Madras, for a city of its size and importance, is singularly lacking in buildings of any antiquity, mainly because the original settlement was a creation of East India Company purely as a trading centre.
In the early part of the 17th century, it was essential for any overseas trading centre to be fortified against the possibility of an attack. In 1639 a grant was obtained from Damarla Venkatappa Nayaka, the local chief of Chandragiri on behalf of the Company, a strip of land, between the Cooum and the Bay of Bengal, as a site for a factory, and permission to build a fortification to protect it. The original settlement was the nucleus of the present Fort St. George. A group of buildings were built within the Fort at different times for different purposes with the increasing needs of the East India Company.
1. THE FORT HOUSE
The building now housing the Legislative Assembly of Tamil Nadu is the focus of Fort St. George and the Fort is the fulcrum around which the metropolitan city of Madras, now known as Chennai, grew in the past three and a half centuries. The foundation for this vibrant city was laid way back in July/August 1639, by Francis Day and Andrew Cogan, two traders of East India Company. A major portion of it was probably completed by the St. George's Day i.e., 23rd April, 1640, and hence named as Fort St. George. The other important construction in 1680 was the St. Mary's Church, the first Anglican Church in the country.
In the beginning the Fort had a simple plan. At the centre, was the Governor's house or the "Castle". There was an outer fortification. The English families settled in the space between the castle and the outer fortification. Soon a flourishing settlement of native weavers, painters and other workers of cloth grew up to the north of the outer fortification. This settlement possibly got the name "Chennapatnam" as per the wishes of the Nayaka who desired to name the settlement after his father Chennappa Nayaka.
A large grey structure with numerous block columns located in the centre of the enclosure towards the east, was in fact the first Fort House of the British. The Fort House began to function as a trading warehouse in the early part of the 17th century. Much against the wishes of the East India Company, Fort St. George grew as the trade grew. The Fort House was eventually pulled down in 1693 when it showed signs of collapse and rebuilt further east which took two years. Part of the structure still exists today as the core of the present Secretariat building. By this reconstruction St. Mary's Church acquired the title of the oldest building in Madras. The fort remained as a commercial outpost with a limited defense for over a century until it was attacked and captured by the French in 1746. By 1710, the Fort had filled up with proper houses, all of them organised in neat streets to the north and south of the main building.
In 1746, in a siege, the French destroyed a part of the Black Town. During the unsuccessful siege of the French, for the second time, in 1758, many buildings were considerably damaged and most of them lost their upper floors. The St. Mary's Church was the only one that survived.
Hectic reconstruction and new constructions followed for two decades. The King's Barracks was the biggest of them all spreading over 10,000 sq.meters. By 1783, the Fort was very much as it is today. The three-storied structure, housed the Governor's residence in the uppermost floor, with rooms for the Council in the lower ones. In 1714 a detached gallery of rooms was constructed, enclosing the central building into what was known as the Fort Square. In 1790 the Exchange building, now called the Fort Museum, was constructed. The Fort was now self-sufficient. During this phase, the walls too were strengthened. The western front was completely altered. To extend the western side, the course of the Elambore River was diverted by filling the riverbed and the fort turned from square into pentagon shape. A wet ditch or moat was then dug around the main curtain wall and around each of the ravelins and lunettes.
However no further additions were made until 1825, when wings appeared on either side of the western portion of the building overlooking the Parade Square behind. In 1910 a second floor over the wings and the magnificent Assembly Hall to the east with numerous black columns were added enhancing its facade. This ornately decorated Assembly Hall continues to function effectively to this day.
Until the late 19th century, the sea line was very close to the eastern wall. Goods were embarked on the short stretch of sand before the Sea Gate in the centre of the fortification on this side. When the sea began to recede with the building of the harbour in the late 19th century, a road was formed in front of the Fort. The old Sea Gate, whose iron-studded doors had remained closed for a long time, was considered too small and was substituted by two newer ones on either side called the North and South Sea Gates in 1930. The unused small centre gate was sealed with bricks in 1942, for fear of invasion by the Japanese.
2. St. MARY'S CHURCH
The foundation stone to construct the St. Mary's Church in the Fort was laid on Lady's Day, 1678. Streynsham Master, the Governor of Fort St. George, got the St. Mary's Church designed and built by Edward Fowle, the Master Gunner of the Fort. In those days the gunners were also engineers. St. Mary's Church took two years to complete and was duly consecrated on the Lady Day on the 28th October, 1680. It is the oldest Anglican Church in India. It remains to this day much the same, except for the spire and the tower subsequently added in the place of the old ones. It has full of mementos of men who have helped to make Madras history; its narrow yard is literally paved with tomb-stones of various ages and containing inscriptions in several languages.
The Church records and registers date from the consecration in 1680 and form a complete record of the Church with the exception of three years 1746-49, during which period Madras was in possession of the French. The first marriage entry is that of Elihu Yale, after whom the Yale University of America is named, to Catherine Himmers on November 4th, 1680. Another noteworthy marriage entry is that of the famous Robert Clive with Margaret Maskelyne, on February 18th, 1753.
3. FORT RESIDENCES
There were many residences within the Fort for staff of the Company and other foreigners such as the Armenians and Portuguese. Composed of several blocks of houses built shoulder to shoulder, those on the northern side were generally of private ownership while those on the south belonged to the Company. The oldest are those located on St. Thomas Street nicknamed as Snob's Alley, to the south of the Secretariat, in which the Colonels, Majors ankd Members of the Council once lived. Another single residence is to the north of the Secretariat, called as the Fort House, and should not be confused with the first building within the Fort that also bore the same name.
4. CLIVE'S HOUSE
Clive house, also known as Admiralty House, in the southwestern corner of the Fort was once occupied by Robert Clive, probably in 1753, for nearly a year. The Second Lord Clive used it as his residence.
The Company, having obtained a charter from King Charles authorising the erection of Courts to deal with interlopers, established the Court of Admiralty in 1686 with Sir John Briggs as Judge-Advocate. Since then it was called as the Admiralty House. Later on, the Admiralty House became the Governor's town residence and in Lord Clive's time (Edward Lord Clive, Governor of Madras 1799-1803) was used for the celebration of State functions, until the present Banqueting Hall was erected. Currently this building is being occupied by the office of Archaeological Survey of India.
5. THE GRAND ARSENAL
The Grand Arsenal, at the southwestern corner of the Fort, was constructed in 1772 to store ammunition. This was built by John Sullivan, designed by Co. Patrick Ross. The rear of the building is used by the Military Engineering Services, the front continues to serve as the supply depot.
6. KING'S BARRACKS
The King's Barracks in the northwestern corner is the single largest building with the Fort, enclosing 10,225 sq.m. built in 1756 and extended in 1762. This was used to accommodate the King's Regiment and remained as the home for the British Battalion for nearly two centuries. Currently, the army canteen and cafeteria occupy the building.
7. THE EXCHANGE HOUSE
The Fort Museum was built in 1790 as a Public Exchange by Free Merchants, who engaged in private trade that took place in addition to that carried out by the Company. The building was converted into the Officer's Mess in 1861, becoming the Fort Museum later in 1948. The roof of the building was also the site of the first Lighthouse of the city constructed in 1796, and remained so until 1841.
During the days of the Exchange the rooms would have been filed with ship captains and their officers, merchants and their clerks, brokers, dubashes (or middle men) and numerous employees engaged in exposing merchandise for sale.
On the northern side of the entrance there is a room which probably was the Bank, known by different names in different times. This is the ancestor of the Madras Bank, which later with the Bombay and Bengal banks formed the Imperial Bank of India.
Since 1862, every second or third year a new British Battalion arrived in Madras to be stationed in the Fort, and this building was converted into Officers' Mess. Wellington was often in this room but Clive was not, since he had retired to England before it was built.
From the 1st February 1948, this is the seat of the Fort Museum.
Courtesy: Madras The Architectural Heritages - by K. Kalpana and