The house that Parry built
Call it by any name `Paris', `Parees' or `Parry's'. It is perhaps the best known junction in Madras since at least 1895 when trams first began plying in the city... Parry's Corner is one foreign name Madras is unlikely to ever change.
CALL IT `Paris', `Parees' or `Parry's', by any name it is perhaps the best known junction in Madras from at least 1895 when trams first began plying in the city. But Parry's Corner, where NSC Bose Road and Rajaji Salai now meet, could well have been called just that when Thomas Parry bought the plot and the garden house across the way from the High Court and developed it as the offices of `Parry and Lane'. Next year, it will be two hundred years that Parry's, the second oldest business house in India in uninterrupted business, has been located on this site!
Parry's, officially EID Parry (India) Ltd., from 1976, dates to Thomas Parry's arrival in Madras in 1788 and registered as a Free Merchant. Several partnerships followed from 1790 before the firm became Parry & Co in 1839, but the most significant of those partnerships was when John William Dare joined it in 1819 and, over the next 20 years, made it the premier business house in the South and one of the leading businesses in the country. His contribution is recognised in the name of the art deco building that opened its doors on the Parry site in 1940 as Dare House, when its other tenants felt that putting Parry House on their letterheads would be tantamount to supportive advertising.
The site, even without the tag `Corner', is a historical one. It was here that Comte de Lally, the French commander, sited his artillery while besieging Fort St. George in 1758-59 and `cannonaded' the fort to the tune of constant shelling. After the French siege was lifted and the Esplanade created - Parry's still tend a boundary-marker of that open space - John Company's Chief Engineer, John Call, built a garden house on the site. He sold the house to Nawab Muhammed Ali, whose daughter Begum Malikunisa occupied it for several years. It then appears to have been sold by the Nawab's successor to Lautour & Co who, in turn, sold it to Thomas Parry. Here Parry re-built the house in Palladian style, with godowns on the ground floor and offices on the third floor. As business grew, more godowns were added and, in 1864, a third storey was added out of the profits of the cotton boom that followed the outbreak of the American Civil War.
In 1897, a new multi-storeyed block was added to the campus, at the corner of what is now NSC Bose Road and Moor Street. Called Lawyers' Block, it housed a few of the Parry's offices, but mainly offered chambers to several lawyers of the time, including the well-known Eardley Norton who had suggested the development of the block. The lawyers were turned out in 1919 when Parry's needed more space and plans began to be made for a new building. The Great War, the greater depression and other considerations put the plans on hold; it was not till the mid-1930s that the plans began to be looked at again. Eventually it was 1938 before the Begum's house, the Company's numerous additions and Lawyers' Block were all pulled down and work began on a four-storey building that its architects, Ballardie, Thompson and Matthews of Calcutta, estimated would cost Rs. 1.2 million. When the building opened in 1940, the top 1 ½ storeys were leased to the American Consulate, the Madras Chamber of Commerce and the European Association, making Parry's Corner an even more prestigious address. By the early 1950s, more space and became essential, so Parry's not only ended the tenancies, but also built Parry's Building behind Dare House as well as Parry Annexe across from it in Moor Street.
Thomas Parry's first business was a varied one, though he might well have described it as a one-man general agency and trading company in which he looked after the investors' stake and his. The firm acted as real estate agents, sold "Madeira Wine of superior quality, upwards of two years old", acted as administrators of estates of those deceased, sold passages to Europe, distributed books "newly published", discounted Navy bills and even sold Bengal lottery tickets. But the main business was banking, then and for long after.
Yet Parry was constantly looking for new opportunities and, in 1805, he established in San Thome what might be considered Madras's first industry. He bought a garden house, which he called Parry (now Leith) Castle and established in its premises a tannery, which soon expanded into making military leatherware for export. Four years later, he was taking over indigo and sugar manufacturing units in Chidambaram. To this Dare added ship chandling for the Navy and building a fleet for coastal shipping. By the time Parry died of cholera near Cuddalore in 1824 - where he is buried - `Parry and Dare' was well established in several fields.
Parry's will was a remarkable document. Apart from a bequest to his sickly wife in England, he was most generous to sundry ladies, who seemed to be of all nationalities and hues, and several children. Of particular note were the provisions made to Mary Ann Carr - who was, possibly, the daughter of Samuel Moorat, the wealthy Armenian leader. After providing for her "during her natural life", Parry went on to also will "the sum of fifty rupees for the support of any child which the said Mary Ann Carr may have within nine months from the date hereof... " As a biographer, a latter day director of Parry's wrote: "Such liaisons were not then unfashionable... It must be remembered these were pre-Victorian days". But even for pre-Victorian times, Parry had more than the usual number of liaisons.
Parry, who had moved from Parry's Castle to Wallace Gardens in 1820 - a garden house now hidden midst all the construction on several streets with the same name in Nungambakkam - had also bought a house in Fort St. David, Cuddalore. But reading between the lines of his will, it would appear he had `homes' for the night in towns all along the Coromandel as far as Tranquebar!
On the solid foundations Parry and Dare had laid, their successors built well, moving into sugar in South Arcot in 1842, manure (fertilizers and chemicals) in North Arcot in 1904, acid jars that led to ceramics in 1908, and confectionery in 1914. The firm is still in the same manufacturing businesses. But along the way, it acquired the initials EID.
To tend its industrial assets, Parry's founded The East India Distilleries and Sugar Factories Ltd. In 1897. In 1962 the two organisations merged identities and EID Parry Ltd., was born, the India being interpolated in 1976. But whatever the business history of Parry's and the companies it spawned, its own name has become an indelible part of the city. Parry's Corner is one foreign name Madras is unlikely to ever change. Once the major tram turnaround and now the same for many a bus, it is a name in everyday use by tens of thousands of commuters. In fact, it is a name that has passed into the geography of the city.
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