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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XX No. 6, july 1-15, 2010
Madras’s oldest Bank
(By a Special Correspondent)

Bank of Madras, Mount Road,
(Photo: Willie Burke, c. 1900).

As early as 1682/3 there was a bank established by Governor Gifford and his Council, the Madras Bank, but the first formal bank, incorporated as a Joint Stock Company, was the Carnatic Bank, established in Fort St George in 1788. This was followed by the Bank of Madras in 1795 and the Asiatic Bank in 1804. These banks amalgamated and there was established in 1843 in the Fort Exchange a joint stock bank, the Bank of Madras, with a capital of Rs. 3 million. Government held shares in this Presidency bank until 1876. In 1921, it merged with the Bombay and Bengal Banks to become the Imperial Bank. The Bank of Madras’s headquarters then became the SBI’s Madras Presidency headquarters. In 1955, the Imperial Bank became the State Bank of India, branch-wise today the world’s largest bank. When the Reserve Bank of India was formed in 1935 to transact government business, issue currency notes and “monitor the fiscal health of the economy”, taking over what the Imperial Bank had been additionally doing, the RBI shared the SBI’s Presidency headquarters building till it built its own building further south, where North and South Beach Roads meet, and moved in, in 1961.

The headquarters of the Bank of Madras, which had moved from the Fort to Popham’s Broadway, was established next to the GPO in a building that is yet another splendid example of Madras’s best known architectural form – Indo-Saracenic – and the building skills of Thatikonda Namberumal Chetty. Col. Samuel Jacob, who did St. Stephen’s College in Delhi, is mentioned in connection with the initial design of this building, but it was Henry Irwin who was appointed the architect and Namberumal Chetty who was awarded the Rs. 3 lakh building contract. The site had been bought from Government in 1895 for Rs.100,000 and work commenced on it the next year.

When completed, it had a magnificent marble-floored banking hall on the first floor, with ornate woodwork and beautiful stained glass in its lofty, vaulted ceiling, much of it still visible. Also visible is the Bank of Madras’s insignia (BM) on the glass-panelled doors leading to the Banking Hall. On the second floor, where once were both quarters and offices, there are today offices still with the heavy ornamented doors of yesteryear and scores of richly embellished wooden, brick and granite arches. There are said to be 1,200 stained glass panels in the building. A particularly striking one is the panel with hooded serpents and a two-headed bird. As many as six colours are used in the mosaic of the smaller panels that combine to make the whole. The building now houses the main Madras branch of the SBI, after the Bank built its new regional headquarters next door.

The picture, on left, however, raises an interesting question. Now the Mount Road branch of the SBI, it was, according to the caption to Willie Burke’s picture (c. 1900), “The Bank of Madras.” Given the move from the Fort to Broadway to North Beach Road, was this a headquarters building at some in between time or was it a handsome, Classically styled branch office?


In this issue

Your Worship, could these names remain?
Here’s why Munro should stay
Recording the wall writings
Madras’s oldest Bank
Historic Residences of Chennai - 45
Other stories

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


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