The Town Hall in Chandni Chowk, which till a few months ago served as the headquarters of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, was originally planned in the mid 19th century, before the revolt of 1857.
Planned like a typical ‘city centre’ in Victorian England, the Town Hall was not only expected to house the municipality but also a literary society and a museum, and to serve as a chamber of commerce. The construction, however, started after 1860 and the building was ready in 1866.
The Town Hall was initially known as the Lawrence Institute and later as the Institute building. With its literary society and museum, it was expected “to improve the local minds and to forward intercourse between Europeans and Natives”.
With its classical façade, the Town Hall, the clock tower situated bang opposite, and the Delhi railway station were the few examples of colonial architecture in Delhi at that time.
It was built with provincial funds —R30,000 as subscription from Indian citizens and the biggest subscription from Lala Mahesh Das, a rich merchant. In 1866, the building was bought by the municipality for R1,35,457 to serve as its headquarter.
The Town Hall also housed a public library and the European Club, which was shifted from there in 1898 to Ludlow Castle in Civil Lines.
As expected, the Town Hall become a social meeting ground of the city. More so due to the sprawling Queen’s Garden built around it.
The garden still exists, but it is not open to public at all times. Colloquially, the garden was and still is known as Company Bagh.
The clock tower in the middle of Chandni Chowk was constructed after a need was felt for a western concept of time in the city.
“The Clock Tower was damaged and then demolished in the early 1960s,” said Sanjay Bhargava of Chandni Chowk Sarv Vyapar Mandal.
“A fountain was later built by the British at Chandni Chowk. It still exists,” he said.
The clock of the broken tower was later installed on the roof of the Town Hall and was replaced only in 2007 with an electronic clock.
Another change in the original design of Town Hall came when the elephant statue in front of it that faced Chandni Chowk was removed.
There now stands a statue of educationist and social reformer Swami Shraddhanand.