British-era equipment unearthed during restoration of PWD buildings in Chennai’s Chepauk

What started as a routine restoration exercise of the Public Works Department (PWD) buildings at the Chepauk complex has turned into a rather delightful treasure hunt, as the department has chanced upon antique equipment belonging to the British era.

While restoring a portion belonging to the Department of Boilers, a division of the PWD, a British-era iron hand-printing machine was discovered. Officials said it was found abandoned in a room located a few feet below the surface. The room had stayed locked for over five decades, sources said.

With a crown finial on it, the machine has inscriptions of its British manufacturer, Harrild and Sons, and the model’s name, Albion Press. Officials said it must have been brought from London during the early 1800s to print documents for the PWD.

“We found the machine in a room located at a depth of 7 ft. from the surface, adjacent to the site where the Department of Boilers functioned. The room could have been used for confidential purposes. We are planning to restore it as a heritage artefact,” said K.P. Sathyamurthy, joint chief engineer, PWD. The department has taken up restoration of an 18,000-sq. ft. space, belonging to the Department of Boilers, that provides licences to factories with boilers and ensures their safe operation. The ₹4.2-crore restoration is set to be completed by May next year.

An ancient lift

Another find was a makeshift lift, used during the British era, to move heavy files from the ground floor to the first floor of the PWD complex that houses chief engineers. The equipment looks like a large weighing machine, with thick ropes attached to it to move the files up and down.

Officials said the equipment must have been used before the majestic wooden staircase at the PWD complex was built. There is evidence that a ladder near the portico was used to reach the first floor of the building earlier. This too would be restored to working condition, they added.

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