The more I put this column together, the more surprises there are. The latest one was an offer from London of the commemorative trowel that was used to lay the foundation stone of P.Orr & Sons’ ‘new workshop in Madras’ in 1893.

The offer was from Michael Backman Ltd. It’s an up-market firm of antique-dealers, but why it picked on someone like me, who can ill-afford the luxury of such artefacts, I have no idea, unless it was to provide me an item for this column and a wider exposure for the item on offer.

Where Backman’s of London got the trowel from, I am not told, but the information Backman’s has provided offers me two or three new insights into that workshop building due to fall to the Metro Rail’s hammers before long.

Apparently, the trowel was used by Mrs. Emery on July 6, 1893, to lay the foundation stone of that building. News to me was the fact that Robert Orr, founder Peter Orr’s son, took a partner and his name was Fred Emery.

It was his wife who wielded the trowel. Also the date for the foundation stone-laying ceremony was said to have been chosen because it was the day on which Prince George, the Duke of York (later King George V) married Princess May of Teck (later Queen Mary) in London. And the third bit of information was that the firm became more widely known when the Gaekwad of Baroda, the Maharajah of Cochin and the Maharajah of Holkar (Indore) ordered various gifts from it to present to the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) during his visit to Madras in December 1875.

The 26-cm-long trowel comprises a silver-plated, clover leaf-shaped, flat blade with a pointed peak and a handle of turned ivory.

On the blade is beautifully inscribed the commemorative message embellished with much decoration.

Any buyers? Metro Rail?

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