Old Madras I – Fort St George and George Town

1 - Plan_of_Fort_St_George_and_the_City_of_Madras_1726 copy

Plan of Fort St George and the City of Madras in 1726. The Fort proper sits at bottom left, while George Town (marked out as “Black Town”) sits at bottom centre.

Our first walking tour of Old Madras takes in the two oldest sections of the city, both of which date from the initial founding of the city, some 370 years ago. They constitute Madras’ Old Town and make for a charming, though a little overwhelming visit.

Fort St George

2 - Secretariat

The Secretariat Building dates from 1695, and has been successfully added to in the course of three centuries.

Fort St George, named after the patron saint of the English – he of the dragon – started as a modest trading settlement in 1640 on the Coromandel Coast. It was a fortified settlement, housing European – mostly Portuguese, but also English – merchant families who resided in the city.

The Fort as it stands today dates from 1783, after a French siege and brief occupation between 1746 – 1749 and a second French siege in 1758. In the aftermath of these two attacks, the British would strengthen fortifications and expand the size of the Fort, resulting in what the visitor sees today.

The Fort today is still the seat of the State Government and also the headquarters of the Army. Despite the high security all around, it is definitely possible for tourists to enter and to visit the parts of the Fort still open to the public. One just has to be very upfront and tell the guards what one’s intent is – and he or she would graciously spirit one past the lines of waiting citizens to the Fort Museum (which is the starting point).

Bear in mind, that given most structures in the Fort are occupied by Government and Military, photography is definitely not permitted.

3 - Fort Museum

The former Public Exchange, built in 1790, is today’s Fort Museum. It is well worth a visit for its collection of portraits of former Governors of Madras.

4 - St MArys Church

St Mary’s Church has the distinction of being the oldest British-built structure in the city, dating from 1680.

5 - Interior of St Marys

The interior of St Mary’s is an oasis of calm and a trove of (

6 - Clive House

Clive House, also known as Admiralty House, dates from the early 1700s. Formerly a private residence, today it houses the Archaeological Survey of India.

George Town

7 - HSBC

The Madras Headquarters of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank was built in 1923, and sits on North Beach Road (today’s Rajaji Salai). It was built in an Edwardian style

Just north of Fort St George sat “Black Town” – so called because it was home to the many local clerks, porters, weavers, interpreters and administrative personnel that worked in the Fort. The old Black Town was a planned city, as the map above shows. Unfortunately, it was razed by the French in the course of their sieges in the 1700s, and completely rebuilt by the British thereafter.

The area was renamed “George Town”, after the visiting Prince George of Wales (the future King George V); and it is Madras’ Old Town proper, bustling with commercial activity and everyday life.

In form and nature, it resembles its cousin, Georgetown in Penang, in that both European and local commercial and banking centres were located here; and the area is also home to a multi-cultural community. A delightful array of Hindu and Jain Temples, Mosques and Christian Churches of many different denominations may be found in the various neighborhoods here.

Our walk takes us down North Beach Road, which is the British commercial and civic heart of the city, and takes in a few other key streets such as Armenian Street (the heart of the Armenian community), Mint Street (where the Gujaratis and settled) and Popham’s Broadway, which, as its name suggests, was the Main Street of George Town.

8 - GPO

Next door is the Indo-Saracenic General Post Office, built in 884 and designed by one of Madras’ foremost architects, Robert Chisholm. [My photo does not do it justice in the least!!]

9 - MEtropolitan MAgistrates Court

The Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court.

10 - State Bank of India

The State Bank of India Building, completed at the turn of the 19th century, in an exuberant Indo-Saracenic style. Designed by Henry Irwin.

11 - MAdras Law College

Transitioning to NSC Bose Road, we encounter the Madras Law College, built in 1899 and designed by architect, Henry Irwin.

12 - YMCA

Across from the Law College on NSC Bose Road sits the YMCA, completed in 1900 and designed in a Jaipur/Rajput style.

13 - Armenian Church Entrance

The Armenian Church, on Armenian Street, was built in 1772

14 - St MArys Church

St Mary’s Church is one of the oldest churches in Madras, having been erected by the Capuchins in the late 1600s.

15 - Binnys

The Binny’s Building, on Armenian Street, is home to one of the oldest commercial companies in the city.

16 - Shaw Wallace Bldg

The Shaw Wallace Building.

17 - Andersons Church

18 - Sri Mallikeswarar Temple, Linghy Chetty St

Sri Mallikeswarar Temple, on Linghi Chetty Street, was built in 1652.

19 - Walnut Willies

Walnut Willies Building

20 - Wesleyan Chapel

Moving on to Popham’s Broadway, we come to the Wesleyan Chapel, dating from 1822.

21 - MAsjid Mamoor

The Masjid e Mamoor sits nearby.

22 - Tuckers Church

Tucker’s Church dates from the early 1800s.

23 - Residence

This spectacular Indo-Saracenic residence on Popham’s Broadway dates from the early 1900s.

24 - Residence

Nearby sits another spectacular Indo-Saracenic residence.

25 - Commercia Art Deco

Art Deco commecial architecture in the vicinity.

26 - Commercial

Neo-classical commercial shophouse architecture.

27 - St Francis Xaviers Church

St Francis Xavier’s Church, on Popham’s Broadway, late 18th century.

28 - Adikesava Perumal Temple

Adikesava Perumal Temple, dating from 1565.

29 - Tamil Wesley Church

Tamil Wesley Church, on Popham’s Broadway, mid

30 - Arcot Lutheran Church

Arcot Lutheran Church, Popham’s Broadway, late 1800s.

31 - Centenary Hall

Centenary Hall, Popham’s Broadway, dating from 1901

32 - Jain Mandir (Bhagwan Shri Parsvanathji) Mint St

Bhagwan Shri Parsvanathji Jain Temple, Mint Street.

33 - Shree S S Jain Sangh

Shree S S Jain Sangh Temple, Mint Street.

34 - Kandaswamy TEmple Georgetown Mint St

Kandaswamy Temple, Mint Street, built in the late 1800s.

35 - Shophouses on Mint St

Commercial shophouse architecture on Mint Street.

36 - Shophouses

Another example of commercial shophouse architecture on Mint Street.


  • K. Kalpana and Frank Schiffer, 2003. Madras – The Architectural Heritage. An INTACH Guide. Chennai: INTACH.   This is an EXCELLENT and INDISPENSABLE resource and I couldn’t have done the city without this.  
  • S. Muthiah, 2008. Madras Rediscovered. Chennai: Westland Limited.
Fort St George on the Coromandel Coast.  Belonging to the East India Company of England

View of Fort St George, on the Coromandel Coast, in the mid 1700s.

About Kennie Ting

I am a wandering cityophile and pattern-finder who is pathologically incapable of staying in one place for any long period of time. When I do, I see the place from different perspectives, obsessive-compulsively.
This entry was posted in Art & Architecture, Cities & Regions, Culture & Lifestyle, Heritage, India, Landmarks & History, Photography, Sociology & Urban Studies, Travel & Mobility and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Old Madras I – Fort St George and George Town

  1. novonay says:

    Interesting historical backround

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