CHENNAI: The chapter of bridges being used as a medium for crossing a water body began between 1639-1715. “Every day we pass through one of them but forget to think about the architectural building of the arches under it. This piqued my interest to read about old arch bridges built during the British era in 18th and 19th centuries,” said Hemachandra Rao, a city-based architect, who has been chronicling the history of bridges for around five years, at a recent talk in press Institute of India.
The bridges in Chennai are built across three seasonal rivers — Cooum, Buckingham Canal and Adyar. The years 1700-1800 was solely the phase of building bridges. What started out with timber as raw material slowly evolved to lime and bricks. “The bridges were built with arches to ease the movement of 80 ft boats carrying a burden of 23 tonnes. The middle arch, that allowed movement of boats, is considered the biggest in most of the constructions. The subsequent ones, taking surplus water, taper towards the end,” he explained. The bridges usually took the names of the immediate neighbourhood or the occupation in the area. A petition was released in 1814 to start naming the bridges.
Marmalong bridge was the first ever masonry arch bridge built over Adyar in 1726. It was by an Armenian called Peter Uscan. Unfortunately, it was destroyed in the 1960s due to floods. The second bridge was built only in 1804. This was called Triplicane or Government Garden bridge. It was later named St George bridge. Built by Lt Thomas Fraser, it has about 11 arches with abundant architectural built.
“And as we move upstream from St George bridge there is Chintadripet. The first suspension bridge was built here in 1831. But when a group of soldiers walked over with bridge with thumping noise, it collapsed and fell in 1939,” he said. That marked the end to this kind. “Currently St Law’s bridge is present here. It leads to nowhere and ends near the railway line,” he added. The bridge with five arches was built in 1854. Other bridges over the Cooum were St Andrews bridge built in 1817, Harris bridge in 1854 and the three-arched Monroe’s bridge.
He then spoke about bridges built over Buckingham Canal. The starting point was called Basin Bridge after basins, where boats would load and unload during those days. “In 1755, the seven-arch Wallajah bridge was built and widened later. A little further down, in 1878, Grand Duff bridge was built near Adam’s Road. Some of the other bridges were Ice House bridge and Peters Road bridge. The bridge near Cancer institute in 1857 was the last one in the city,” he said.
Know your bridges
Among the few other popular ones are the 14-arch Elphinstone bridge built near Adyar in 1842 and the 11-arch Manapakkam bridge near MIOT hospital. “Every bridge has a unique design and history to it. Earlier they were used to carry bullock and people. They still retain the power to carry heavy loads of vehicle now,” said Rao.
1814 A petition was released in 1814 to start naming the bridges.