Engineer’s ‘digs’ in UK for a Colombo street name

Tuesday, 17 May 2011 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By D.C. Ranatunga

YOU and I may not notice it or we may just not be bothered if we see a notice at the top of the lane indicating the name to be used to identify that road or street.

According to the Municipal Councils Ordinance (1887), before any private street is given a name or before the name of any private street is altered, the Council has to post the proposed name at either end of such street;

and also distribute to the owners of the land abutting such street; and any such owner may, within 15 days of the posting of the notice or the date on which notice is given, whichever is later, object to the proposed name by sending to the Council a written statement containing the grounds on which his objections are based. After considering the objections, if any, the Council will determine the name by which such private street shall be known.

Amusing process

Naming of roads can sometimes be quite amusing and hilarious. There is the story of the reactions to a name suggested by the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) for a lane taken over by the Council.

When the Chairman of the Council (pre-Mayor days) consulted the residents, one said he owned all the land in the street and wanted it to be named ‘Perera Lane’. Another, de Silva, said that Perera was an undesirable person and wanted it called ‘de Silva Lane’. The Chairman gave it a good Aryan name which ran into three words so that senders of telegrams had to pay for three words instead of one!

Here is another. Temple Lane was suggested for a street which had a temple in it. But there were already four Temple Lanes. The roads engineer (a Ceylonese – as Sri Lankans were called those days) suggested a typical English name. When he was asked the origin of the name, he said that it was the name of the road in Bloomsbury in which he had ‘digs’ when studying in England. It was approved.

General’s Lake Road was named after a General called Lake who lived in Braybrooke Lodge. It was not named after the lake along which it runs. (It’s now Sir James Peiris Mawatha in memory of the prominent freedom fighter).

Early days of transport

Just as much as road names relate an interesting story, the early days of transport in Colombo city is equally fascinating.

In a paper presented to the Engineering Association of Ceylon, an engineer who joined the Council’s Engineering Department in 1905, N.M. Ingram wrote: “Bullock carts, private horse carriages and private and hiring rickshaws monopolised our roads and it was a very much more picturesque scene to watch the influx and exit into and from the Fort with quite a good display of horse flesh and horse-keepers and rickshaw coolies in gay and smart get up.

“In this respect we have certainly, though quite unavoidably, gone backwards, for processions of cars and lorries are not quite exactly pleasing to the eye. If the writer’s memory is not at fault there were, when he arrived, only two small steam cars in the island, one of which frequently had to run on tyres stuffed with coir fibre when spare tubes were not available.

“Two thirds of the road mileage was then surfaced with red gravel which was to be found even in the Fort and Pettah. Practically the whole of the residential area was served with gravel roads, even Turret Road, for example. There were no set tracks for carts and no set paved roads, no bituminous carpets, and no surface painting.

“Roads were mainly mud or dust for which there was no alleviation, save by the totally inadequate bullock water cart. The city was plagued with local dust storms both red and white for which there was no remedy. The Galle Face was a good place to watch the swirling dust clouds moving rather like water spouts, red on the sea side drive and white on the Centre Road.

Chairmen, mayors and engineers

Getting back to road names, most Chairmen of the CMC have been remembered. Leading the list is Layard’s Road and Layard’s Broadway named after the first Chairman, Sir C.P. Layard (1866- 77). Among others were F.R. Saunders (Saunder’s Place), T. Reid (Reid Avenue), W.T. Stace (Stace Road) and R.W. Byrde (Byrde Place).

Colombo Mayors have also been remembered. Price Park was renamed Goonesinghe Park in memory of A.E. Goonesinghe, the Mayor in 1940, Sugathadasa Stadium and Vincent Square to remember V.A. Sugathadasa and M. Vincent Perera (both were Ministers of Sports as well) and roads named after several mayors including George R. de Silva, C.T. Grero, T. Rudra, Dr. Kumaran Rutnam and Dr. N.M. Perera.

Grenier Road in Borella remembers the first Secretary of the CMC, Sir Samuel Grenier (1866). Roads have also been named after many Municipal Councillors.

Among engineers remembered were Major T. Skinner, F.B. Norris (Norris Road is now Olcott Mawatha), R. Skelton, A.H. Dawson, R.E. Tickell and N.M. Ingram (Ingram Road in Maligawatte was renamed Sri Saddharma Mawatha).

Sir W.R. Kynsey and Dr. Christopher Elliot were two well-known medical men who had roads named after them. Darley Road, named after a prominent personality in commerce, E.J. Darley, is now T.B. Jayah Mawatha remembering the MP and Minister in the D.S. Senanayake Cabinet.

British Royalty and public works

Most of the roads and parks named after British royalty have been changed. Queen’s Street is now Janadhipathi Mawatha (housing the President’s House which was earlier Queen’s House) and Victoria Park has been renamed Vihara Maha Devi Park. There were also roads named after British nobility and place names in Britain. The latter includes Kew, Vauxhall, Ascot, Coniston, Deal, Kinross, Hyde Park and Mayfield.

Public works, landmarks and institutions have also given their names to streets. Hospital Street in the Fort derives its name from the military hospital of the Dutch period, Bankshall Street is a derivation of ‘Bangasala’ or storehouse and Mutwal is from the Portuguese and Dutch corruption of the Tamil word for the mouth of a river,’ Muhatuvaram’ – in Sinhala ‘Modera’ or ‘Muvadora’.

Trades, ‘watte’ and ‘pitiya’

Names like Barber Street, Butcher Street, Brassfounder Street, Silversmith Street, Shoe Road and Oilman Street refer to the trades which were carried out in the area. Union Place was the name given when a road was built to join Slave Island with Cinnamon Gardens.

There are many areas with names ending with ‘watte’ (garden) – Kurunduwatte, Wellawatte, Kuppiyawatte, etc., and ‘pitiya’ (plain) – Kollupitiya, Bambalapitiya, Madampitiya and Gintupitiya. Roads were also named after trees and flowers – Messenger street from ‘Masangas Veediya, Madampitiya from the plain of ‘madan’ and Kotahena (‘kottanchena’), to quote a few.

Saints, scholars and females

Quite a number of saints were used for road names – St. Lawrence, St. John, St. Anthony and so on. The Roman Catholic Archbishops Bonjean and Zaleski have been remembered. Armour Street was named after the Rev. Andrew Armour, the Anglican Chaplain of St. Paul’s Church, Pettah, and Glennie Street after an Anglican Archdeacon. Use of names of well known Buddhist prelates started later.

Turnour Road got the name after the distinguished oriental scholar Hon George Turnour.

A nice mix of Eastern and Western names of females cannot be forgotten in a study of names of streets in Colombo. Among them are Siripina, Mary, Lily, Frances, Chitra, Siripa, Somadevi, Anula, Frederica – the list goes on and on.

(Source: ‘Colombo – A Centenary Volume’ – H.A.J. Hulugalle)