Travel to Peninsular India: Chennai / Madras 2: British Public Buildings
"The city presents a disappointing appearance, and possesses not a single handsome street.... The site is so low that it is difficult to realize that behind the first line of buildings lies one of the largest cities in Asia." That's the verdict of Maclean's Manual (1885). Even in his day, however, there were plenty of buildings with pretensions to grandeur--and a couple that achieved it. Thank Lord Napier of Magdala and his architect, Robert Fellowes Chisholm. Together they blended local and Western ideas into an Indo-Islamic style far from the classicism of Calcutta or the Gothic delights of Bombay.
Fort St. George, founded in 1639, was a true and necessary fortress. Here, the east side, facing the sea.
Behind the walls there is still a military and government community.
Inside is also the secretariat.
Close by, there's this rather mysterious because empty canopy. Once, however, it held a statue of Cornwallis.
The statue has been moved to a museum, where it remains larger than life and with an appropriate residue of arrogance. The arm dangles lifelessly, but the posture and demeanor are those of someone accustomed to command.
A more recent and not quite so celestial ruler: Lord Willingdon, a governor of Madras and, about 1930, viceroy of India.
Outside the fort, and on an island in the murky Cooum River, there stands a statue of one of the real giants of imperial administration. Thomas Munro instituted direct property tax collection on cultivators in much of South India--and in the process released them from something akin to slavery. He himself died while on tour in that countryside.
Different angle, for the inscription.
Stacked awkwardly, the Old Government House, which still houses government offices.
Adjoining it, Rajaji Hall, formerly the Banqueting Hall, opened in 1802 to commemorate Clive's victory at Seringapatnam (1799), where Tipu Sultan was killed. The color is presumably a recent selection, made without consulting Martha Stewart. The wrap-around arcade is a later addition, too, and it nearly succeeds in hiding the Parthenon-lookalike behind it.
Until 1894, there was a light atop the column.
At the base of the lighthouse tower.
Nearby: this triumph. It's part of the High Court building, which was opened in 1892 and designed in part by J.W. Brassington and Henry Irwin. (Irwin was the same engineer who had a major hand in Viceregal Lodge in Simla.) It's positively spooky on a weekend day, when the deserted building is as good as open to the public.
See anybody around? Not a soul, save the learned judges on the walls.
The outside. The lighthouse shown previously was replaced by a tower on this building. The new light served until very recently, when a third tower was built a mile to the southeast and immediately on the beach.
Reminiscent of the High Court: the University of Madras Senate House, opened in 1879 to a design by Robert Fellowes Chisholm.
It was built in 1879 and looks pretty good, even though it hasn't had much maintenance.
The real dereliction only appears when you poke your head through a broken window and look inside.
Bundles of dusty papers, the curse of Indian bureaucracy.
Several notches down the grandeur scale: the Post and Telegraph Office.
Another clodhopper: the city hall, known as the Ripon Building for the viceroy of the time. Ripon believed that self-government wasn't a bad thing, and there was little mourning among the British when he left India. Kipling in particular wrote some unkind words.
Better! The engineers of the public works departments of India usually built with solidity in mind, not grace. Here's an exception: a floral display in ironwork over the printing office.
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