Egmore is one of the oldest villages in this region. Inscriptions on the walls of certain ancient temples refer to this place. According to historians, Egmore was, for a long time, the headquarters of a political division within Tondaimandalam that broadly encompassed the northern part of the present-day state of Tamil Nadu. Egmore was one of the first villages in the region to be acquired by the British.
In the year 1693, Elihu Yale, the Governor of Madras, secured Egmore along with the neighbouring villages of Purasaiwalkam and Tondiarpet, from the Mughal emperor.
Eventually, Egmore merged with the growing city of Madras. In the early eighteenth century, the British built a fort called the Egmore Redoubt close to the present Egmore Railway Station. Located on the picturesque banks of the Cooum which was, during the British rule, a clean and navigable river, Egmore was, those days, particularly known for its healthy climate.
Hence, the British regularly sent their sick and wounded soldiers to the Egmore Redoubt to recuperate. No wonder, Egmore became the choice for the location of some of the city’s best hospitals including the Government Maternity Hospital on Pantheon Road and the Ophthalmic Hospital on Marshall’s Road. Simultaneously, the English authorities began to build large ‘garden houses’ in the area that was earlier covered with lush paddy fields.
In 1774, they provided large residential plots to certain European families, on nominal rent, to further facilitate the development of this locality. Right from the days of the British, the most important road in Egmore has been the Pantheon Road. The name of this road is derived from The Pantheon or ‘Public Assembly Rooms’ that now form a part of the famous Government Museum, popularly called the Madras Museum.
The Pantheon was established in the late eighteenth century mainly to stage dramas for the elite of the city. Lord Cornwallis is believed to have enjoyed a performance here in 1793 soon after his victory in a war against Tipu Sultan of Mysore. The other historic buildings in the Museum campus include the Museum Theatre and the Connemara Library, both built in the nineteenth century.
The National Art Gallery, located at one end of the campus, was built between 1904 and 1909 to commemorate the golden jubilee of the reign of Queen Victoria of England. Not too far from Pantheon Road, the Tamil Nadu Archives Building, located in a large wooded campus almost opposite the Egmore Railway Station, is yet another historic landmark of the area. The Station, built in 1908, stands on the site of a former Civil Orphans’ Asylum.
Well-connected, by road and rail, to all other parts of Chennai and the neighbouring towns, Egmore is one of the most sought after residential-cum-commercial localities. The main problems confronting Egmore are the ruthless demolition of the old bungalows to give way to multi-storeyed apartments and the consequent congestion on the roads.
Atleast some of these bungalows could be preserved and put to adaptive reuse suited to present-day needs. Simultaneously, the unauthorised encroachments on the sidewalks of the roads need to be speedily removed.
— The author is a well-known archaeologist and Tamil Nadu State Convener, INTACH