Once a hunting lodge, part of the iconic 1878 Secunderabad Club lost to ashes

Hyderabad: The iconic Secunderabad Club in Hyderabad’s twin city, one of the oldest in the country, lost much of its main landmark building to a massive fire on Sunday morning. The city woke up to see the more than a century old establishment in ashes, with precious chapters of its history.

While there were no casualties according to Hyderabad Police Commissioner CV Anand, an internal message sent to club members by management – accessible via ThePrint – stated that the ‘Colonnade Bar’, billiard room, ballroom on the upstairs, the main reception area and the stairs to the first floor were damaged by the fire.

Anand said the extent of the damage has yet to be determined. However, club members who spoke to ThePrint on condition of anonymity were charging around Rs 35-40 crore.

The cause of the fire is under investigation and damage to property is being investigated. The building’s internal staircase, which was made of wood, was completely destroyed, the Telangana fire service said in a statement Sunday.

Anand also pointed out that the property suffered maximum damage because thousands of square feet of area affected by the fire were built mostly of wood.

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From hunting lodge to heritage club

Spanning a lush 22-acre campus in the city’s Cantonment area, the 144-year-old club was founded by the British in 1878, according to the club’s website. Before becoming a club, it served as a hunting lodge for Salar Jung I (Mir Turab Ali Khan), who was Prime Minister of the former Hyderabad state during the Nizam era.

“It is said that Salar Jung visited the British resident (a representative of an East India Company concerned with relations between the British and rulers of princely states) once every two weeks and this place was used as a pit stop. The journey was on a horse, so he relaxed here. During his reign, he came to the club in his authentic attire and changed into European-style attire before resuming his journey to meet the Resident,” famed columnist Mohan Guruswamy told ThePrint.

“The British then requested Salar Jung to make it a real club for their officers etc., as his visits were quite rare. This club is thus a very rare combination of the openness of the architecture in the time of Salar Jung and the English makeover once a club was established. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like this across the country,” he added.

Guruswamy has been a member of the prestigious club for about 50 years and says he has been a regular since childhood, just like his father.

During British rule, the Secunderabad Club was known as the ‘Secunderabad Public Rooms’. With the increasing presence of British officers in Hyderabad for administrative purposes, Secunderabad’s public areas were subsequently transformed into the ‘United Services Club’.

The establishment’s century-old main clubhouse was awarded heritage status by the Hyderabad Urban Development Authority, according to the club’s website.

Generous facilities, members only

The club is members only open and has a wide range of luxury facilities including a swimming pool, air-conditioned bars, dining rooms, banquet halls, petrol station, on-site supermarket, cricket ground and extensive grassy areas. It even has its own sailing annex, something only a few clubs around the world can boast of.

It also has five star accommodation with ‘heritage suites’. An old British-style colonnade, a spacious ballroom and an open-air theater that regularly screens films are some of the other facilities, according to the club’s website.

Until 1947, only British citizens were allowed to be club presidents, and only a handful of high-ranking Hyderabad nobility were offered membership.

Today, it has 8,000 existing and over 30,000 potential members. Existing members include military officers, bureaucrats, diplomats, police officers, former royalty, scientists and businessmen.

“Descendants of Salar Jung are automatically members of the club even today,” Guruswamy said.

“The club reflected the transfer of power – from the British to General Choudary, a commander of the Indian armed forces. It was a social club and membership was a reward for achievements. Now it is more of a hereditary club. Membership is passed down from generation to generation,” he added.

Anuradha Reddy, Chairman of the Hyderabad Chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), and a member of the club, said she has been a regular visitor for the past 70 years and spent much of her childhood there.

“Sadness, tragedy. Whatever the reason, INTACH will be committed to restoring and preserving its former glory,” she told ThePrint.

What was lost?

According to the club management, one of the damaged properties is the billiard room home to the oldest snooker table in the club, dating back to 1892, and two more added later. The 1892 snooker table had eight sturdy legs topped by a six-hole frame, according to the club website.

“It has all been reduced to ashes. The billiard room had colonial era snooker tables and we have preserved the aesthetics with such care. All that has been destroyed. Centuries-old history and heritage are lost. Those tables are invaluable and rare in today’s world,” Adnan Mahmood, a club member since 1976 and legal counsel, told ThePrint.

Another colonial-era property that was gutted was the ‘Colonnade Bar’ which, according to club members, had a collection of regimental plaques, antique animal head trophies etc.

The ballroom, which shows off colonial architecture in wood, was also damaged by the fire, management said.

What was saved

The heritage club’s 100-year-old trees are intact. A 100-year-old wooden table restored and used by the club’s printing press from 1885 to print menus and stationery, an iron brought from England a century ago, a pendulum clock made in 1892, a centuries-old billiard balls (the blue ball turned to green, the white to yellow, according to the club website) escaped the fire.

A library, with a wooden trellis and atrium work from the British era, containing rare and precious books including 32 parts of ‘Birds of Asia’, is also safe.

Heritage Commission to be raised: Opposition

Marri Adithya Reddy, an opposition leader in Telangana and son of senior congressional leader Marri Shashidhar Reddy, accused the state government’s committees of heritage conservation and restoration.

“The committees need to be raised. What’s the point of declaring heritage, showing it on Twitter, but not following a protocol to check the security and heritage protection protocols?” Reddy told ThePrint.

Arvind Kumar, chief special secretary (urban development), said the fire service had been asked to verify that the structure was following the precautionary protocol.

“It is very unfortunate. It is managed by Secunderabad Club. Have DG Fire Brigade asked to establish the following: 1. Have appropriate fire protection measures been taken? 2. Was there a fire NOC from the competent authority? 3. Has the security audit been carried out? (sic),” he tweeted Sunday.

(Edited by Gitanjali Das)

Also read: Look at Jewish Museum, Berlin and Jallianwala Bagh. India needs restoration, not renovation

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