For the residents of Bengaluru, Mayo Hall is a timeless part of the city, a constant known by virtually anyone familiar with MG Road. The newer residents will be familiar with the Pompeian red edifice, reminiscent of the many other colonial structures in the city. Older residents will remember the red and white finish that the building bore for over a 100 years before the change in 2015. But most probably do not give a second thought to the name ‘Mayo’ – not a condiment in this case, but a county on the west coast of Ireland.
The story begins with an Irish nobleman, Richard Southwell Bourke, 6th Earl of Mayo, who served as the Viceroy of India from 1869 – 1872. His tenure, although short, was generally well regarded by his contemporaries, having focused on infrastructure, railways, agriculture, and the efficiency of the colonial government in general. However, he was assassinated in 1972 by an Afghan, Sher Ali Afridi, then a prisoner in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. He had been a prisoner since 1869, accused of the murder of a man whom his family had feuded with in Peshawar. Afridi had been well regarded by the British whom he had fought for as a cavalry soldier – one of them having even rewarded him with a pistol and a horse. Apparently aggrieved by what he saw as an injustice, Afridi fatally stabbed Lord Mayo who was on an official visit to the Andamans, having concealed himself behind a rock in the evening hours.
Memorials came up all over the Empire in the wake of his death – memorials in London and Cumbria, a hospital named in his honour in Lahore, a boarding school for the Indian aristocracy in Ajmer, and finally in Bengaluru. The Mayo Hall in Bengaluru was completed in 1883 using public funds to the tune of Rs 45,000.
The building, which today houses a unit of the Bengaluru Civil Courts, is now overshadowed by much larger modern buildings. It is dwarfed by the nearby Metro station, while another nearby colonial holdover, the Victoria Hotel, has been replaced by the Bangalore Central Mall.
Interestingly, Mayo was not the only member of his family to have given his name to a major metropolitan landmark. His brother Robert, 1st Baron Connemara, would later have Chennai’s Connemara Public Library named in his honour.
In its heyday, Mayo Hall dominated the landscape, looking over what was then called the South Parade Road, with lawns and gardens around it. Little of these now remain. The British tendency to recall home was visible here – the area was also known as the Rotten Row, after a road near Hyde Park in England (it was originally a French name – the Route de Roi or King’s Way.)
Neoclassical architecture was a talking point even then. According to the records of the district courts, the Bangalore District Gazetteer took note of features such as pedimented windows, Tuscan columns, Greek cornices, and wooden flooring. The building was designed by Richard Sankey who was also the architect of the Attara Kacheri, where the High Court is now located, and the Government Museum on Kasturba Road.
Visitors today can also visit a museum on the first floor of Mayo Hall dedicated to Kempe Gowda, the chieftain who is held to be the founder of modern Bengaluru. Ordinarily, it is open from 10 am to 5 pm on weekdays, but at the time of writing of this article, it is currently undergoing renovation.
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