BRITAIN’S FIRST BASTION in India , the nucleus from which an empire grew, was established in a banana grove owned by a farmer called Madrasan. The official grant for the land, however, was given by Venkataclri Nayak, the deputy of the Raja of Chandragiri. The first factory within the fortified enclosure was completed on St George’s Day, 23 April 1640, and named Fort St George. This was the East India Company’s principal settlement until 1774, when Calcutta, now Kolkata, was declared the seat of the government.The sloping ramparts, with battlements for gun emplacement that can still be seen today, were designed and constructed by Bartholomew Robins in 1750, after the original walls were destroyed by the French army in 1749. These ramparts form an irregular pentagon, further reinforced by a ring of earthen walls that slope down to a moat surrounding the entire complex. The drawbridges that once led to the Fort’s five main gates have now been replaced by roads.
The first building to be seen on entering the Fort through the Sea Gate is the Neo- Classical Secretariat, which is today the seat of the government of Tamil Nadu. Behind it lie the Legislative Council Chambers. With their handsome classical lines and facades embellished with gleaming black pillars, these impressive buildings, built between 1694 and 1732, are said to be among the oldest surviving British constructions in India. The 45-m (148-ft) tall flagstaff was erected by Governor Elihu Yale in 1687 to hoist the Union Jack for the first time in India. Today, the Indian tricolour flies in its stead. Yale began his career as a clerk with the East India Company and later founded Yale University in the USA, with his considerable fortune.
Standing to the south of the Legislature building is St Mary’s Church, the oldest Anglican church in Asia. It was built between 1678 and 1680 by Streynsham Master, then the governor of Madras. Tombstones, memorials, registers and paintings, antique Bibles (including one printed in 1660) and silver are displayed in the church, and speak of its vibrant history. Both Elihu Yale and Robert Clive were married in this church, and the three daughters of Job Charnock were baptized here before the family moved to Bengal. Arthur Wellesley, who , later became the Duke of Wellington and triumphed at Waterloo, and Robert Clive, both lived in Fort St George. Their residences, Wellesley House and Clive House, still stand, albeit in a somewhat dilapidated condition, across from the church.
To the north is the Parade Ground, formerly Cornwallis Square, which was laid out in 1715. Magnificent parades and rallies were held here. its east are ministerial offices, and barracks for regiments Near the southeast corner of the Parade Ground is the Fort Museum, built in the 1780s. A treasure trove of colonial memorabilia, the museum is housed in what was built to be the Public Exchange. It has paintings of British royalty, 18th-century weaponry, emblems and other relics from the British era. Among its prized possessions are a scale model of the Fort and a painting of King George III and Queen Charlotte. There are lithographs on the second nd third floors that provide scinating perspectives of old Madras and other parts of South India.
Near the museum’s southern end, and overlooking its cannon, is the Cornwallis Cupola, which originally stood in the Parade Ground. The statue of the governorgeneral, Lord Cornwallis, sculpted in 1800, shows him accepting the two young sans of Tipu Sultan as hostages.
ST ANDREW’S KIRK
A MAGNIFICENT EXAMPLE of Neo-Classical .. .architecture, St Andrew’s Kirk was consecrated in 1821. Inspired by St Martin-in-the-Fields in London, it was designed and executed by Major Thomas de Hayilland and Colonel James Caldwell of the Madras Engineers, at a cost of £20,000. The body of the church is a circle, with rectangular compartments to the east and west. The circular part, 24.5 m (80 ft) in diameter, is crowned by a shallow masonry dome coloured a deep blue. This is painted with golden stars and supported by 16 fluted pillars with Corinthian capitals.