Friday, February 4, 2011


Hi Friends,

This article of mine on a brief history of North Madras was published in today's issue of Times Property Supplement brought out by the Times of India, Chennai.

North Madras is every historian’s delight. KARTHIK A BHATT takes us back in time, as he traces the birth of the oldest part of Chennai, from where the rest of the city, as we know it today, expanded ...

The seeds for the formation of what we today know as North Madras were sown with the founding of Fort St George by the East India Company in 1639. A native town cropped up just outside the Fort and it came to be known as the Black Town, as the former being a European preserve was referred to as White Town. Black Town comprised people of various backgrounds, with Telugu being the predominant language.

Large parts of Black Town were demolished by the French during their stay between 1746 and 1749 and later, after the Siege of Madras in 1759, the British razed what was left, and created an open space to provide a clear line of fire when needed. Thus came into being the Esplanade as we know it today. Boundary pillars were marked for the purpose and one such pillar exists even today at Parry's Corner. Parry's Corner is a landmark as the oldest business establishment in South India; Parrys has been here since 1798. Black Town was renamed George Town in 1911 to commemorate an earlier visit of King George V as Prince of Wales to the city.

George Town is a thriving business district, thanks to a variety of business establishments, many of which are more than a century old. It is a confluence of various communities, including Marwaris and Gujaratis, and hence, it is a cultural delight. Many historic temples, churches and mosques dot the place as do eateries representing regional cuisines.

Broadway, one of George Town's main roads was created by Stephen Popham, who in the 1780s, levelled the drain lying between the two main parts of Town - Peddanaickenpet and Muthialpet. What was Attapallam, the ditch, became a thoroughfare known as Popham's Broadway.

In time, the Company took over more villages and those acquired further north included Tiruvottiyur in 1708, Tondiarpet in 1720 and Perambur in 1742. Close to the sea is Royapuram, at first a fishing hamlet owing its name to its guardian saint, St Peter, who is known as Rayappar in Tamil. Once the hub of the Parsi community in Madras, it is home to the famous Parsi Fire Temple which recently completed its centenary. Royapuram also has the distinction of possessing the oldest Railway Station in South India, declared open in 1856.

In short, North Madras can lay claim to being the womb from which the city we know today as Chennai, has developed.

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