‘Leith Castle’- Madras

As I have said many times before there are so many connections between Madras and Scotland. I am going to quote from ‘Madras Miscellany’ in the Hindu Newspaper which has a wonderful group of people, inspired by Mr. S. Muthiah, dedicated to unravel the history of my birth city of Madras. I hope to glean the Scottish gems from their superb research and put it up on my blog, always with due respect to the source.

I saw the photo with the title ‘Leith Castle‘ in one of their pieces in the newspaper and I was intrigued. It is anything but a castle!

So here is the whole article as it appears in the ‘Hindu’ dated October 17th 2010: “The San Thomé Redoubt

Fred de Silva, fascinated by my pictures last week, wonders whether I could do the same for the San Thomé Redoubt and also relate its story. I, therefore, turned to Glyn Barlow for another of his sketches and offer a photograph of a later age as well. And, tell the story briefly.

Between 1567 and 1582, Fort San Thomé was built, pushing Mylapore far from shore and establishing a battlements-surrounded Portuguese settlement.

The Dutch and the Mughal satraps between 1675 and 1697 demolished all those protective walls to such a degree that when the British moved in, in 1749, they could not even trace the line of the fortifications.

Deciding that such elaborate defences were no longer necessary, the British in 1751 had military engineer Benjamin Robbins raise a small fort by the shore, that would keep the Adyar under observation at the same time.

This was the Egmore Redoubt, built with walls 15 feet thick and three feet wide, and at a cost of about 6,500 pagodas (about half a million rupees today). With threats to Madras further reducing, the fort was given up and the property sold in 1794 to a Col. John Braithwaite, a hero of the third conquest of Pondicherry. He built himself a garden house here on the ruins of the Redoubt.

Two years later, the Colonel sold the 14-and-a-half-acre property to the up-and-coming merchant prince Thomas Parry who rebuilt the house as Parry’s Castle, a name that survived till 1837.

In its grounds he established a tannery in 1805 and developed it into Madras’ first industrial venture, a manufactory leather goods for the military, both in India as well as in Britain and the U.S. Parry, however, had moved out of the house and to Nungambakkam a couple of years after the tannery started. The odour had probably got to him!

When Parry died in 1824, Major General James Leith bought Parry’s Castle and made it a garden house again. After he died in 1829, the house passed through several hands, but always remained residential property.

Some time after 1837, however, it became known as Leith Castle — and that is what it is still known as. But, now, built up all around, the ‘castle’ is barely visible. It’s, however, still in private hands, the last I heard.

At that time, a couple of years ago, it was in the family of R.N.P. Arogyaswamy, a well-known member of the Geological Survey of India.

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