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HindustanTimes Sun,13 Jul 2014

Named after a Duke, the heart is in the right place

HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times  New Delhi , September 14, 2011
First Published: 00:15 IST(14/9/2011) | Last Updated: 02:09 IST(14/9/2011)

Designed by Robert Tor Russell, Connaught Place, the Capital’s grandest and most famous shopping complex, was completed in 1933. In fact, originally, the idea for a central plaza in the new Imperial capital came from WH Nicholls, the chief architect to the Government Of India.

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But Nicholls soon left India and finally, Connaught Place — inspired by the Royal Crescent in Bath, England — was designed by Russell.

The new Imperial capital was centred around Connaught Place (CP), which was named after the Duke of Connaught, an uncle of King George V, who visited India in 1921. Ever since, Connaught Place has been the heart of the city.

Surprisingly for one of the most expensive commercial spaces in the city today, CP did not have many takers when it was ready for occupation in 1933. In fact, most traders of the Walled City joked that the big shops of CP will end up serving as horse stables and car garages.

Property dealers and shops owners, most of whom wanted to rent out their shops, had a hard time convincing prospective tenants.

Initially, some well-known traders from the Walled City and neighbouring states such as Uttar Pradesh and Punjab opened shops in CP.

By the early 40s, the reputation of the shops here began to spread far and wide. In fact, CP had some iconic shops, which could easily give high-end shops in many European high streets a run for their money — in terms of quality of goods, display and salesmanship.

In fact, some of these shops were run by British nationals. A few such shops were the Empire Stores, Army and Navy store (both general stores), Ranken and Company, Phelps (both tailors and drapers) Hamilton and Company (jewellers), B Lila Ram and Sons (sari merchants), RS Bhola Ram and Sons (wine merchants).

In 1935, New Delhi Traders’ Association was set up, with Seth Ramchand Lila Ram as its first president. It was the first traders’ association akin to a chambers of commerce, with members drawn from various trades.

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