Mumbai: 19th Century skylights lying in ruins at CSMT

Updated: Feb 17, 2020, 07:28 IST | Rajendra B Aklekar | Mumbai

1878-made Hayward Brothers' Patent Semi-Prism Lights that once sparkled at Mumbai CSMT get the rough end of the stick in recent repairs

The lights as they  were originally installed on the ceiling of the terminus
The lights as they were originally installed on the ceiling of the terminus

A 19th-century relic that once lit up the original design of the UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site of Mumbai CSMT, created by the legendary architect Frederick William Stevens, now lies in ruins in a corner on its premises. The 1878-made Hayward Brothers' Patent Semi-Prism Lights, from Borough, London, were dislodged during the recent renovation of the Grade 1 building in the name of conservation.

The light frames with about 44 prisms seem to be structurally intact, despite some damage. Three similar frames were spotted on the west side of the building, abandoned. They were once above the sunlit passenger corridor of the suburban train area.

Experts said that the semi-prism lights were a unique feature for illumination in the 19th century. The firm Hayward's Brothers that manufactured them belonged to William and Edward Hayward, part of a notable family of glaziers and glass-cutters. A 19th-century illumination journal describes how the semi-prism lights were deep-reaching and improved illumination levels: "Lighting basements had been problematic. Open gratings let in light, but were open to the weather as well, and hard to stand and walk on. The semi-prism idea by Edward Hayward was to split the triangular light in half by the prism after which the rays of light entering the top were thrown horizontally into the space below, lighting areas deep inside."

'Discuss a viable solution'

the current state the lights are in
The current state the lights are in

Swati Chandgadkar, celebrated stain glass conservator who has worked on the JN Petit Library, the University of Mumbai and Keneseth Eliyahoo synagogue, said, "The semi-prism glass panels were an important relic and the main objective of conservation is to preserve the original fabric and retain authenticity."

"However, if a relic or material has lost its efficacy and cannot be restored and if the damage has a snowball effect on the surrounding, it might be removed from its setting. A viable solution can be discussed with conservation specialists and architects — on how to replace the lost relic/material," she added.

She added it might be a good idea to salvage one of these lights in a fairly good condition and showcase it in the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT) museum as an original fabric.

'Take professional guidance'

Heritage conservation consultant and architect Rahul Chemburkar of Vaastu Vidhaan said that the conservation of CSMT by the railways was everything gone on the wrong track.

The lights were installed in the ceiling of the CSMT
The lights were installed in the ceiling of the CSMT

"They are degrading the Grade 1 heritage edifice brick by brick. The railways should take professional guidance for proper monitoring on a regular basis and from micro to macro. A proper heritage-oriented narrative is totally lacking," he said.

Experts worry about restoration

Experts suggested that under no circumstances these relics should be lost or sold as scrap and every effort should be made to restore them or at least save them at the heritage gallery. The World Heritage Site is in the middle of one of its biggest restoration projects and getting back all its bells and whistles. The overall idea is to recreate the building to its original glory as Stevens had completed it in 1888, but experts have argued that many things have been done incorrectly, which is damaging the building.

One of the prisms that make up the lights
One of the prisms that make up the lights

Earlier it was damage to the pillars, then defacing the Gothic-style figurines on the façade of the building into doll-like zoo zoos (highlighted by mid-day. The BMC's heritage committee had also expressed concern earlier, writing to the railways, warning that any irreversible intervention carried out at the site would adversely impact the building's heritage character and be a threat to its UNESCO listing.

The Central Railway spokesperson said they will take up the issue on priority and save the relics.

1888 - The year when construction of the Victoria Terminus, as it was known then, was completed

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