Victoria Hostel Road is not a very frequented thoroughfare, except when cricket matches are played at the Chepauk stadium. The road runs parallel to Buckingham Canal, connecting Bharati (Pycrofts) and Wallajah Roads. A serene tree-lined avenue, it is only marred by olfactory assaults, for being a secluded street it doubles up as a public convenience. The buildings on either side are few and far between. On the western side you have the Kasturba Gandhi (formerly Victoria Caste and Ghosha) Hospital and the Chepauk stadium. On the eastern side, it is one continuous compound wall, behind which is the rear of Presidency College.
In this compound is the Indo-Saracenic structure that gives this road its name. Victoria Hostel was built in 1880 by the great contractor-builder of Madras – Thatikonda Namberumal Chetty. The College of Engineering (later to become the College of Engineering, Guindy and still later Anna University) then functioned from the now gutted Khalas Mahal in Chepauk Palace, and the hostel was built for it. When the engineering college moved to Guindy, the building was made over to Presidency College. Though a grand edifice and listed by the High Court of Madras as a heritage structure, it is in very poor condition now.
Next to the hostel is a bungalow that was once the residence of the Principals of the College of Engineering. The Lodge, as it was known, was occupied between 1880 and 1907 by Col. Henry Davison Love of the Royal Engineers. Love, after graduating from the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich, came to Madras where he became Assistant Master at the College in 1876. Subsequently he worked in the Public Works Department, the railways and as under secretary to the Government before becoming acting principal of the College in 1879 and finally Principal in 1880.
While resident here, Love indulged in his passion for writing, his first work being a Manual of Hydraulics in 1886. He was also President of the Madras Club whose history he went on to write. He also left behind a detailed account of the works of art in the Government House (since demolished to make way for the new Assembly/now hospital) and the Banqueting (now Rajaji) Hall. After his retirement, Love returned to England and there embarked on his magnum opus – a history of Madras city. Drawing extensively from Government records in London and Madras and drafting in numerous collaborators, he published Vestiges of Old Madras in four volumes in 1913. It remains the most exhaustive work on the history of the city. First editions are very rare , but fortunately , a reprint was released a few years ago.
A free download is available from Google Books as well. Love died in 1924 aged 72, in Exeter, England.
The bungalow that housed arguably the best historian of the city and that should be venerated, is now not in great shape. It is however busy on many days as a locale for film shooting. Perhaps love stories?
Sriram V. is the convenor of INTACH, Chennai chapter