Click here for more...

(ARCHIVE) Vol. XX No. 10, september 1-15, 2010
Ooty among postal
heritage buildings...
but not Chennai G.P.O.
(By Nidhi Adlakha. Based on the blog postings by Vincent D’Souza, V. Sriram, Sridhar Joshi, Sashi Nair, Revathi R. and Chandrachoodan Gopalakrishnan.)

India Post is bringing out a series of postage stamps to herald INDIPEX 2011 – the world philatelic exhibition to be held in New Delhi from February 12-18, 2011. The first set of six stamps is on postal heritage buildings.

The stamps to be released by the Postal Department
on postal heritage buildings.

Delhi GPO is among the very few buildings of India Post which has been given the status of “Heritage Building” by the Archaeological Survey of India. It is in close proximity to historical Red Fort and Chandni Chowk. Opened in 1855, the Post Office was given permanent status in 1865 and it started functioning in the present building in 1885. The land for Delhi GPO was purchased in 1870. The GPO has a floor area of 45,457 sq.ft. It is considered a representative structure of the British period.

There were releases of two special covers during Madras Week, one at the Heritage Lovers’ exhibition organised by D.H. Rao (on left), and the other at the Association of British Scholars’ Silver Jubilee celebrations.

Shimla GPO on the Mall, established in 1883 on the site of a house known as Conny Lodge, is one of the oldest Post Office buildings in the country. During the Raj, Shimla was the summer capital and the GPO acquired pre-eminence due to its crucial role in ensuring effective receipt and despatch of Government mail (“Walayati Dak”).

The GPO building is mainly a timbered structure with a tin roof. It is a three-storey building. An interesting element of its design is six large, hollow pillars of stone and brick that “traversed its height”. Till 1920, firewood was used to warm the building in winter and enable the postal staff to perform their duties. The building is an excellent example of English hill architecture.

On September 21, 1972, a fire on the first floor of the beautiful building burnt most of the old records. The building was soon renovated and its centenary was celebrated in 1983. In 1992 this building was declared one of the country’s Heritage Post Office buildings.

Udagamandalam HPO: The first Post Office in Udagamandalam was opened in 1826 with the appointment of a writer and two delivery peons. There are no records as to where the office originally was. In the earliest plan of Ootacamund (1829), the building which afterwards became the Post Office is shown and marked as Government Bungalow. Records show that in November 1833 the Post Office was at Ray’s House.

A Travellers’ Bungalow, later assigned to the post office, was a wretched hovel consisting of three small rooms. It was long used for postal purposes. In 1866 the whole building passed into the hands of the Postal Department, which continued to occupy it until 1878, when it was decided to pull down a considerable portion of the old structure and build a combined post and telegraph office on the same site. The post office was moved to its present buildings in December 1883 and, along with the Telegraph Office and Law Courts, forms a cluster of ornamental buildings on Mount Road.

Cooch Behar HPO: The Post & Telegraph Office of Cooch Behar State was opened in 1875 under the administrative control of Rangpur Postal Division. The Cooch Behar Post Office initially functioned in the building situated in the Purana Post Office Para. Today, it covers 8893 sq. ft. Maharaja Nriprendra Narayan built the present Head Post Office building and, during his regime, there were one telegraph office and five Post Offices in Cooch Behar State. On bifurcation of Rangpur Division, Jalpaiguri Division was created and, later, the Cooch Behar Division was created on bifurcation of Jalpaiguri Division on April 16, 1979.

Nagpur GPO, considered the mother institution in the Postal Circle of the Central Province, is housed in a majestic Victorian building, once the seat of the erstwhile Postmaster General of CP & Berar. Built on a sprawling 9.5 acre located in the Civil Lines area of the city, the double-storey building was built in 1916-21 with a plinth area of 26,622 sq.ft. The complex also has the Postmaster’s quarters and a huge garden.

The structure is made of load bearing brick walls, steel columns, beams and ribs encased in lime concrete and plastered in lime internally with pitched roof in country tiles and battens. The exteriors make use of exposed bricks (painted red) and buff coloured sandstone. The main structure is flanked by wide verandahs and is provided with Tuscan columns. A Roman arch in the Central Tower topped by a pavilion of 12 columns supports a Clock Tower and a flagmast. The alternating bands of brick and sandstone used at corners give the building its Neo-Georgian touch, but is interspersed with large semicircular stone screens (jalis) reflecting the Eastern stonecraft of India. The clock, which still works, some antique post boxes, its fire-fighting equipment and the mixed styles of architecture make this building unique.

Lucknow GPO is an example of relatively more contemporary engineering and architecture. Constructed with red bricks and limestone, iron was not used in its construction. Its length is 86.5 m and width 36 m. The building has a beautiful 30 m tall tower with clocks on all four sides, giving a majestic look to the building. The ground floor has pillars and arches in sequence.

Postal heritage buildings

The pillars on the ground floor have magnificent carvings which enhance its beauty. The first floor of the building has 25 rooms. A stone embedded on the main gate of the GPO dates the construction of the building to 1929-1932.

... but not Chennai G.P.O.

What strikes Madras Musings as curious is that the set of stamps does not include the Chennai GPO on Rajaji Salai, considered a classic Indo-Saracenic variation.

Willie Burke’s picture of the GPO c. early 1900s. Note the Kerala caps till in place on the two tallest towers.

The magnificent, red-painted 55,000-square foot General Post Office building might be described as a Victorian County-Colonial or Victorian Gothic-Colonial overlay on Indo-Saracenic. This building, yet another Chisholm design with 125-foot tall twin towers, was built on the site of the Abercrombie Battery at a cost of about Rs. 8 lakh. The twin towers once sported the Kerala roof-influenced ‘caps’ Chisholm favoured atop the towers, after his building assignments in Travancore, but is now ‘capless’, the ‘caps’ having been removed after a storm in mid-20th Century.

Construction started in 1874 and occupation from early 1884, with the GPO finally shifting from Popham’s Broadway to open its doors here on April 26, 1884, after Rs. 6.8 lakh that had been hard to find had been spent on it, a considerable part of it contributed by the Madras Chamber of Commerce. The Presidency Postmaster was given residential accommodation on the second floor. This building’s interior was gutted by fire in 2003 and, a couple of years later, the interior was redesigned and made functional again while maintaining the building’s facade.

It was Governor Harrison (1711-1717) who in 1712 first started a Company Postal Service in Madras – to carry mail to Bengal by dak runner. By 1736, a postal system of sorts, with a somewhat greater vision, was in place. In 1774, a beginning was made on charging postage on private letters. It was, however, only after two Civilians, John P. Burlton and Thomas Lewin, suggested to Government in 1785 and 1786 that it was necessary to lay down postal rules, draw up a postal network and establish a postal authority, that the first Madras Post Office, with fixed postal rates, was established. It was called the General Post Office, Madras, and was opened for business on June 1, 1786, just outside the Sea Gate in what was called Fort St George Square, with A.M. Campbell as Postmaster-General. The Company over-ruled Campbell’s appointment and, eventually, Oliver Colt was appointed the first Postmaster-General of Madras. It moved into the Fort, into the old Bank building, near the North Gate, in 1837. By then (in 1834) two ‘subsidiary’ post offices – Vepery and Royapettah – had been established.

The move to Garden House, Broadway, came in 1856, a year after the first letter-box had appeared in the city (at Moubray’s Road) and two years after a Post Office Act came into force, an organised postal system established and stamps first introduced. The postal service grew when railway connections were established with the other Presidencies in 1871. By 1874, there were nine post offices in the city. The internal carriage of mail in Madras was by horse cart (jutkas) till 1918, though a beginning with motorised transport was made in 1915. The telegraph came to Madras in 1853 but was made available to the public only from February 1, 1855, when 41 offices covering a distance of 3,000 miles could be reached.


In this issue

A break for heritage: G.O. brings Heritage Clubs into schools
Restoration's welcome, but not any-which-way
Looking back on Madras Week: Some of the walks and talks during the Week
Ooty among postal heritage buildings... but not Chennai G.P.O.
The road to Fort St. George
Getting a track at Irungatukottai

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan
Dates for your diary


Back to current issue...