May 01, 2017

Here is the second feature in The Good City's three-part series celebrating 110 years of Bengaluru's Towns! After walking with the trees, join us as we travel back in time to re-visit the intriguing history of Fraser Town, Richards Town and Cooke Town.

Fraser Town, Richards Town and Cooke Town are arguably some of the prettier neighbourhoods of Bengaluru. But did you know that these these up-market areas have their origin in a deadly plague that changed the face of the city more than a hundred years ago?

In 1898, Bengaluru, which was divided into residential and Cantonment areas, was ravaged by Bubonic Plague. The city administrators tried segregation camps, and inoculations, but the plague spread nevertheless. It killed over 3,321 people in Cantonment alone. The area had to be divided so that the population could be driven away from heavily congested, plague ridden areas such as Shivajinagar. And thus, the "Towns" of Bangalore were born, carefully culled out to stop the plague from spreading further.

Dispensary founded by Tamil merchant BP Annaswamy Mudaliar in 1909

The tragedy led to a massive undertaking of modernising the city, and even brought in the use of telephones here for the first time to manage the catastrophe. Roads were widened and proper drainage facilities constructed. New hospitals, such as Victoria Hospital, were built around this time. A Tamil merchant BP Annaswamy Mudaliar and an Islamic philanthropist Haji Sir Ismail Sait took it upon themselves to draw people to the towns. They founded schools, dispensaries, and fresh markets.

Colonial Bungalows of Fraser Town

New houses were constructed. The architectural preference here leaned towards Colonial bungalows. The Madras arches, large verandas similar to Portuguese balcaos, tiled roofing, red oxide and concrete tile flooring, rendered a distinct charm to these streets. By 1907, Fraser Town and its neighbouring areas were up and running. 

This year, these "modern" towns turned a 110 years old, having merged into the city's integral history. A festival organised by The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), Bangalore - a non profit organisation which works towards conserving India's cultural heritage - celebrated these neighbourhoods, with a walk that began from the intersection between Cole's Road and Mosque Road.

Strolling through these roads, one could not help but feel nostalgic for a time when AM Cafe, Albert Bakery, and Regal Store were the only landmarks in the open spaces of Mosque Road. A 100 year old cow shed still exists in Fraser Town, on a one acre plot in Robertson Road. The stone building with tiled roof served as a horse stable for the rich, when they visited local entertainment spots in the early 1900's. 

The old world charm of Bengaluru's Towns

Richards town was formed a few years later, with bigger plot sizes for the more well to do. The houses were centered around Richard's Park in a circular fashion. "I never knew that the roads were wider because they had planned to lay railway tracks here," said leah Verghese, a resident and another fellow walker. 

Even at a cursory glance, the marked co-existence of churches, temples, and mosques in these Towns, exemplifies cultural diversity at its best. Bengaluru, now known for its multi-cultural, cosmopolitan nature, has always been thus, and perhaps thus always shall be.