Where did the stones come from?

THE MUSEUM, as part of its 150th anniversary celebrations, has been organising exhibitions, workshops, seminars and lectures on that South Indian speciality, STONE. One of the questions that appear to have been talked about is where did the pink sandstone for the Jaipuri style National Art Gallery come from? For years it had been thought that it came from Rajasthan, but now it would appear there is a school of thought that holds that it came from an area in Andhra Pradesh about 75 km north of Madras. A search of the records in the Archives would, no doubt, confirm that belief, in the absence of secondary material such as biographies of such well-deserving British architects in Old Madras as Robert Chisholm and Henry Irwin and of such builders as Namberumal Chetty and T.Samynada Pillai, but for the nonce let's accept it as Rajamundhry pink sandstone.

In this instance, a biography of Henry Irwin (1841-1922) might have provided quicker answers. As Consultant Architect to the Government, Irwin completed the designs of the High Court that J. W. Brassington had begun, did the Law College in the same style (1894), further worked on the plans of Col. Samuel Jacob for the Bank of Madras headquarters (now the Main Branch of the State Bank of India) in 1896 and, in 1902, designed the Egmore Railway Station, then capped his splendid run of Indo-Saracenic creations with the Victoria Memorial Hall, an exhibition hall and sales centre for the Victoria Technical Institute. The VMH, now the National Art Gallery, was Irwin's final work in Madras, designed by him after his retirement in 1906 and built by Namberumal Chetty, that leading contractor of the turn of the 20th Century. Of the building it has been said, "The hall, constructed in red sandstone, was unusual for its coherent use of features derived wholly from one model, `the buildings erected by the Moghul Emperors at Fatehpur Sikri'.''

If more details are not available about its construction in the Archives, I've no doubt they can be found in the RIBA's British Architectural Library or the India Office Library, now part of the British Library, where they still have collections of long-vanished publications like Indian Engineering, The Indian Engineer, The Builder, The Building News and Annual Reports on Architectural Work in India.

And on that note, still looking back on the old, let me ring it out for now and wish all my readers A Very Happy New Year. May 2002 bring you — and the rest of the world — Peace, Happiness and Prosperity.


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