Posts Tagged ‘St Mary’s Church’

Travel: St Mary’s Church, Fort George, Madras (now Chennai)

October 11, 2015 1 comment

This is the first English Church built in India. It is the oldest English Church east of Suez.



Clive of India was married in the church, as was Elihu Yale, an early founder of Yale University.


The barracks were built in 1687 but St Mary’s was begun in 1678. It was consecrated (controversially) by Richard Portman in October 1680. The organ was installed in 1687. The spire was added in 1710.


The walls are 4ft thick, it was built to withstand siege and cyclone and had a blast-proof roof of solid masonry. The brickwork is 2ft thick.


The building could accommodate 500 people. The distinctive black granite baptismal font dates from 1680.


My journal entry (October 2014):

St Mary’s – the oldest English church east of the Suez. So many similarities with St Andrew’s cathedral in Singapore, just not as big. So many brass memorial plaques to those who died, often of sickness and disease, many very young. We strolled in the heat of the beautiful sunlit church garden. A peaceful place. Butterflies. Odd how a mercantile and mercenary Raj took the Church with it as part and parcel of Empire. It was obvious you would think, wasn’t it? Well, as the years have unfolded, no – it was a bad idea!  Felt a little strange that Grandad would have known this church. Presumably as a bandsman, he may even have set foot inside. At the back of the building, I saw an old fading photo of George Town at the time (1905) he would have been there, so very different to today’s Chennai’.


The great Lutheran Pietist missionary, exemplar and intermediary, Christian Friedrich Schwartz (born 1726) arrived in India in 1750. He is remembered in India fondly and in the stirring epitaph at the base of the large white marble sculpture in St Mary’s (by John Bacon Jr, 1807).


Schwartz was truly the first Protestant missionary to India, not William Carey as often supposed. Carey arrived in India two years after Schwartz’s death at Tanjore in 1798. Schwartz died a rich man but he left all his wealth to the SPCK for its work in India.




Social History: George Olliffe at Fort St George, Madras, India

July 27, 2015 3 comments

In 1905 (100 years ago) my grandfather George Olliffe was serving with the British army in Madras (now Chennai) at Fort St George in India. I have blogged his story here. He was a bandsman in the Leicestershire Regiment (1Bn) and was posted to British India in 1903 at a time when the Raj was at the height of its powers on the sub-continent. He left India in 1906.


Lt-Colonel Webb’s 1912 ‘ A History of the Services of the 17th (The Leicestershire) Regiment’ records, ‘The regiment sailed from Durban on the 7th November 1902 for Madras (from fighting in the South African Boer war), and arriving on the 30th, disembarked on the 1st December and proceeded to Fort George‘. Bandsman Olliffe arrived in Fort St George from Britain four months later on 6th March 1903.

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In October 2014, I went to Chennai. One of the highlights of the trip to southern India was to visit the Fort St George military compound, some of which still houses units of the Indian military.


It was thrilling for me to walk through part of the Fort where Grandfather must have drilled, to view his old parade ground and perhaps even to look at one of his old barrack blocks.


This is a photo record of my visit to this evocative place within our own family history:


The Parade Ground and Drill Square at Fort St George


Some of the vast walls and ditches surrounding the Fort.



Another part of the compound adjacent to St Mary’s Anglican Church, the first English church built in India (1678-80).


The thought that Grandfather may have set foot, perhaps for a parade service, in this very same church was very moving.



Travel – The Hampshire Hangers; Zig-zagging up Selborne Hanger

January 26, 2013 Leave a comment

Taking advantage of the lull in our recent snowy weather, we did a winter walk around the Hampshire village of Selborne (between Alton and Petersfield on the B3006). Free NT parking (with new toilets) is available behind the Selborne Arms (SatNav GU34 3JH). This short walk is part of the 21-mile long Hangers Way.

Selborne village, Hampshire

The village is famous with naturalists around the world due to the pioneering work of the Reverend Gilbert White, Vicar of Selborne from 1751 to his death in 1793. White published one of the classic titles of English literature; The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne (1789), a book which, incredibly, has never been out of print! White was born in the village in 1720, returning after attending college in Oxford where he had been ordained.

Selborne thatch

Gilbert White's famous book

Our walk led us up onto Selborne Hill and Common (owned by the National Trust) using the well-trodden ‘zigzag’ path actually cut into the hillside by Gilbert White and his brother John in 1753. The sides of the path are lined by expertly laid low hedgerows. The view from the top over Selborne and the surrounding countryside makes the fairly steep ascent (360ft) worthwhile.

View from the zigzag path


We climbed in the snow but when we got into the beech-hanger woodlands, we were up to our ankles in thick, heavy clarty mud. We slipped and slithered – over the brown mulch from decaying autumn leaves – back down into the village, calling into Gilbert White’s House Tea Parlour for strong Assam tea and warm scones with clotted cream. Yes, I know it’s only January but summer teas do seem such a long way off!

St Mary's Church from Selborne Hanger

Clarty lanes near Selborne

Gilbert White's favourite viewpoint over Selborne

We visited St Mary’s Church on the way back to the car. This rather beautiful stained glass window in memory of Rev. Gilbert White is worth noting … ‘For a faithful priest and a writer of genius’. His striking black memorial stone is set in the floor just in front of the altar.

St Mary's Church - The Gilbert White window

Gilbert White memorial

This walk can be extended beyond the village along the Oakhanger stream but we’ll come back and do that another day. We’d seen enough mud for one day but the views from Selborne Hanger made our mud bath truly worthwhile.

I wonder if the Tea Parlour are still cleaning their floors?

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