The Madras High Court Colonial building, second largest court complex in the world

 Madras High court bidg. Chennai.

Madras  high court bldg.

Cental dome. Madras  high court bldg.

When the colonial administration switched over to the direct British Crown administration after 1858  two fields were given due importance  to serve the people -  one higher education, many universities started coming up. The other field being  Court of justice. 

Madras High Court, Chennai.  Getty

Madras High court, Chennai.

 Based on on  letters patent granted by Queen Victoria, dated 26 June 1862, the Madras High Court  was  one of three high courts of colonial India (the third oldest) established in the capital towns  of the  three Presidency of Madras, Bombay and Calcutta. The British Queen  issued letters patent under the authority of the British parliament's Indian High Courts Act 1861. 

The Court in Chennai (Madras)  had original jurisdiction over the city of Chennai, as well as extraordinary original jurisdiction, civil and criminal, under the letters patent and special original jurisdiction for the issue of writs under the Constitution of India. Presently, it has appellate jurisdiction over the state of Tamil Nadu and the union territory of Puducherry. 

In consideration of future growth and development of the presidency the colonial government  had a big court complex built on a vast land of  107 acres in a prime area in the south end of George Town closer to the sea and it was inaugurated on July 12 1892. Construction work began in October 1888.  

Prior to that From 1817 to 1862, the Supreme Court of Madras was housed across  the Chennai Beach railway station in the same complex the Madras high Court was also functioning from  1862 to 1892 till a new sprawling building with excellent facilities came up in the same year after the merger of the Supreme Court of Madras with the High Court.  The court complex has Small cases Court and City's Civil courts as well and later they were shifted to different buildings. 

Madra High court, venkatarangan, 

.Court room madras High court, Chennai.

This post is mainly on the architecture of the  amazing building. The mammoth building, a fine example of Indo-Saracenic styles with onion domes, arches and chhatris like elements, was designed initially by British architect  J. W. Brassington, consultant architect to the government and later under the guidance of architect Henry Irwin. The latter completed the work with help from American Architect J. H. Stephens. Henry Irwin (January 1841- 5 August 1922) successfully completed many important projects and mention may be made of the Mysore palace, American College Madurai, Law College, Chennai, Egmore railway Station, etc. 

When the high Court building completed the cost was high - a whooping sum  Rs. 12,98,163 far above the estimated cost of Rs.9450000. Part of the reason was the building in many places is ornate and the local school of arts  came up with suitable decorative works in the fa├žade and other places to make the structure stand apart befitting the purpose for which it was built - highest court of judicature in the Presidency. 

Particularly the main building is impressive  with exposed brick work. arcaded corridor, fine large  masonry domes, large windows for better ventilation, polished entrances doors, stone detailing in the-in-fills . stone parapet and rails  and spacious court rooms. The  trabeate architecture has limited space in the structure . With respect to spacious corridor, traditional Indian treabeated system as one finds in temples - prakara is not followed here. 

According to conservation architect Ms. Kalpana  many any doors,  have two parts, the inside is made of glass, and the outer doors are louvers, so that the entry of light can be adjusted  and so is the flow of air inside the building. Many colonial buildings including some in Thanjavur - the old District Court, Tahsildar and Indo-Saracenic  Collectorate buildings with high ceiling, on the Kutchery Road  have tall louver doors and  it will keep the interior cool during hot summer season.  

 The spacious  court rooms in the Madras high court  building are designed  as to  highlight  spatial constraints and symmetry. There are different  attractive stairways including spiral ones with detailed decorations to reach the upper level and they are set in accessible places. 

As to the wooden furnishings in the court halls and chambers, despite the age,  they are in good shape. The wooden chairs, tables wooded panels on the walls, etc., are  all well  embellished with special care. Other attractions are painted ceilings and stained glass windows.    

As for the construction materials, most of them  were sourced locally but for the cast iron steel girders and some ornamental tiles. Brick and terracotta were brought from government brickyards. Well-trained artisans were employed for various decorative works.  The High Court complex  now with  75 judges and a chief justice has 12, initially had 11 large court rooms. Since early colonial time the corridors of the  court  building would have heard  countless people talk about their litigation, landmark judgement, remarkable arguments, dissent of judgment jubilation over legal victory and above all hefty legal fees that went to the wallet of the legal advisor.

Madras High court lighthouse, spiral stairway.

In terms of its size and scale it is one of the very few top colonial buildings in India  with a blend of Indo-European elements to suit our land.  what is interesting is though structurally and aesthetically it was designed with eye-catching decorative features, no compromise was made on its utility, functional aspect and durability. An old  light  house  with 142-feet-high main tower of the building, raising to 175 feet is part of the court complex.  In the 1950 I used to go to the top of the balcony on the light house along with my dad to have a nice view of Madras. The spiral stairway up to the main tower building was in good shape. Now fallen into disuse, the  stairway, etc. are being poorly maintained.   A few years ago  it was reported that the beautiful spiral stairway inside the lighthouse, taking the visitors to the top balcony, was in poor state, dusty and filled with bird's droppings. Wooden planks and iron railings at upper levels were damaged, but not beyond redemption. Since 1970 public has not been allowed to climb the light house. The colonial high court light house building must be  brought back to old glory. 

The  remarkable court complex, an important land mark in Chennai and  one of the largest in the world is  second only to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.