Victoria public Hall - colonial Madras

The Victoria Public Hall(1890), Chennai /

The erstwhile  coastal city of Madras  (now Chennai)  was founded by the British who first  built Ft. St. George in 1644  to carry on their trading activities and  to safeguard  their trading facilities. With their expansion over a long period of time and their monopoly having been  well established, Madras remained a major power center in Southern India and provided impetus for further settlements and trading activities. On account of their sustained growth and expansion, there came up a number of buildings for administration, education,  judiciary,  postal services, railways, social activities, etc. These  colonial buildings  of Chennai have become heritage sites and the local government already started taking initiative to preserve them for  our progeny.

Victoria Hall, Madras -  old hoto The Pratibha's Blog -
The Victoria Public Hall, Park Town, Chennai  also  known as 'Town Hall',  was constructed in 1889 to commemorate the golden jubilee of the British Empress Queen Victoria. The construction work lasted  for five years  and the architect of this building is Robert Fellowes Chisholm. During  the  heyday  of the colonial rule, it  had served as a theater and public assembly  hall in the late 19th  and early 20th centuries. The unique feature of this building is its Italianate tower capped by a Kerala style  roof.

The Victoria Public Hall building,  next to Central Railway Station, was not well maintained partly due to negligence and  in the recent past, the government took steps and  restored  this great heritage building back to  its old charm and glory.

In the colonial time as there was a need for a public town hall to conduct public meeting, functions, etc., a decision had been taken to build a town hall by some  prominent citizen at a meeting held in March 1882 at the Pachaiyappa's Hall in George Town. This resulted in the formation of a trust with 12 members followed by initial mobilizations of funds to the tune of Rs. 16,425.00  from around 30 persons who attended the meeting. The municipal corporation leased a 57 ground (3.14 acres) site in the People's Park to the Victoria Public Hall Trust for 99 years  with effect  from 1 April 1886  for a rent of eight annas a ground or Rs. 28.00 for the property. On 17 December 1883, the then Maharajah of Vizianagaram, Sir Pusapati Ananda Gajapati Raju, laid the foundation stone for the new building; his contribution being more than Rs.10,000.00 and there were 35 donors for the construction work with a contribution of ₹ 10,000. The Travancore Maharajah (Rs. 8,000), Mysore Maharajah, Pudukottai Rajah and former Madras High Court Judge Muthuswamy Iyer (all Rs.1,000 each).  Ramnad Raja Bhaskara Setupati, Zamindar of Ettiapuram, et al gave donation for this project..

Victoria Hall,
Built in  Indo-Saracenic-Romanesque  style chosen by architect Robert  Fellowes Chisholm (1840-1915), the construction work was done  by contractor  Namperumal Chetty between 1888 and 1890. There is a confusion regarding who  declared open the building. It is believed that  it  was opened to public by Lord Connemara in 1887, but other sources believe that  Sir Mountstuart Elphinstone Grant Duff, the governor of Madras during 1886-1890, declared open the hall. At a  citizen's meeting in  January 1888, a unanimous decision was taken to name the hall after  Queen Victoria and the then President of the  Municipal Corporation Sir A.T. Arundale  got into action.
Victori Hall (1890), Chennai/
The hall and its portal witnessed the visits of people of eminence like  Mahatma Gandhi, Swami Vivekananda, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Subramaniya Bharathi,Sardar Vallabhai Patel, et al. They made fiery speeches here during India's freedom struggle. Other facts that worth mentioning is the staging of dramas by  the pioneers of Tamil play, such as Sankaradoss Swamigal and Pammal Sambanda Mudaliar.

 With the advent of  cinema and innumerable movie theaters  coupled by the expiry of land lease period in 1965, the corporation did not want to extend the lease. In October 1967,  the then Chief Minister C.N. Annadurai dedicated it for public use. Through the interference of some public figures and courts,  a posh hotel and numerous shops along with illegal encroachments and  illegal occupations  were removed  with iron hand for good by 2010.

 The Victoria Public Hall was  thrown open to the public in the middle of July 2011 after major restoration work  done at a cost of Rs.3.96 crore under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission.

The project  to restore the nearly 110-year-old building to its original  charm  was taken up with meticulous planning and  discussion not to disturb its heritage elements. The ground floor, has a built-up area of 13,342 sq.ft and the  first floor with 12, 541 sq.ft. The seating capacity of the hall on the ground and first floor is 600 each. The second floor can be accessed through three wooden stair cases and the balcony and four turrets by the fourth one. There are arcaded verandahs along the northern and southern sides in the hall with   Corinthian stone columns, The  square tower is three stories  high, with a carved pyramidal roof. Also present is  an intricately carved terracotta cornice  that  resembles Islamic calligraphy, atop the tower.  

In the future  cultural shows would be conducted and to attract more tourists, a light and  sound show would come up soon to bring out the beauty of colonial Madras alive. The restoration work was  done  under the periodical review by the Archaeological Survey of India, Anna University and Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, a voluntary organization. Restoration work does not show any  loss of  heritage value because of careful execution