February 17, 2020
A rare 19th century relic that had been once carefully curated by the legendary architect Frederick William Stevens into the original designs of the UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site of Mumbai CSMT now lies in ruins in one corner of the station premise.
The 1878-make ‘Haywards Brothers’ Patent Semi-Prism Lights- Borough, London” that once sparkled the station premise are now in a sorry state of affairs with the recent renovation undergoing on the Grade 1 building in the name of conservation. The light frames with about 44 prisms seem to be structurally intact, bare a few damages and litter. Three similar frames were spotted in the west side of the building abandoned. These were once above the sunlit passenger corridor of the suburban train area.
Experts said that the semi-prism lights was a unique feature for illumination in the 19th century. The firm Haywards Brothers 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 was 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.”
Swati Chandgadkar, celebrated stained-glass conservator who has worked on JN Petit Library, 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 & 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 CSMT museum as an original fabric.
Heritage conservation consultant architect Rahul Chemburkar of Vaastu Vidhaan expressed that the story of conservation of CSMT station by the railways was everything gone on the wrong track. “They are degrading the Grade 1 heritage edifice brick by brick. The railways should take proper professional guidance onboard for proper monitoring done on a regular basis and from micro to macro. A proper heritage-oriented narrative is totally lacking ” he said.
Experts suggested that under no circumstances these relics should be lost or sold as scrap and every effort should be made 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 is 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 leading to damage to the building.
Earlier it was damage to the pillars, then defacing the Gothic-style figurines on the façade of building into doll-like zoo zoos and now in this loosing the historical imprints. 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 also be a threat to its UNESCO listing.
Central Railway spokesperson said they will take up the issue on priority and save the relics.