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ASI discovers secret cellar in Chennai fort

S Ramaswamy in Chennai | July 08, 2005 16:10 IST

A cellar believed to have been used by the Madras Bank, established by the British for storing cash and gold, has been unearthed by the Archeological Survey of India at the famous Fort St.George in Chennai.

The Madras Bank  later merged with the Bombay and Bengal banks to form the Imperial Bank which is now called the State Bank of India.

The 10 x 8 feet chamber, constructed 200 years back, was found during regular ASI conservation work three days ago, Superintending Engineer T Satyamurthy told PTI.

"During the work being carried out by the ASI to study the seepage of water from beneath the surface in the rooms located on the southern side of the first floor, a small underground cellar was noticed in Gally two. It was later closed using the Madras type roof pattern to lay the floor. For further strength, iron flats were provided beneath the wooden floor," he said.

The walls of the cellar were finely plastered with masonry, he said, adding the cellar was empty. Satyamurthy said there were grooves in the masonry running across the floor and that they divided the cellar into two chambers.

Tracing the origin of the museum building, he said that after the East India Company had bestowed trading rights on free merchants, the necessity to build an exchange building was felt.

In 1787, Peter Massey Cassim, a merchant, mooted the idea of constructing an exchange building which was approved by the then government of the Madras presidency. An exchange company was formed on September 8, 1797 with a capital of 25,000 star pagodas then, he said.

A piece of land and a house upon it located near the sea gate, belonging to Robert Hughes, a free merchant, were acquired to house the company. A lottery was organised and the profits amounting to 10,000 star pagodas was spent to acquire the land and for the construction of the building, he said.

The present building was constructed after demolishing the old house in 1795 and became the hub of all trading activities.

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