The Man Behind Many Heritage Buildings in Chennai, Henry. A. Irwin

Henry A. Irwin is the architect of many a heritage building in Madras and elsewhere in India. He designed the Law College to harmonize with the High Court building, the Connemara Library, particularly its magnificent (old) reading room, the King Institute building in Guindy , the Egmore Railway Station, the Victoria Technical Institute’s Jaina Jaipuri home in the museum campus — now the Art Gallery that’s kept shut — and the Tawker Building (belonging to once-famed jewellers, T.R. Tawker & Sons), which became the South India Cooperative Insurance Building, then home of the newly established Indian Airlines southern headquarters. The Life Insurance Corporation of India which succeeded SICI to the building pulled it down in the 1970s and replaced it with a bit of humdrum construction.

The other Irwin building that no longer survives is the internationally known pavilion of the Madras Cricket Club that was synonymous with Chepauk. When the first MCC Pavilion, built by Robert Chisholm, was badly damaged by a cyclone in 1888, the Club asked Government to permit Irwin, the then Consulting Architect to Government, to design its new pavilion. Permission was granted but when he submitted an estimate for Rs.13,440, it was felt that he should try to keep construction down to a value of no more than Rs.10,000. In the end, however, he persuaded the Club to accept his design and estimate and in 1892 it got the pavilion that served it well till it was pulled down a hundred years later. Shortly after the Irwin Pavilion was declared open, Irwin sought Government permission to accept “an honorarium of Rs. 250 which the Madras Cricket Club have offered me for having designed and supervised the construction of the new Cricket Pavilion.” Permission was granted — and also, a year later, in 1893, for supervising the improvements the Club wished to “carry out in connection with the cricket ground at Chepauk Park.”

Irwin was only too happy to help the Club out whenever it wanted him and whatever else he was doing, for he was one of its most active members. He played all four games the Club offered — cricket, hockey, tennis and squash in which, in the Handicap Singles, he was a scratch player. He played golf, took part in shooting competitions, and in the Hunt. But most visible of all, he was a gentleman rider of distinction. Irwin not only owned horses, he trained them and rode his, as well as those of others, at the Madras Race Club meets, riding in several races every race day and becoming a favourite with the punters. This was a time many of the MCC’s members took part in three or four sports, but as one old-timer recorded it, “Irwin was exceptional.” He was exceptional as an architect too, outstanding enough to be invited to design the Viceregal Lodge in Simla.

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Posted on December 26, 2011, in Attractions, Heritage of Chennai and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. So often people have no knowledge about the heritage value of old buildings and so much is destroyed in the name of progress!

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