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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Restoration Of National Heritage (Lahore GPO) (1996-4)

The magnificent building of the General Post Office, Lahore, lovingly called by Laborites as the GPO, is ideally located at the crossing of the Mcleod Road and the Mall. It sits at a corner where the old Nabha Road meets the Mall at a sharp angle. This gives this building a special shape of a triangle with an open base and a flattened top.
But, this is not the building where the General Post Office of Lahore was first housed in the middle of the 19th century. In some of the general books on Lahore, it is only mentioned that the first General Post Office was located in Anarkali near the Central Museum. But certainly, both the Anarkali and the Lahore Museum were then not at their present locations.
The entire length from the Lahori Gate to the Chauburji was then called Anarkali and according to one official letter dated 22nd September, 1860, the Lahore Museum was then located somewhere in the Anarkali. The Tollinton Market was constructed only in 1864 to house the first Punjab Exhibition and act as Museum premises for next 30 years finally to be shifted to the present building on Shahra-e-Quaid-e-Azam in 1894.
A thorough search of old Government record in the Punjab Record Office in the Anarkali Tomb and screening the information in old historical books and district gazetteers has revealed that the original building of the General Post Office was located south of the present day Tollinton Market (1864) and east of the Punjab Public Library (1882) on some part of the land now occupied by the Irrigation Secretariat on the library Road. Here in 1849, was constructed a barrack-like building to house the ever first Post Office of Lahore. It was headed by Mr. W.T. Clifford, the first Postmaster who assumed his charge on 2nd June, 1849 and lived in a large bungalow situated close-by in an extensive compound. Near the GPO-barrack and almost opposite the Punjab Public Library, then stood a small cottage, known as Lockland, used as the headquarters office and armoury of the Punjab Volunteers. The Postmaster of Lahore, then used to work under the Postmaster General of the North Western Provinces with his headquarters at Agra.
Although after 1849, some additions were made to the post office buildings but soon the Postmaster General felt that the accommodation is hardly sufficient for the staff. Besides, he had certain reservation about the very site of the Post Office. The Lahore Cantonment, then located in Old Anarkali was being shifted to Mian Mir (present day Lahore Cantonment) and several buildings in the Anarkali were vacated. Mr. B. Riddall, the Postmaster General of the North-Western Provinces, Agra, therefore wrote in March 1852 to the Secretary, Board of Administration, Punjab, inviting his attention to his earlier letter of November 10, 1851, and requested him to allot one of the houses vacated by the army officers in Anarkali for the use as Post Office. Mr. Riddall was of the opinion that if a suitable house is not given to him at this stage, he will have to spend a considerable more amount on the alterations of the existing structures or to build a new house in Mian Mir where the Cantonment was then being shifted. The request of the Postmaster General, however, could not be acceded to and deferred for one year. When was this promise fulfilled? We are not sure. One of the authority of H.R. Goulding, author of \'Old Lahore\' (1924), we know that the original barrack-like GPO building, Postmaster\'s bungalow and the Lockland Cottage were demolished in 1854 to give place to the huge Secretariat of the Public Works Department. In all subsequent literature, the GPO of Lahore is referred to be located in Anarkali. But where precisely it was located, we are not sure.
As already stated above, the GPO of Lahore originally had its Postmaster General in Agra. By October 1862, there was appointed a separate Postmaster General for Punjab. For the correspondence of the year 1862, month October, preserved in the Punjab Record Office, it transpires that the Director General Post Offices was not satisfied with the new arrangement of a separate Postmaster General for the Punjab and wanted to abolish the post. The Secretary to Government of the Punjab, on the other hand, was of the opinion that much results have resulted from the appointment of a separate Postmaster General for this province and desired that the appointment may not be abolished.
For a long period both the post office and telegraph office worked together in Lahore as elsewhere. In Lahore, whoever, Central Telegraph Office building was built in 1882 separately from that of the General Post Office on the site of its present Central Telephone & Telegraph Office opposite the present day GPO. The Lahore GPO continued to work in its old location in Anarkali. By the year 1883, it had only three branch offices in Lahore, one each at the Railway Station, Moti Bazar and Lohari mandi. A horse-dak used to ply along the Grand Trunk Road to Ferozepur, and a mail cart ran daily from Lahore to Mian Mir. Besides, there were pillar-post-boxes cleared three times a day. No business was transacted on Sundays, New Year\'s Day, Good Fridays, the Queen\'s Birthday and Christmas Day. As late as 1876. packages were received at the Lahore GPO in Anarkali for dispatches by the Government bullock train 24 stations from Peshawar to Ferozepur.
This was the time when several of the prestigious buildings which today are regarded as landmarks of the city of Lahore, had already been constructed. Thus the Civil Secretariat was constructed in 1845, Commissioner\'s Office in 1850, Public Works Secretariat in 1854, The Chief Court in 1855 (rebuilt in 1882), Accountant General Office in Shah Chiragh in 1860, Financial Commissioner\'s Office in 1867, District Courts in 1870, the Old Free Mason Hall inside Lady Maclagon College in 1869, Central Telegraph Office in 1882, Lahore Museum in 1894 etc.
This was the right time to plan for a new appropriate edifice of the GPO of Lahore. When was the present building on the Mall (present day Shahra-e-Quaid-e-Azam) started\" We are not sure.
This magnificent building was certainly complete and occupied in 1904. From a document dated July 1904, now preserved in the Punjab Record Office, we know that the authorities were already trying to get some site for the stables for the new Post Office in Lahore.
Situated at the junction of Nabha (Ustad Allah Bux) Road with the Mall (Shahra-e-Quaid-e-Azam), the handsome building of the GPO is now certainly a landmark of the city of Lahore. Its tow wings, both measuring 238\' x 87\', join each other rat an obtuse angle, with a European style high dome at the junction. This hybrid building has been described by the old writers as a specimen of Indo-Sarsanic architecture. It is actually a blending of Muslim, Hindu and European styles (see Plan).
The original plan of the GPO is based on a Triangle with its base kept open. Actually, the two arms of the triangle have been so constructed that they run parallel, one to the Upper Mall and the other Nabha Road, Both wings meet with a flattened end at the junction of the two roads, creating a facade 130 feet broad, with a porch (130\' x 29\') backed by a huge dome of European style fitted with a hug clock overlooking a spacious square below. Inside the domed-tower is a wide circular staircase which gives access to the upper floor. At either end of the Central domed-tower are two smaller minarets. The two distant-ends of the two wings are framed eactl with a set of two identical minarets making the total number. of minarets as six. Only four minarets are visible from the roadside - the other two remain hidden from public view.
Only two minarets - one in each distant-ends have built in circular staircases to provide access to the upper floor. One either side of the two wings, each originally divided into three major halls (49\' x 40\'), there run two verandahs, each 10 deep and 153\' long. There were and still are several other additional halls and rooms. It originally had 33 rooms on the ground floor and 19 on the first floor. Between the two wings then was and still is an open space originally meant for recreation of the children of the staff of the GPO. The western end, once wide open, has recently been built over to accommodate the increasing needs of the GPO. In the entrance porch on the east was once standing a handsome letter-box surmounted by a clock. It was originally used in the principal post office in the area of the Coronation Darbar of 1911 held at Delhi by His Majesty, the King Emperor George-V. It is no more there today.
In 1916, GPO building accommodated the General Post Office. The Dead Letters Office, the Offices of the Postmaster General, Punjab & N. W. Frontier Circles and the Superintendent of Post Offices, Lahore Division.
According to the Gazetteer of the Lahore Division published in 1984 by the Research and Gazetteer Cell, Board of Revenue, Punjab, the General Post Office in 1984 was the largest Head Post Office in Pakistan. It has five independent units then working under the administrative control of the Chief Postmaster-cum-Deputy Postmaster General, Lahore Postal Area. There were two Head Post Offices, one hundred & forty-one sub-offices and two branch offices in Lahore Postal Area. Sub-offices were divided into North, South & West Division - each headed by a City Superintendent. In the General Post Office, besides usual postal services, there are special sections for Foreign Post, Identity Cards, Postal Insurance, Savings Accounts, Railway Mail Services and Sorting Divisions.
For long, GPO building suffered for lack of attention from the point of view of its maintenance. Some careless caretaker, at some unspecified time, covered the beautiful naked brick work with ordinary cement plaster and put a colour wash on it. It marred its beauty so characteristic of other contemporary buildings like the Lahore High Court, Lahore Museum, Punjab University, Town Hall, etc. However, soon the good sense prevailed and finally, in December 1984, the authorities decided to restore the entire building, particularly its exterior to its pristine beauty. The work continued for a number of years under the guidance of the renowned architect Mrs. Yasmeen Lari. The building now stands in full glow of its former glory.
To commemorate this historic heritage and on the auspicious occasion of inauguration of the New Counter Hall of Lahore GPO by Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, Prime Minister of Pakistan, Pakistan Post Office is issuing a commemorative postage stamp of denomination of Rs. 5/- on Lahore GPO on August 21, 1996.