BENGALURU:With the intention to bring the 'grand old lady back to birth', Stuart Clarke, honarary treasurer of the managing committee, the Bowring Institute, began restoration work on the iconic Bengaluru heritage structure. The committee took up the project in 2014, and retrofit engineers and experts were called in for the project.
"We do not think of it as just our statutory duty under The Karnataka Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1961. We see it as our responsibility to bring this building back to its glory and improve services for our members. We first consulted the department of Archaeology, Museums and Heritage, Mysuru. I was disappointed at first, as we could not find any records or drawings of the original plan. We sourced every little detail we could find about this club, and then came up with a plan," says Stuart, who is also the project coordinator. The building was in a dilapidated state, with warped windows and doors. The ventilators were boarded up, he adds. The club also has an in-house plant to manufacture lime mortar for construction purposes.
Institute started to promote Industrial Revolution
In 1868, Bowring Institute was started as Bangalore Literary and Scientific Institute. The institute ran its operations on the premises opposite St Josephs's European High School, now called St Joseph's Boys' High School, on Museum Road.
The institution was started by Benjamin Lewis Rice, along with other philanthropists. "He was a British historian, archaeologist and educationist, and is the author of Gazetteer of Mysore. The club was started to discuss literary and cultural pursuits. It was not meant for recreational activities initially, as there was Bangalore Club for that," says independent researcher and historian Arun Prasad.
Rice was the first honorary secretary of the institute. The first president, in 1868, was Lewin Bentham Bowring, who was the commissioner of the province. The institute was started with the primary objective of promoting the Industrial Revolution that was taking place in England, in south India, says Stuart. Arun adds, "The objective was to promote education for the young, build literary knowledge among men, empower reading and writing skills, personality development and public speaking."
Rice was a great visionary and encouraged people from various walks of life to become members of the club. Stuart says, "From 1868 to 1888, lot of Britishers returned to England, and hence, the number of members depleted to 35. But Rice was keen on the programme and wanted to find a bigger premises. He was offered a space opposite Bishop Cotton Girl's School on St Mark's Road, but the rent was exorbitant, so he had to decline the offer. It so happened that in 1887, the Quartermasters General from the army granted a common land, then known as St Marks Cathedral Bandstand, to Rice. Rice accepted the grant and started operations of the institute at the current premises." According to Stuart, the land was granted on a condition that the bandstand will be maintained. "We had the bandstand for a few years, but now, we do not," says Stuart. Arun adds, "Due to space constraints, the public meetings and lectures were being held in the hall of public offices, now Atta Katcheri. Two decades later, a separate piece of land was given by Mysore government."
Rice remembered Bowring being the first president of the club, and created the Bowring Memorial Fund. So when this land was offered, the institute had `7,640. The British government gave a grant of `10,000 and the Mysuru Maharaja gave a `5,000 grant. So with `22,000, they started building the structure. It was a 45,000 sq ft structure with 22 inches exterior wall. The building consisted of a main hall, a reading room and a library. Construction was completed around 1890.
First billiards table in south India
The foundation stone of the building was laid by Lady Prendergast, the wife of Lord Henry Prendergast, officiating resident of Mysore.
The institute was renamed Bowring Institute after its first president Lewin Bentham Bowring. "Bowring was not even here in Bengaluru then. He was intimated that the institute is being named after him, and replied saying he is happy that an institute was being named after him in the province he is proud of," says Stuart.
The institute got electricity for the first time around 1905. Fans were installed in 1923. "They started to promote this institute. The enrolment fee back then was `10. We also have in writing that the general body then decided to buy the first billiards table in south India. We got the table in 1891, and still house that antique table," he says.
Davis Cup played here in 1960s
Stuart recalls the Davis Cup that was played at the club in the 1960s. He says, "Russia was playing against India, with legends like Jaideep Mukherjee playing. I remember seeing the game as a child."
The club has hosted several great sportsmen. Ramanathan Krishnan, who represented India at Wimbledon, also played here. Prakash Padukone started his career at this club.
The committee has been focussing on catering to the youth by promoting services. The managing committee comprises of a president and three office bearers, who are elected for a period of two years.
Original departments of the institute
Back then, the club had a reading room, a library with lots of first edition books including one of the earliest editions of the Britannica Encyclopedia, a billiards room and five tennis courts. The courts were all clay ones, and recently, one developed into a synthetic court.
The club was on around 12 acres of land. The main hall used to host several literary and cultural events such as plays, concerts, dissertations, children's programmes such as magic show, and musical evenings. The main hall also had a wooden dance floor, where New Year balls were organised. "There used to jam sessions as well on Sundays, where women in skirts would gather and dance," he adds.
The Master Plan
The committee had an open house discussion about their master plan, which aims to optimise the campus they have and provide members with a whole range of services.
1. Establishing a multi-sports complex that will house all types of sports.
2. A better health club with spa services for members, including a jacuzzi.
3. Renovation of 60 units of guest quarters that contain six presidential suits, 12 cottages, eight executive AC rooms, 34 AC rooms and a small swimming pool.
4. A main kitchen block.
5. A lotus shaped lawn that will have a garden area with huge stage for outdoor functions and an indoor arena in case of poor weather.
6. Architecturally, the other buildings will be built similarly to the heritage structure.