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Saturday, November 21, 2015

fire at heritage Lawley building in Chennai - India Silk house and some history !

Baron Wenlock is a title that has been created three times, once in the Peerage of England and twice in the Peerage of the United Kingdom. The first creation came in 1461 when the soldier Sir John Wenlock was summoned to Parliament as Lord Wenlock.

This odd looking building is quite noticeable, situate just opposite the new Omandurar complex – the site of Multi specialty hospital on Mount Road.  Next to it runs Wallers Road leading to the electronic hub of Ritchie Street where one gets amazed with the range of electronic / computer parts availability and the knowledge of people selling them.  Before the ongoing construction of Chennai Metro Underground station altered the scenario, shrinking and driving out of shape – the arterial Mount road – this used to be a parking lot [ I had posted on the skills of a woman parking assistant – Ms Rani earlier] – the building housing ‘India Silk House’ is in news for wrong reasons and here is something reproduced from the Hindu newspaper of date [17th Nov 2015]

Fire tenders battled for over an hour in the rain to put out a blaze on the first floor of the India Silk House Private Limited housed at Lawley Hall on Anna Salai near Ritchie Street here on Monday evening. Rajesh Kanna, District Fire Officer (In charge), said that the owners of the shop on the ground floor noticed smoke emanating from the first floor around 5.15 p.m. following which they evacuated the premises and fire tenders rushed to the spot.

“The first floor had been used to store a lot of waste materials such as used boxes and cartons, broken tube lights and old fabrics. We believe that a loose electrical wire could have caused a short circuit which started the fire,” he said. Fire tankers and engines from Tiruvallikeni, Vepery, K.K. Nagar and Triplicane were pressed into service. No causalities were reported. The owners however estimated that property worth several lakhs had been gutted by the fire.
The Hindu Photo : this building actually is a stone's throw away from their Office.

Historian V. Sriram said that the iconic red Indo-Saracenic building, which was built in the early 1900s, had been named after the then Governor of Madras Sir Arthur Lawley. “It initially housed the Anjuman-e trust and acted as a training institute for Muslim students till the 1930s when Basheer Ahmed Syed took over. The trust was then shifted to a different building and the India Silk House occupied the building in 1947 and has been there since,” he said.Throwing light on the need for better maintenance of such iconic structures in the city, Mr. Sriram pointed out that similar fires due to electrical faults had destroyed parts of the General Post Office, Bosotto buildings and the Chepauk Palace in the past.

Digging Wiki based on the above news, one finds that : Arthur Lawley, 6th Baron Wenlock, GCSI, GCIE, KCMG (1860 – 1932), was a British colonial administrator who served variously as Administrator of Matabeleland, Governor of Western Australia, Lieutenant-Governor of the Transvaal, and Governor of Madras. The fourth and youngest son of the 2nd Baron Wenlock, he attended Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, before joining the military. Representing the British South Africa Company, Lawley was Administrator of Matabeleland from 1896 to 1901, during the conclusion of the Second Matabele War. He was then Governor of Western Australia for a brief period, before returning to Africa to serve as Lieutenant-Governor of the Transvaal (under Viscount Milner, the governor). In 1906  he was made Governor of Madras, serving until 1911 and overseeing the reform of the Madras Legislative Council. Prominent in the Red Cross during the First World War, Lawley succeeded the youngest of his brothers as Baron Wenlock in 1931, but died a year later. His only son had died in a hunting accident in 1909, and the title consequently became extinct upon his death.

Lawley was Governor of Western Australia  for a short tenure but his tenure witnessed the rise and fall of several governments.  In 1902, he was appointed as Lieutenant-Governor of the Transvaal at a time when SA was  emerging from the bitter conflict of the Boer War.  The administration brought in new cattle to restock the farms, tackled disease among livestock, and re-opened the mines controversially using imported Chinese labour.  In June 1905, the Cullinan Diamond was discovered at the Premier Mine, near Pretoria and was presented by Louis Botha, the First Prime Minister of South Africa, to King Edward VII in 1907.  Wikipedia reports that Lawley was appointed Governor of Madras on 28 December 1905 at a monthly pay of Rs. 10,000. Lawley's eldest brother BeilbyLawley, 3rd Baron Wenlock had also served as the Governor of Madras from 1891 to 1896. During his tenure, the Madras Estates Land Bill was passed. In 1906, the Arbuthnot Bank of Madras crashed precipitating one of the worst financial disasters of the 20th century. Lawley introduced the Morley-Minto reforms which brought Indian representation into the government of Madras and he appointed the Maharaja of Bobbili to be the first Indian to have membership of the Executive.

The newly constructed building housing the Government Museum, Chennai was opened by Lawleyin Sept  1906. Lawley also inaugurated the Victoria Memorial Hall in Madras in Mar 1909 in memory of Queen Victoria. In 1910, Lawley unveiled a portrait of Queen Victoria inside the Victoria Public Hall after the building was acquired by the Suguna Vilas Sabha. In Oct  1911, Lawley presided over the Annual Day function of the Madras Sanskrit College and presented diplomas to meritorious students. Lawley inaugurated the Giffard School block of the Women and Children's Hospital in Egmore in October 1911 and later the Lady Lawley Nurses Home. The nurses' quarters was established opposite to the hospital and named after Lady Lawley.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

17th Nov. 2015.

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