Saturday, August 6, 2016

History of the Fort of St. George

Fort of St. George

Madras – Creation of East India Company as Trading Centre

The city of Madras, for its importance and size is unusually missing in buildings of any antique; largely due to the unique settlement which was a creation of the East India Company was only a trading centre. During the early days of the 17th century, it was necessary to strengthen any overseas trading centre against the possibility of an attack.

 A grant had been obtained in 1639 from Damarla Venkatappa Nayaka, the local chief of Chandragiri on behalf of the Company, between the Cooum and the Bay of Bengal, a strip of land, as a site for a factory together with permission of building a fortification in order to safeguard it. The unusual settlement had been the nucleus of the prevailing Fort St. George.
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Fort St. George in 1820 by William Daniell

Group of buildings had been constructed within the Fort at various stages for different purposes with the growing needs of the East India Company. The building which presently houses the Legislative Assembly of Tamil Nadu is said to be the centre of Fort St. George and the Fort is the fulcrum wherein the metropolitan city of Madras is now known as Chennai that has developed to a great extent within the past three and a half centuries.

Fort St. George Completed by St. George Day – 23rd April 1640

The foundation of the city was laid back by Francis Day and Andrew Cogan, two traders of East India Company in July/August 1639. The most important section of it was possibly completed by the St. George Day which was on the 23rd April 1640 and so was named as Fort St. George. The other significant construction was the St. Mary’s Church in 1680 which was the first Anglican Church in the country.
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A view from the King's barracks, Fort St. George in 1807

Towards the beginning, the Fort is said to be a simple plan and at the centre there was the Governor’s house or the Castle. There had been an outer fortification. The English families had settled in the area between the castle and the outer fortification and the settlement flourished with native weavers, painters together with other workers of cloth the grew up to the north of the external ramparts.

The settlement eventually was named `Chennapatnam’ according to the wishes of the Nayaka who preferred to name the settlement after his father Chennappa Nayaka.
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Fort Square, from the south side of the Fort St. George in 1807

Fort St. George Developed as Trade Flourished

The first Fort House of the British was a large grey construction having various block columns placed in the centre of the enclosure on the east which functioned as a trading warehouse in the early part of the 17th century. Against the wishes of the East India Company, it is said that Fort St. George developed as the trade flourished.

 In 1693 the Fort House was finally pulled down when it indicated signs of collapse and was rebuilt further east which took around two years. Sections of the structure still tend to exist as the core of the current Secretariat building. With this structure, St. Mary’s Church established the title of the oldest building in Madras and the fort remained to be the commercial outpost with a restricted defense for more than a century till it was attacked in 1746 and seized by the French.
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St. Mary's Church in 1841

Towards 1710, the Fort had been occupied with proper houses most of which organised in neat streets to the north and south of the main building. In a siege in 1746, the French had destroyed a section of the Black Town and in 1758, during the unsuccessful siege of the French for a second time; several of the buildings had been extensively damaged with most of them losing their higher floors.

Fort Turned from Square to Pentagon Shape

St. Mary’s Church was the only structure which had survived. Frantic renovation and new construction had been carried out for two decades. The Barracks of the King had been the largest of all, spreading beyond 10,000 sq. metres. The Fort seems to be what it is presently in 1783 and the three storeyed structures accommodated the residence of the Governor in the uppermost floor having rooms for the Council in the lower area.

A detached gallery of rooms was constructed in 1714 which enclosed the central building into what was called the Fort Square. The Exchange building now known as the Fort Museum was constructed in 1790 and the Fort was now independent. The walls during this phase were also strengthened and the western area was totally changed.
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 In order to expand the western area, the course of the Flambore River had been averted by filling the riverbed and the fort had been turned from square into a pentagon shape. Thereafter a wet ditch or moat had been dug surrounding the main curtain wall and around each of the ravelins and lunettes.

No more additions were made till 1825, when wings seemed to appear on each side of the western area of the building overlooking the Parade Square at the back. A second floor over the wings and the magnificent Assembly Hall to the east with various black columns had been added in 1910 which enhanced its frontage. The lavishly decorated Assembly still continues to be operative effectively till date.

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