Victoria's secret tunnel found at Sassoon hospital

Published: Oct 18, 2011, 08:44 IST | Vivek Sabnis

Labourers carrying out digging work to make lift pathway stumble upon tunnel leading to unused basement in 144-year-old Victorian-era structure

Labourers carrying out digging work to make lift pathway stumble upon tunnel leading to unused basement in 144-year-old Victorian-era structure

Labourers of the Public Works Department working on a lift pathway at the Sassoon General Hospital stumbled upon an important piece of history yesterday. They found a tunnel leading to an unused basement in the building. The 144-year-old building, which was constructed between 1863 and 1867 in the Victorian Gothic style of architecture, is a Grade I heritage site.

Deep, dark secret: The tunnel that was discovered yesterday in the
144-year-old building of the Sassoon General Hospital. Pic/Krunal Gosavi

The two-storey building made of basalt has huge staircases, big halls and wide corridors. This building houses various departments, including ophthalmology, psychiatry, burns treatment, tuberculosis and plastic surgery ward. Dr Ajay Chandanwale, dean of Sassoon Hospital, said the tunnel led to a basement. "It may have not been used for the last 100 years," said Chandanwale. "This is the first building of the Sassoon hospital and the most beautiful in the campus. The tunnel and the basement room are part of the structure. We have asked the PWD workers to ferret out the soil and clear the place. Details will be known only after the digging work is over."

The digging work started last morning. The PWD labourers were carrying out the digging work to make a pathway for a lift. Chandanwale ruled out any speculation that the construction work may damage the old heritage structure, which is against rules.

He said the ophthalmology ward was located on the first floor and patients with eye problems needed to have a proper lift to reach the ward for treatment. "The hospital has earmarked Rs 10 lakh to fit a huge lift capable of holding 14 persons," he said.  D G Kulkarni, superintendent of Sassoon hospital, said no heritage rule set by the Archeological Society of India was being violated. "There will not be any damage to the old structure and it (construction of lift) will not make the place ugly," he said. U B Puri, PWD engineer who is monitoring the entire work, also said there was no violation of rules and work would be done without damaging the old structure.

PMC says
Avinash Sohani, member of the PMC Heritage Cell, said permission to erect a lift way had been approved by members of the earlier heritage cell in 2010. "I don't know any other details and on what basis permission was given to the hospital," he said.

Written on Sassoon foundation stone
Founded for the relief of the suffering poor of Poona by a philanthropic individual whose name it bears and who munificently contributed Rs 2,13,000 towards its erection and endowment. It was designed by Captain H Saint Clair Wilkins R.E. (Royal Engineer). Commenced: 1863 Completed: 1867 Total cost of construction: Rs 3,10,060

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