Demolition is throwing up British-era treasures at stations getting an upgrade on Mumbai’s Central Railway (CR) line. While a rare, Victorian-era iron safe was discovered in Mumbra, four brackets that contain the Great Indian Peninsula Railway’s (GIPR’s) logo were found at Bhandup station. The railways said they would try and save all the relics and find a place for them at the heritage gallery in CSMT or elsewhere.
At Mumbra, an old booking office is being demolished following a note from the assistant engineer of the Mumbai Railway Vikas Corporation (MRVC). The note, which was sent to the Divisional Railway manager last week said, “[The] old booking office on platform number 2 at Mumbra station is infringing the staircase of the newly-constructed foot overbridge at CSMT station and will be dismantled.”
But the infringement in this case proved to be too valuable as the office has been a part of the original railway line extension beyond Thane in the 1860s. On November 10, 2017 morning, when I visited the site, the station building had been partially demolished and the old brackets with the GIPR logos were already missing, but a look inside revealed a treasure.
The old booking office once used an all-weather and sturdy Victorian-era Tucker and Reeves wall safe embedded in the building. This remained intact even after the building was partially brought down.
The booking office safe used to be an important feature of the building and was in use till almost two decades ago, before the new booking office and computerisation came up. Bolt locks and safes from Tucker & Reeves are also a part of the permanent collection of the Science Museum in London.
“This is a late 19th or early 20th century safe and was a key feature of those days. It was used for storing cash and keeping important documents. In the present context, these safes are very interesting. These days, safes are made of much thinner sheets of steel, whereas these are heavier and sturdier ones that could bear the brunt of major impacts or a fire,” said Sanghamitra Chatterjee, former archivist at Godrej Archives and founder of Past Perfect: A Legacy Management Agency.
At the 164-year-old Bhandup station, the entire wooden structure with a thatched roof has been brought down to make way for the new, elevated booking office. Earlier this week, it led to the discovery of four brackets with the GIPR logo. It had 13 original brackets and many of them went missing, and now, only those four remain.
The office was being used till three years ago as the station manager’s office, but with station upgrades, the structure went into disuse and is now being lost. Bhandup is an important station as it was witness to the first train run in 1853 and the idea of laying down a railway line in Bombay was first discussed there. Other relics from Bhandup station are also being collected to be moved to the heritage gallery at CSMT.
“The GIPR logos and all other relics are central pieces of India’s railway history and should be sent to a museum. Preserving and documenting the old technology, design and work is a great way to pass it on to the future generations,” said local history enthusiast Swapnil Chevale who has been documenting the old station’s changes.
The railways said they would try and save all the possible relics that have been unearthed and find a place for them at the heritage gallery at CSMT or any other place.
“We have already informed the relevant departments to initiate action to move those relics to a safe spot. A team from the headquarters will visit the relevant stations and take stock of the situation,” said Sunil Udasi, CR’s chief public relations officer.
The relics were brought in at the CR headquarters from two stations one at Bhandup and other at Mumbra after bringing it to their attention with promises to be displayed at the heritage museum gallery. But later not a trace of them was found.