Up very early this morning for a walk round the old Madras Club - and then by chance, a visit to the new Madras Club (which is older than the old one). Confused? Read on - I'll explain.
The heritage walk - which included an excellent breakfast - was conducted by Sriram V, whose expertise on Madras/Chennai's history is matched by his enthusiasm. It took us round the original twenty acre site of the Madras Club, founded in 1832 as a men-only Europeans-only club and the oldest in India after Calcutta's Bengal Club.
The club has long gone from this city centre site, which is now occupied by the vast Express Avenue shopping mall. Only the faintest traces survive. On independence in 1947, when it became clear that many of the club's members were leaving India never to return, the club sold the site to R.N. Goenka, also owner of the Indian Express, and moved to (slightly) more modest premises.
This laundry facing the site of the club - and set up to serve its members - is one of the few institutions left which bear witness to what was known as the 'Ace of Clubs'. The British Library has some photos of the club from 1901-02 which give some idea of its grandeur.
These magnificent colonnaded pavilions have gone, but the Madras Club goes on - and very much in the old style. In the early 1960s, it merged with a similar institution, the Adyar Club - this was when Indians became eligible for full membership for the first time - and is housed in premises every bit as magnificent as the original buildings.
Indeed, the club's new premises are older than the old ones. The building is known as Mowbray's Cupola and was built in around 1792 by George Mowbray, an English trader who was variously sheriff and mayor of Madras. It's overlooking the Adyar river and in nine acres of grounds.
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