Celebrating Madras week

North Chennai: a bustling locality that’s a heritage trove

A view of the Monegar Choultry building, established in 1782.

A view of the Monegar Choultry building, established in 1782.   | Photo Credit: B. Jothi Ramalingam

The largely unexplored commercial hub of the city is where its roots lie and is home to many places of great historical significance

North Chennai. For most residents of the city, mere mention of the locality throws up a picture of a thickly populated and congested commercial area dotted with wholesalers selling anything from flowers to hardware items, as well as one where crime abounds.

North Chennai does have its fair share of wholesale shops. It is congested too. But it remains largely unexplored. For those who care to wander about, this locality, where the city’s roots lie, has many places of historical importance hidden beneath the hustle and bustle.

Monegar Choultry

Riding on the Monegar Choultry Road, it is easy to miss the old building on the side of the road.

A board on the wall reads Monegar Choultry, established in 1782. In contrast to the concrete growth outside, the choultry premises is full of greenery.

A total of 51 senior citizens are housed in its verdant surroundings. The institution offers shelter, food and clothing to the destitute. During the war with Hyder Ali in 1782, an order was issued by the British to demolish buildings within a certain distance of the Black Town Wall. This choultry was exempted, as the owner of the land, who was the village headman, a maniakarar, started a gruel centre for the poor in his garden.

He accommodated the paupers of the city. The institution was maintained by funds collected from private sources. Functioning as a kanjithotti until the end of the war, it later became a choultry for the destitute. “Vistors can come here and provide food and spend time with the inmates,” said a staff at the choultry.

Parks of North Chennai

Many of the parks in North Chennai have historical significance. One such park is the Robinson Park, known today as the Arignar Anna Poonga. The park was originally named after Sir William Rose Robinson of the Madras Civil Service. He laid the foundation stone for it in 1879.

The Maadi Poonga, which once served as one of several gates to the walled city of Madras.

The Maadi Poonga, which once served as one of several gates to the walled city of Madras.   | Photo Credit: B. Jothi Ramalingam


It was transferred to the Municipality in 1899. “On September 18, 1948, Arignar Anna declared the formation of the DMK. The park is now therefore named after him,” said historian V. Sriram.

Another park that earlier served as one of the several gates to the walled city of Madras is Maadi Poonga, earlier known as Ennore Gate.

“There were other gates like the Boatman's Gate, Pulley Gate at the end of Thambu Chetty Street, the Tiruvottiyur Gate near Stanley Hospital, and Elephant Gate. Of this, the only remaining one is Maadi Poonga. This is now a park maintained by the Chennai Corporation,” Mr. Sriram said.

The Sivagnanam Park is tucked away in Peddu Street, off Mint Street in Kondithope.

“It was the first park named after an Indian in Chennai. P.M. Sivagnanam Mudaliar was an eminent personality in Chennai. He was a Free Mason, a member of the Justice Party and a Corporation councillor,” Mr. Sriram added.


Seven Wells

Another important landmark is Seven Wells, also known as theYezhu Kinaru among local residents. Located on Old Jail Road, it is a pumping station that supplied water to Madras as well as Fort St. George. “I guess one or two wells still supply water to the Fort,” Mr. Sriram said.

He added that Hyder Ali even tried to poison the well and affect the water supply to the British and bring them to their knees. “However one John Nicolas foiled the plan. As a sign of gratitude, the British government appointed Nicolas as a custodian of the wells.”

One of the rooms at Seven Wells.

One of the rooms at Seven Wells.   | Photo Credit: B. Jothi Ramalingam

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Printable version | Jun 6, 2020 5:11:47 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/north-chennai-a-bustling-locality-thats-a-heritage-trove/article24782431.ece

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