Formerly known as the Thornhill Mayne Memorial, the beautiful sandstone building that houses the enormous Allahabad Public Library is situated in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. It is a creamy white building with elaborate gothic style revival architecture, several sharp pillars, intricate carvings, lofty towers, arcaded cloisters, and turrets of granite, nestled within a sea of shivering green and colorful clusters of blossoms.
The large groups of sitting readers across the library and in the Chandrashekhar Azad Gardens/Alfred Park, in Prayagraj (a lush green one on which the library building sits), once again underlines the fact that nothing can replace the unpredictable, exhilarating feeling of getting lost in a book just yet.
The Legislative Assembly of British India
The Allahabad Public Library is reminiscent of the colonial era in India and was originally built to house the legislative assembly of British India long before it was revamped to house the library. The building was opened as a memorial to Lord Thornhill and subsequently converted into a library.
There stands a plaque in the building that reads “This building which has received the name of the Thornhill-Mayne Memorial is erected in memory of Cudbert Bensley Thornhill, CSA &Francis Otway Mayne, C.B. both of Bengal Civil Service who died- the former on 11th July 1868 at sea off Aden, & the later on 30th August 1872 at Allahabad.”
Since the revamp, the library has been a go-to place for generations of students, writers, architects, and history buffs. During the East India Company rule, considering Allahabad’s geographical location, the British rulers decided to attach strategic value to the city and in the aftermath came up many churches, offices, bridges, markets, and important colonial buildings.
In November 1858, Allahabad was declared the capital of United Provinces, the former (British India) name of Uttar Pradesh, and Lord Canning read the well-known proclamation that Queen Victoria had taken direct control of the continent from the East India Company.
A Design by Richard Roskell Bayne
Among the famous colonial constructions in the city that were born out of the EIC regime, the Thornhill Mayne Memorial (now, Allahabad Public Library) is a unique piece just for the simple reason that it is a grand example of the Scottish Baronial Revival Architecture — a trademark of the British period in India. The total cost of its construction when completed in the year 1870 was INR 94,222.
The building was designed by English architect Richard Roskell Bayne, who was part of several crucial projects across many Indian cities between the years 1866 and 1890. As an architect working for the East Indian Railway, he had been involved in the construction of many bridges, railway stations, and bungalows, besides prestigious buildings such as the Hussainabad Clock Tower, the East India Railway Office, the Oak Grove School in Mussoorie, and the palace of the Maharajah of Durbunga.
The Allahabad Public Library, having been shifted to many places finally found a permanent home in the Thornhill Mayne Memorial building in the year 1889. The library was established in the year 1864 and is the biggest library in the state of Uttar Pradesh and one of the oldest ones of its kind in the country.
In the year 1879, the library was shifted to its present premises at Alfred Park — a park built back in 1870 to mark Prince Alfred’s visit to Allahabad. The park is now called Chandrasekhar Azad Park, in memory of the revolutionary freedom fighter who took his own life on the same grounds to avoid being captured by the British army.
A Vast Collection
Colorful flower beds, plenty of benches, massive trees, and gazebos lining its 133-acre grounds beam you a welcome at the entrance of the library. As you walk into the library, you will notice that the building interiors closely resemble that of churches with large hallways, high ceilings, pale white columns, and glass windows through which sunlight streams in, throwing white slats of light onto the wooden desks. Upon touring further into the library, you will be bowled over by the sheer variety of books lining its shelves!
The library has over one lakh twenty-five thousand books, a vast collection of old government publications, important parliamentary papers, 40 different categories of magazines, 28 daily newspapers in languages including Hindi, English, Urdu, and Bangla, and twenty-one Arabic manuscripts. Besides, it has a huge collection of blue books of the 19th century, old manuscripts, and a wide range of journals. The library also holds several prized possessions — Shahnama in Persian and certain works of Dara Shikoh, son of Mughal ruler Shah Jahan.
The Allahabad Public Library is undoubtedly one of the most delightful destinations for bibliophiles, architects, and nature lovers alike. You leave the premises having picked up a smattering of knowledge about politics, history, and architecture. The exquisite architecture takes you to a dream world while the sprawling green landscape soothes your soul.