Walltax Road, then and now

Walltax Road (now, V.O.C. Salai), which is adjacent to the Central Railway Station, runs parallel to railway tracks and flanks Georgetown on the west. The history of the road dates back to 18th Century. The wall, which one sees partially now, was instituted as a protective measure by the English in 1772-73. The French occupied the City from 1746 to 1749. When British got back the City, it began plans to strengthen the Fort. When Hyder Ali attacked the neighborhoods in 1767, the British made serious plans to protect the New Black Town (Muthialpettah and Peddunaickenpettah) and thus plans for a protective wall was laid out. The wall, called ‘Black Town Wall,' ran for three-and-half-miles and had 17 bastions. It was completed by Paul Benfield in 1772.

The wall ran from Cochrane Canal on north to Poonamalle High Road- Central Station junction on the south. On the outer side of the walls, a vast space of six hundred yards was provided to set up a clear field for fire. In 1859, it was converted into People's Park and Salt Cotaurs. The walls had gates, some of which were Pully Gate, Boatmen's Gate, Trivatore Gate, Ennore Gate, Elephant Gate, Chuckler's Gate and Hospital Gate. Elephant Gate, which remains till today, was then used for loading and unloading of goods carried in trams.

On the other side of the wall, a 50-feet road was built to facilitate connectivity. The cost of which was imposed on the people. People protested to the tax and it was never collected. The Road probably acquired the name from these instances. It is said that the debtor and prisoners were confined in the bastions, some of the remnants of which was still found on the Old Jail Road.

This historically significant Road is now besieged by commercial activities housing parcel services, lodges, hotels and the branching streets bristling with business. Yet, it has some of the remains intact and significant streets serving new purposes.

The Mint Street, one of the most happening places in Georgetown, housed Mint in early years of 19th Century. The unit which was used to produce gunpowder was transformed into a Mint for which the work began in 1804. The building was completed in 1807, but the mint machineries were made available only in 1841. Now, the building is converted into Government printing press and is being used for the print requirements of the Government.

After the Sepoy Mutiny, The British offered thanksgiving to God by building Memorial Hall in South Mint Street in 1860.

Georgetown has the pride of having seen the first of the earlier temples of the City.

Kandaswamy Temple was built in 1670 by Beri Chettiars on Rasappa Chetty Street. (There is also a record saying that the temple belonged to the 11{+t} {+h} Century). The temple is dedicated to Lord Siva and bears some rich inscriptions of the era. The shrines contained in the temple are those of Kadaswamy, Siva, Vishnu and Brahma. It is said that social reformer Ramalinga Adigalar sang ‘Deivamanimalai' in this temple. In 1930, a grand Kumbabhishekam was held after which it became an annual affair drawing lot of crowd.

One cannot but miss the sight of bamboo vendors on Walltax Road who make bamboo mats, baskets and other artefacts on the platform. They have been doing business in Georgetown for more than 60 years. The fourth generation vendors were shifted from Flower Bazaar 40 years ago to Walltax Road. Recently, they have been asked to vacate from Walltax Road by the Chennai Corporation as a measure to remove encroachment.

The Andhra Pradesh Bus Stand located diagonally opposite to Padmanabha Theatre is now turned into Walltax Road Depot. Buses used to ply Andhra Pradesh until the coming of CMBT.

The Sardine Market, more than 50- years-old, located at the end of Walltax Road and the Old Jail Road junction, has been reduced in size over the years. After the closure of Andhra Pradesh Bus Stand, the market is seeing a slow business and the vendors have shifted to Koyembedu.

As was mentioned in the previous article, Walltax Road was the entertainment hub of those years. Out of the three theatres, Otrai Vadai, Empress and Padmanabha, the later remained intact until recently. It was closed five years ago. Walltax Road is partly residential and partly commercial. The area has been dominated by business community such as Chettiars, Naickers and North Indian community. The branching streets are doing brisk business in various products. It is said that in earlier days, Chettiars used to sell gold kept in heaps on the road on Mint Street. Now the street sells almost all products. Elephant Gate Street specialises in dress materials, Nainiappan Naicken Street in jewellery, Kasi Chetty Street and Narayana Mudali Street in electronics goods, toys and other foreign goods and Rasappa Chetty in hardwares.

(With inputs from the book ‘Chennai Rediscovered' by S. Muthiah, locals and senior citizens).

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Printable version | Sep 23, 2021 8:48:15 PM |

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