Hidden histories History & Culture

A fallen Governor’s forgotten market

Connemara Market

Connemara Market  

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It must be over a year since lawyer and heritage enthusiast Hari Ratan called, asking if I was aware of a Connemara Market in Chennai. This was news to me. Last month, armed with specific directions from Hari, I managed to locate it. It is on Adithanar Salai (Harris Road) just opposite the headquarters of the Chennai City Mounted Police.

The entrance is narrow, styled in the Gothic that was such a favourite of the Victorians when it came to building stations, markets and churches. There is no plaque giving the name. The façade is garishly painted in several colours and could do with some basic maintenance. Inside, there are several rows of stalls, mostly dealing in meat, poultry and fish. There are plenty of signboards within, that give the location variously as Kannimara and Connemara Market. The locals aver that the Corporation of Greater Chennai administers it, but of that there is not much proof. I have also heard vague reports that it is privately owned.

Lord Connemara’s Secretary John David Rees documented the former’s administration of Madras in detail. This was a proactive Governor, ever seeking to put up all kinds of public offices and amenities right across the length and breadth of the Presidency. Rees’ list of buildings, constructed during the Connemara administration, includes the police quarters on Harris Road, but the market located close by is curiously absent. It is, of course, quite likely that the market, like the more famous library, came up after the Governor abruptly quit Madras on November 8, 1890, entrusting the administration to bureaucrats. His wife had filed for divorce in England on grounds of cruelty and infidelity and the lurid details that tumbled out were enough to finish his political career for good. When he left, several of his pet projects, such as the George Town Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court were still under construction, and had to be inaugurated by his successor, Lord Wenlock.

Whatever the circumstances of its birth, the Connemara Market has survived for long. However, even by 1934, it had become a byword for squalor. A report filed with the Corporation of Madras that year states that, “it is likely that this filthy market serves nearly everyone in Egmore, Chetpet, Vepery and part of Nungambakkam”. It also thundered that it was the duty of every woman who kept house to go along with her servant and see for herself as to where her meat was coming from. The conditions have not changed much since then. The market also appears to suffer from lack of patronage. I visited it on a Sunday morning when such places are normally bustling with activity. This was completely silent and many shops had not even opened for business.

Interestingly, there is a Connemara Market in Thiruvananthapuram as well. The Governor himself inaugurated this, while he was on a visit to the princely state of Travancore in 1888. And unlike its Chennai counterpart, it is a well-known landmark.

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Printable version | Dec 15, 2019 12:40:52 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/A-fallen-Governor%E2%80%99s-forgotten-market/article14630760.ece

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