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Unearthed plaque that could save P. Orr & Sons

Special Correspondent
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Proves building is over 100 years old

Clinching evidence?The foundation stone was laid on July 6, 1893.
Clinching evidence?The foundation stone was laid on July 6, 1893.

A dramatic find on Wednesday evening could turn out as the conclusive proof that could save the 120-year-old P. Orr & Sons buildings from demolition. The foundation stone, with an inscription detailing the date of construction, disproves the claim of Chennai Metro Rail Limited (CMRL) and Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) that only a portion of the building is a heritage structure and the rest are not. What the new evidence establishes is that the entire building was completed in the later half the 19th century and that only twenty years separate the front and rear side.

The foundation stone, located at the portion earmarked for demolition, establishes three dates beyond doubt. First, that P. Orr & Sons was established in 1849 in Chennai. Two, the firm moved into the current premises in 1873. The third point is that the building was expanded and workshops were enlarged in 1893. To be precise, the foundation stone was laid on July 6, 1893. The date is special: the foundation stone fondly recalls that Prince George, Duke of York, who later became King George V, and Princess May of Teck, who later became Queen Mary, were married on that date.

“The road levels around the building were raised over the years and they had partially hidden the foundation stone. Though it was partially visible, it was only last evening when we dug around the stone that its important content was revealed,” explained Manickam Ramaswamy, chairman and managing director, P. Orr & Sons.

So far, the CMRL had argued that only a part of the P. Orr and Sons building fronting Anna Salai and measuring about 4000 sq. ft alone was a heritage building and the remaining portion behind, measuring about 15,000 sq. ft, was not. Since it was added relatively recently, it could be demolished, it claimed. This was also attested by the CMDA. However, heritage experts drawing from various sources disputed this claim and opposed it.

The new evidence appears to prove that the entire building is more than 100 years old — one of the benchmarks that is normally used to designate a heritage building. The CMRL decision to demolish bulk of the P. Orr & Sons building was challenged in the court by INTACH, Chennai chapter, and the judgment is awaited.

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