has inscribed above and below it the altar verse of St Mary’s – ‘If Ye Love Me Keep My Commandments.’ This is an extract from the Bible. There is no record as to when the painting was shifted to block the window but when it did, it cut off all light from the east. Then, probably in order to protect window and painting, the Archaeological Survey of India in 1950, with no doubt the best intentions, built a brick wall on the eastern front, thereby entombing the stained glass between the painting and the wall. That means this altar window, or the hidden true altar, can be accessed only if The Last Supper is moved and the wall demolished!

Let us now look at those who, like the wall, are entombed within the church. At the foot of the space marked for the choir, pulpit and lectern, are two rows of rectangular slabs, below which lie some illustrious men. The first line begins with Sir George Ward, Governor of Madras for a brief while in 1860, dying of cholera within a few weeks of taking office. Next to him lies the Rt. Hon Vere Henry, Lord Hobart, also Governor of Madras and a victim of typhoid, his death happening in 1872. After his tomb is one that has inscribed on it a cross and the words ‘In Memoriam’. And this has a story to tell.

George Pigot was Governor of Madras twice, in the 18th Century. But even before that, he had proved his mettle, being a go-getter who played an important role in the defence of Madras during the French siege of 1758/59. He became Governor subsequently, indulged in all the malpractices that those in power then did and retired to England in 1763 with a fortune of Rs 40 lakhs. He purchased an Irish peerage, became Lord Pigot and would have settled down to a life of leisure had he not been called back as Governor of Madras in 1775. The Nawab had just then invaded and occupied Tanjore, egged on by Members in Council and several dubashes, all of whom wanted to lay their hands on the fertile Cauvery delta. The Company, however, frowned on it and Tanjore was restored to its rightful ruler but not before Pigot had fallen out with his Council on the matter of the correct procedure for restoration. He was arrested by his detractors and sent to St. Thomas’ Mount where he was kept in some sort of house arrest though he was free to move around there and also entertain. While there, he suddenly died, the circumstances of his death having never been established clearly. His body was brought hastily to St. Mary’s and buried in an unmarked grave, the location of which was forgotten. In 1875, when the space before the chancel was being dug to accommodate Lord Hobart, an unmarked coffin was found. The new Governor, the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, decreed that this ought to be the last resting place of Pigot and had the slab now seen placed over the spot.

In the second row of intramural burials is the tomb of Sir Thomas Munro, Governor of Madras, who died of cholera at Gooty in what is now Andhra Pradesh in 1827. He was initially buried there and it was only in 1831 that his remains were shifted to St Mary’s. On a pillar close by is a portrait medallion in his memory. Munro was greatly loved and respected by the people of Madras, an affection that continued long enough for people such as Rajaji to speak in his praise. His equestrian statue stands on the Island, not far from St Mary’s.

That would complete the roster of Governors of Madras buried here, all except the first among them to merit this honour – Francis Hastings, who held that office between 1720 and 1721. He is interred just outside the church proper, his stone lying beneath the tower’s arch that leads to the walled garden. Buried within the church are also some other leading lights – Sir John Doveton, known chiefly for his interest in Sanskrit and his being guardian to the sons of Tippu Sultan while they were held hostage by the British, Sir Archibald Campbell, Commander-in-Chief of the Madras Army in the 1820s, and Sir Samuel Hood, C-in-C of the Royal Navy.
On the walls of the Church are several commemorative plaques, monuments and medallions. Most of them are in marble and executed by famed 18th/19th Century sculptors in England, such as John Flaxman, John Bacon (senior and junior), G. Clarke, Charles Peart, John Ternouth and Mathew Noble. Some of the striking ones in the church are the memorials to the Rev. C.F. Schwartz (by Bacon Jr), the Rev. C.W. Gericke (by Flaxman), Josiah Webbe (by Flaxman), and Geoffrey Moor house (by Peart). Two lifesize statues, at diametric ends of the church, are those of H H Pepper (by Clarke) and Thomas Conway, “the soldier’s friend” (Ternouth). Both Conway and Moorhouse were ardent Freemasons and among the founding fathers of the Lodge of Perfect Unanimity (PU) in 1789. The PU continues to function in Madras.
Looking around the Church, you realise the high rate of mortality that existed in India and the diverse reasons for it as well. Thus, while the Rev. Gericke was killed by a ‘fright brought about by monkeys’, at Rayacottah Fort in Salem District, Brigadier Malcolm McNeill died of a ‘coup-de-soleil’ (sunstroke) while serving in Pegu, in Burma.

Among the plethora of plaques is one commemorating Julian James Cotton, ics who died in 1927. It is rather appropriate that he has been honoured this way, for he is chiefly remembered today for his painstaking work – List of Inscriptions on Tombs or Monuments in Madras, first published in 1905. Also remembered is the supposed builder of St. Mary’s, Edward Fowle, Engineer and Gunner, Fort St. George. Though he died in 1685, it was only in 1906 that a brass plaque was unveiled in his memory here. This is set into the first of the six pillars that support the roof of the Church, counting them from the entrance. Facing it, on the western wall is a massive obelisk, which reminds the visitor of the Hynmer and Yale Monument in the Law College compound. This commemorates Lady Hobart (wife of a Governor in the 1700s) and her son.

In the days when St. Mary’s was a garrison church, its pillars were topped by the colours and flags of the various regiments stationed in Madras. Today these have all been removed to the Fort Museum where they remain on display. If you can manage to tear yourself away from the Church, do go out through the southern entrance to the enchanting walled garden. Sit on one of its welcoming benches and look at the walkway that runs along it, parallel to the Church, connecting Charles Street and St. Thomas Street. This is accessed at both ends by wrought iron archways that are securely locked. Could this have been Church Lane or Church Row where one of the Fort’s most sensational romances was played out? More on that in the next episode.

This article is part of a series to commemorate the 375th year of Fort St George. You can read the earlier parts in the links below:

1. The Fort, its Topography
2. The Flagstaff
3. The Sea Gates
4. The Moat
5. The Cornwallis Cupola
6. The Assembly and Secretariat
7. The Parade Square
8. The Barracks
9. The Great House on Charles Street
10. Arthur Wellesley’s House
11. Charles (and James) Street
12. St Mary’s Church
13. The Yard of St Mary’s
14. Some treasures of St Mary’s

Know Fort St George – 13, the yard of St Mary’s Church

October 22, 2015
Tower and steeple, St Mary's in the Fort

Tower and steeple, St Mary’s in the Fort

Before you walk into the Church of St Mary’s and admire its treasured possessions, pause for a while and look around the yard. It is paved with some of the oldest British tombstones in India. All of them rectangular, several of them broken and re-assembled like a jigsaw, these have a story of their own to tell, for some of them date to a time when St Mary’s was not yet thought of.

A high rate of mortality was one of the features of early colonial life in India and, today, the sole remnant in many abandoned settlements is a graveyard. Madras is different, for its first British graveyard has completely vanished, the Law College standing on that site now. The early records speak of ‘the English Golgotha or Place of Sculls’ as having been near “the North West angle of the Native Town” – not to be confused with present day George Town but the old Black Town which straggled to the rear of the Fort and occupied much of what we would today recognise as the High Court Campus. A vast guava garden existed west of this spot and from Dr Fryer’s writings based on his stay in the city in 1673, we do know that the last resting place of the first English settlers here was no open yard but an enclosure with distinctive architectural features. H D Love, in his Vestiges of Old Madras (1913), has it that the tombs ”occupied the floor of a long battlemented cloister. This had arches on each side, supported by pillars, which also carried a vaulted roof. The roof consisted of a series of domes, each dome rising from a square base of four columns, and terminating in a ball carrying ornamental iron work”. The last named has been described by Dr Fryer as a globe riveted by ”an iron wedge sprouting into a Branch”. All the monuments and funerary slabs were of Pallavaram gneiss, the local stone.

The Law College

The Law College

In 1680, when Streynsham Master was in charge of Madras, the burial ground was cordoned off from the rest of the guava garden by a wall. The garden itself was handed over for development and on it came up Garden and Merchant Streets, Merchant Lane and Back Lane, none of which survive now. Arriving in Madras in 1702, Charles Lockyer penned a detailed account of our city and in it also included a description of the burial place, which, according to him, was “adorn’d with many stately Tombs in honour of the Defunct. Some with lofty Spires carved into different Fancies, after the Indian manner; others in a lower Sphere gravely express the Merits of the Person for whose sake they were erected; and all in general have the most curious Workmanship in India bestow’d on them.” Lockyer also evidently attended a couple of burials there and recorded that “When a Person of Note dies, his Funeral is solemnised with the greatest Magnificence. The Governour, Council, and Gentlemen of the Town attend; nor are the fair Sex wanting in their Duty to their deceas’d Countryman.”

Even after the construction of St Mary’s, burials continued to happen at this designated place, outside the Fort. In 1711, John Legg, Member in Council and whose wife Hannah would be buried in the guava garden six years later, wrote that the place had some old toddy trees (probably palmyrah palms) which gave the Church an annual income of twenty pagodas. Even while that note was being written, the church wardens had begun to complain about the cemetery going to seed. Evidently nothing has changed in our city when it comes to use of public spaces. The toddy tappers worked whenever they felt like and the gates had to be kept open at all odd hours. The tombs had become stables for buffaloes and night shelters for beggars. To prevent ingress of cattle, a shed was built for them close by but within a few months the Company requisitioned that structure for shops and the buffaloes were back at the cemetery.

Worse was to follow in 1758 when the French besieged Madras. A detachment of their troops was stationed at the burial ground. A battery was erected behind the convenient shelter that the tombs provided and from this, and other locations, the bombardment of the Fort began. When the siege was lifted, a thorough study of the Fort’s security was made by John Call and in it he noted that the officers suffered “great Inconvenience from the Tombs at the burying Ground, which, being large arch’d Structures placed in a line, almost close to each other and opening into one another, not only protected the Enemy from our shot, but afforded them a cover equally safe against our Shells.” He requested that the Council “be pleas’d to give Orders for removing this Evil.”

Obelisk 3

His words bore fruit and the tombs and enclosure walls were levelled, even as the inscribed stones were transferred to the yard around St Mary’s Church in the Fort. Two monuments were left standing. One was the Yale Obelisk, a giant piece of masonry beneath which rest Elihu Yale’s son David, and Yale’s close friend Joseph Hynmer. Alongside was a circular vault enclosed with a railing and this contained the remains of six members of the Powney family. Today, the latter is untraceable, probably sacrificed in the interests of the Metrorail. Even by the early 1800s, all memory of the old burial ground had gone and people considered the Yale and Powney monuments to be isolated structures. It was only when excavations for the Law College began in the 1880s that quantities of bones were discovered, leading to renewed interest in the Guava Garden Cemetery.

The transfer of the stones took time, for Hyder Ali, while invading Madras in the 1780s, could still use them for mounting his guns. Several stones were thus damaged and many vanished and only a small selection made their way to the Fort. Joining them in the St Mary’s yard were stones from the old Capuchin church of St Andrew’s which had stood within the Fort and was demolished in 1749 after its priests were suspected of colluding with the French. Interestingly, there is a tomb with a Tamil inscription as well. This commemorates Thaniappa Mudaliar, alias Lazarus Timothy. A dubash of the French East India Company, he belonged to the parish of the Capuchin church and when he died in 1691, was buried there. We thus have a Tamil Catholic who worked for the French EIC, commemorated in the yard of the oldest Anglican church!

Elizabeth Baker's tombstone - the oldest British inscription in India

Elizabeth Baker’s tombstone – the oldest British inscription in India

Also of interest is the tombstone of Elizabeth Baker, wife of Aaron Baker who was Agent, and later first President of Madras in the 1650s. She died off the Cape of Good Hope in 1652 and her body was brought to Madras for burial. The tombstone has the distinction of being the oldest surviving British inscription in India. One multicoloured stone alone has been let into the north wall of the Church. This commemorates Agent Henry Greenhill, who died in 1658 under what can only be described as curious circumstances. He being “much Sweld, was perswaded per the Surgeons to bee tapt, to let out the Beaveridge, after which hee lived but two days.” Such being the mercenary temper of the times, the same note in the next sentence records that it is an ill wind that blew nobody any good, for his death meant that Thomas Chamber, who succeeded him, “will bee Exalted into a better Capacity of serving his friends.” Such is life.

Agent Greenhill's tombstone

Agent Greenhill’s tombstone

A full description of every tombstone in the yard (there are 104 of them) is to be found in J Cotton’s work, the Monuments of Madras. This in turn draws many references from two earlier works. The first is Urquhart’s Oriental Obituary, published in 1809 in Madras, which records many stones now missing. The second dates to 1880 and is an album prepared at the instance of the then Governor, the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, of the facsimiles of all the stones lining the yard of St Mary’s in the Fort.

This article is part of a series on Fort St George, to commemorate its 375th year. The earlier articles can be accessed from the links below:

1. The Fort, its topography
2. The Flagstaff
3. The Sea Gate
4. The Moat
5. The Cornwallis Cupola
6. The Assembly and Secretariat
7. The Parade Square
8. The Barracks
9. The Great House on Charles Street
10. Arthur Wellesley’s House
11. Charles (and James) Street
12. The Church of St Mary’s

Know Fort St George – 12, The Church of St Mary’s

October 16, 2015
St Mary's photographed in 1936, courtesy The Madras Chamber of Commerce and Industry Centenary Volume

St Mary’s photographed in 1936, courtesy The Madras Chamber of Commerce and Industry Centenary Volume

Walking back to Parade Square from Charles Street, we need to turn right to reach St Mary’s Church. Renowned as the oldest Anglican church built east of the Suez, it has a less publicised ­distinction. It is the only structure in the Fort to have a book ­written on it – The Church in the Fort, A History of St Mary’s was released in 1905. Based on the facts put together by the Rev. C.H. Malden, the then Garrison Chaplain, it was expanded upon by W.H. Warren and N. Barlow. New editions were published in 1967 and 1987, the latter, put together by Durai Singh and Helen Lakshmanan, being released to coincide with the tercentenary of the Church. A new print was issued in 2002, which, sadly, has many typographical ­errors. St Mary’s is among the best maintained buildings in the ‘Fort’. Indeed, it is more a precinct than a building, for its exterior, interior and yard, all warrant a detailed history.

The East India Company merchants were, for years, ambivalent about the necessity of a church within the Fort. Their principal fear was probably that a meddlesome parson would begin an investigation into their personal lives, none of which could stand up to the mildest scrutiny. They were, however, all for the Portuguese in residence practising their faith, which is why the first church to be built in the Fort was a Catholic one, St. Andrew’s which stood in Portuguese Square, the place occupied now by the hideous Namakkal Kavignar Maligai.
From 1644, however, appeals were made to the Company in London that a man of the cloth be sent to Madras. In 1654, the Fort acquired a Chaplain, the Rev Isaacson, who lasted a year. He and his successors found the going tough – moral standards were lax, there was plenty of drinking and gambling and much else happening within the precincts and, what was worse, several of the Company officers gave the Roman Catholic church more importance. As most of the offspring here were born to Portuguese mothers anyway, they were brought up in their maternal and not paternal faiths. The chaplains, not all of whom were paragons of virtue, sent back several reports to England and these began to have the desired effect. Agent Sir Edward Winter (1661-1665) constructed a small Anglican church within the Fort that soon became too cramped for comfort. The Company, for its part, shipped out Bibles and catechisms from England in 1677 with instructions that ­children living in the Fort be catechised every Sunday afternoon.

In 1676, Fort St George welcomed a new Second in Council – Streynsham Master. A year later, he became the Governor of the settlement. Among his first acts was the construction of a new church. What made it significant was this was to be funded entirely with local money – 38 residents of the Fort contributed 850 pagodas, the equivalent of £400. The foundation was dug on Lady Day (March 25) and an entry in the Company’s consultation books dated Easter Monday, April 1, 1678, recorded that the proposed Church would be 80 feet long, 50 feet broad and built with 3 ‘iles arched with brick and stone’. Edward Foule, the Master Gunner of the Fort, is traditionally said to be the architect. But as H D Love has pointed out in his Vestiges of Old Madras, this man was not a resident till 1684 and so the work was probably that of his predecessor, William Dixon.
The construction was completed early in 1680. Applications to the Bishop of London for permission to consecrate the building had been sent a year earlier and this came through by October 1680. On the 28th of the same month, the building duly became a church. Its name was a foregone conclusion – work having begun on Lady Day meant it would be St Mary’s. The Rev Richard Portman was the first Chaplain.

Tower and steeple, St Mary's in the Fort

Tower and steeple, St Mary’s in the Fort

Today, the Church is an impressive structure, complete with spire and yard but originally this was not so. When first completed, the building measured 86 feet by 56 feet, being a rectangular structure. The vestries, which make the eastern face curved, came up only in the 19th Century. The walls of the Church are among its most impressive features – being four feet thick, meant to withstand the impact of ‘bombs’ – the then cannons. Interestingly, the tower remained detached from the Church for quite some time, probably being joined only in 1760, when the two sets of curved staircases connecting the gallery inside were constructed. With the completion of this, the Church acquired its present length of 125 feet.

An article written for the Indian Science Congress Handbook of 1922 by the then Chaplain, the Rev C de la Bare, has further details on the Church. The roof, it notes, “is of the wagon or rounded shape, making it bomb proof. The reason for this lay in the fact that the builders intended their Church to be capable not only of withstanding violent storms, but also impregnable to enemy assault.” It is believed even now that the curved roof helped ensure that cannon balls aimed at the Church ricocheted off the building! In view of this feature, St Mary’s also served as a barrack and a granary during the French sieges of the 18th Century and during Hyder Ali’s attack of 1782. The building also makes minimal use of wood, in order to reduce the risk of fires.

The tower, constructed as an independent edifice, was built during the gubernatorial tenure of Sir John Goldsborough, in the 1690s. Sir John’s instructions were clear – a steeple, meaning a tower and spire, had to be built. Thomas Pitt’s map of Madras shows that these were completed by 1710. The spire, which saw service as a lookout post during the French siege of 1759, was demolished soon thereafter and rebuilt in 1795. There is an interesting story to the new steeple as well. Apparently, the Company was keen that it be used as a lighthouse for Madras! Governor Lord Hobart was all for it, but the Chaplains, of whom there were three by then, sternly opposed the move, reminding the Government that when the Church was consecrated by the Rev Portman, a solemn assurance had been given that it would be put to no secular use – the barrack and granary of less than a decade earlier had clearly been forgotten. The Government bowed to divine will and the lighthouse, the city’s first, came up on the Exchange Building, of which more later.

St Mary’s best years as a Church were clearly till it remained the Governor’s personal church. From the time of Master to the years of Edward, the second Lord Clive, there are several descriptions of grand processions for Sunday prayers. All that changed with the early 1800s when, with greater peace and prosperity, the English began moving out of the confines of the Fort, first to Broadway and later the Great Choultry Plain of Mount Road, Nungam­bakkam and Egmore. The Governor too had moved out, to his residence on Mount Road. Attendance at services began to fall, despite the age old caveat that anyone not attending ‘publike prayers morning and evening on ye weeke day (except a lawful occasion hinde­reth) shall pay four fanams to the poore, or stand six hours sentinel in armour for such default.’

The construction of St George’s Cathedral in 1815 meant St Mary’s was superseded. It remained a garrison church till 1947 and thereafter came under the Church of South India. It is today a national monument, “within the folds of the CSI”. Services continue to be held but with a small congregation in attendance.

This article is part of a series on Fort St George commemorating its completion of 375 years. The earlier parts are as follows:

1. The Fort, its topography
2. The Flagstaff
3. The Sea Gate
4. The Moat
5. The Cornwallis Cupola
6. The Assembly and Secretariat
7. The Parade Square
8. The Barracks
9. The Great House on Charles Street
10. Arthur Wellesley’s House
11. Charles (and James) Street

Hating heritage – with good reason for it

October 8, 2015

There are three reactions to heritage – some love it, and these are most often those who have no stake in it; the second variety is completely indifferent, this is largely the Government that sadly controls most of it; and some would rather wish it away, these are the private property owners who find themselves saddled with something they do not want and, more importantly, something they cannot profit from. Last month saw matters coming to a head at Pallavaram where residents protested against the heritage status that they feel has been imposed on their neighbourhood. A lot can be done by the Government to dispel any fears, but by keeping silent, it is only flaming discontent with heritage being the ultimate victim.

This matter in Pallavaram has been pending for over seven years now. It was in 2007 that plots of land were sold to people, all of them having purchased properties with the intention of developing them for residential purposes. The sale deeds were all registered as per due process. But when the purchasers began making plans to construct houses, they were asked to get No Objection Certificates (NOC) from the ‘appropriate authority’ which in this case is the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) as the land falls under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment and Validation) Act 2010.

The entire area, according to the ASI, is a centrally protected site, with ‘megalithic cairns and cists, showing clear structural postures’. However, as to what this actually implies has not been spelt out clearly by the ASI and the organisation has done precious little by way of actually protecting the place.
The owners on approaching the ASI were informed that the issue of NOCs could be considered only after the ASI conducted a joint survey of the area along with the revenue officials of the Kancheepuram District. A date was fixed for this in 2011 but matters made no headway as the residents, not understanding clearly as to what this implied, protested and prevented the survey from happening. Matters have been hanging fire since then and the residents approached the High Court of Madras, which in March this year ruled that it was necessary for the joint survey to be done. The Court directed the petitioners to file a request before the Collector of Kancheepuram who, on receipt of such a request, was to organise a meeting of the revenue officials and the ASI. This has not happened thus far.

It would appear that the Government is missing a golden opportunity to promote private participation in heritage. What is happening is that the owners are getting increasingly frustrated over the continued stonewalling. What is on the other hand required is a public meeting to be called so that the process of the joint survey and what it proposes to find can be explained to the stakeholders. This is to make the latter a part of the survey, which ought then to be undertaken without delay. The findings of this need to be published immediately thereafter.

What is likely to emerge from this is that not every property owner is sitting on a megalithic cairn or cist. Those that are not affected ought to be allowed to get on with their construction. The affected owners – whose interests need to be met with and their concerns assuaged – can either be offered land elsewhere or they can be permitted to construct on parts of their properties that do not have these remains. Lastly, the entire colony ought to be taught the importance of the pre-historic finds and how they need to be proud of what they possess. The residents can be made a part of a committee that administers these sites and helps promote tourism in the area. Revenues from such activities can be used for improving the locality and maintaining the relics.

All this calls for some enlightened thinking. Can we expect this from our Government – and citizens?


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