Presidency College of Chennai - a heritage structure that needs regular upkeep!

Chennai Presidency College

Chennai Presidency College with Fyson clock.

Above images: The presidency college, Chennai; the central dome with Fyson clock with four dials facing the cardinal directions was a new addition. It was installed on the new dome that had  replaced Chisholm's  original dome as part of the Centenary celebrations. 

Chennai Presidency College opened in 1872

Above image: The old image of presidency college with central tower and no dome which was a later addition..................... 

Presidency College, initially established on  16 October 1840, in Madras - Chennai as  the Madras Preparatory School in Egmore (functioned in D’Monte House), shifted to Popham's Broadway in April 1841) was upgraded into  degree granting college in 1857 when Madras university was formed.  Lord Elphinstone, the then Governor of Madras, proposed in 1839 that “it is expedient that a Central Collegiate Institution or University should be established at Madras.” One of the oldest institutions in India, it was one of the two Presidency Colleges established by the British in India, the other one is in Kolkata. In 1870, the college moved into the present location. Earlier, in 1853 the collegiate education was formally introduced  with just 31 students. The response from parents gradually increased over a period and because of additional space the college was shifted to the present location in 1872.   

Chennai Presidency College

Above image: The statue of Eyre Burton Powell, first principal of the college. Educated at Cambridge he was the first HM of the high school that was upgraded in 1855 to collegiate status and was named   Presidency College. 

Chennai Presidency College

C.V. Raman and Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar  are famous alumni of this college; the other one being S.R. Srinivasa Varadhan who had received the Abel Prize (said to be equal to  that of  the Nobel in mathematics. ‘Tamil thatha’ U. Ve. Swaminatha Iyer, whose statue is in the front east part was a Tamil teacher  here  campus, taught here from 1903 to 1919. The college has 26 department and has a strength of 5000 student. It is one of the few colleges to have two separate  undergraduate courses  for hearing and speech impaired students. Though there are more than 100 endowments none is properly utilized by the college. 

Facing the beach on the Marina  its foundation was laid by Lord Napier, Governor of the Madras Presidency. The architect was Robert Chisholm whom Gov. Napier  had appointed as the consultant architect to the government. He was the one who designed the famous Madras University Senate House  on the same Marina beach road  on the land  once owned by the Nawab of Arcot. The work began in 1867 and completed in 1870.  It was opened by  the Duke of Edinburgh - Prince Alfred, Queen Victoria's second son.

First  colonial  building to use local construction materials with minimum stucco work, the architect chose locally available or mined hard rocks such as  grey granite, and and gneissic rocks available in St. Thomas Mount. The black limestone  well-fired red-bricks procured from near-by place. For the interior portions of the building and wall plastering work - high quality well-ground lime - Chunam was used as it was well suited for rich ornamentation work. As for capital and bases the terracotta work was taken care of by the  local School of Arts.

A self-contained college  provided with spacious well-ventilated  lecture halls, staff rooms, spacious library, reading room exam halls, etc.  It covered   28,000 square feet built-up area then. The cost was around  £30,000. Chisholm  gently blended  Italianate and Saracenic styles and not purely Indo-Saracenic design which he used on many public  building built  in the later years in Chennai and Baroda (Vadadora), Gujarat. The tall central dome was a later addition  

In the name of beautifying the Marina -Kamarajar Salai, the city corporation in 2018  razed some of the front parts of the heritage structure including  a 200-year-old wall of handcrafted granite with iron along Presidency college's east sea- facing front. It dates back to 1800, built 50 years later after Chepauk palace work was completed. The students and heritage lovers were furious over the way the demolition was done. Done in a haphazard way it  uprooted the pillars and grills that were dumped  as trash. Scientific restoration requires that the pillars and grills need to be numbered properly. The corporation also removed the compound wall of lady Wellington  college without any second thought and proper plan. The city's demolition stalled  when they tried to remove 150 year old wall of Madras university and the  Syndicate did not budge and raised strong objection to it.

According to the Principal of Presidency College, Pramananda Perumal several parts of the heritage structure need urgent restoration work considering the age of the building and other factors like weather.  A revised estimate  of about Rs3.2 crore was submitted by the Public Works Department to carry on proper restoration. The main focus was to restore the old structure and safeguard the heritage elements in the college.  A new  building on the campus is coming up at cost of Rs10 crore, The government allocated Rs.26 core to restore the heritage building on the Queen Mary's college campus and the Victoria hostel of the Presidency college. The latter never saw any maintenance work for decades.