As Delhi gets into its stride celebrating its Centenary as the eighth capital of India and as the work of Lutyens and Baker is re-examined in the context of whether buildings raised with an imperial vision in mind are still valid today in one of the world's largest democratic republics, that Lutyens had a Madras connection is a thought that struck me one recent Sunday morning during a heritage walk around the Madras Club. It is indeed a little-known connection that, at the end of the walk, made me wonder whether it was a connection that was really necessary.
As the Great War drew to a close towards the end of 1917, the Madras Club, then located where Express Avenue now is and at the time an all-British Club of Anglo-Celts, remembered that several of its members had paid the great price during the War and needed to be remembered. It was decided that a handsome plaque would be made and mounted in a prominent position in the Club. At the time, Edward Lutyens was busy designing and supervising the handsome buildings of New Delhi. Seeking inspiration for the design of these buildings he had visited several cities in India, including Madras with its famed Indo-Saracenic architecture. Madras was also where his sister often visited for long stays; she was an ardent Theosophist. One of the buildings he would have seen in Madras was the first home of the Madras Club — that was pulled down to make way for Express Avenue. One of the handsomest Classical style buildings in the City, it owed much of its design to Robert Chisholm. Given the shortage of good hotel accommodation in the City at the time, Lutyens may even have stayed in the Club's Chambers.
Whatever his travels in Madras, one thing appears clear and that is that he was known to Members of the Club. And, so, when the memorial plaque was agreed on, the designer the Club — priding itself as ‘The Ace of Clubs' and wanting only the best — approached was Lutyens. The renowned architect accepted this minor commission — and promptly forgot about it. Several reminders later, he wrote to the Club towards the end of 1922 that he had lost his original drawings but would do them again.
It was to be six months later that he sent the Club drawings for the plaque and got its approval. He then placed an order with E.P. Broadbent of London in June 1923 to do the modelling and with M/s. H.J. Jenkins & Sons Ltd of Torquay to do the work in marble. The memorial tablet eventually arrived in Madras in January 1924. The modelling had cost £75, the tablet and shipping charges £215, and Lutyens' professional charges were £30. In May 1924, Fenn & Co. of Madras erected the tablet in the Club's handsome Reading Room. What is inexplicable is why Fenn & Co. was not selected for this work in the first place; it is, after all, a simple, tall, vertical tablet with rounded tops and those remembered engraved on it below an engraved cross.
When the Club moved in 1948 from what was to become Express Estate into a new building it built in what was called Branson Bagh on Mount Road — where the Sapphire Theatre and Khivraj Motors later came up — the memorial tablet moved with it and found a new wall to embellish. It moved again when the Club moved to its present location in Adyar in 1963 — till then the Adyar Club's home. During that move, however, the tablet got misplaced — and it was only a few years ago that it was found in a Club godown rather badly cracked in two. Rescued from what could have become its last resting place, it was handsomely restored and mounted on another wall, this one the river-facing wall of the Club's residential chambers. It must be one of the few commemorative plaques in the city (Miscellany, February 13) that is rather well looked after still.