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Bengal Club
Tolly Club - Heriatage Clubs
2947    Dibyendu Banerjee    20/07/2019

Spread over a vast area covering more than 100 acres of land and equipped with a clubhouse that is over 200 years old, the Tollygunge Club, popularly known as ‘Tolly’, located at 120 Deshpran Sasmal Road, was established by a Scottish banker Sir William Cruikshank in the year 1895, basically with the intention to facilitate equestrian sports and also to promote all types of sports. Legend says, Sir Cruikshank, a keen sportsman and the then head of the Bank of Bengal, accidentally found the dilapidated property when he was out riding early one morning and was trying desperately to find his missing dog.

Original house of Richard Johnson
Original house of Richard Johnson

During those early days of the city of Calcutta, that particular area, densely forested with Garjan, Sundari, Byne, and other mangroves, was far from the European settlement and was known as ‘Russapugla’, after the name of a Pir, a Sufi saint, who used to meditate there under a particular tree. Later the area was renamed ‘Tollygunge’ after the name of Col. William Tolly, an officer of the British East India Company, who dredged a canal in years 1775-76, connecting River Hoogly with Maatla and Bidyadhari Rivers.

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According to available documents, during 1781 Richard Johnson, an employee of the East India Company, started an indigo plantation in the area. In the course of time, Prince Ghulam Mohammed, the 11th son of the famous Ruler of Mysore, Nawab Tipu Sultan, purchased the property and made it a royal park and remodeled the house of Johnsons as his garden house. Much later, after more than a century since then, the Tollygunge Club Limited acquired the entire property from the Mysore family in 1895 and the old Johnson home became the present Clubhouse of Tolly Club.

The Club House with the Union Zack
The Club House with the Union Zack
The Club House with the Union Zack

Apart from the flowering plants and bushes, the extensive open area of the Tolly Club has an enviable collection of tropical plants, many of which were brought from abroad. They provide an ideal foraging ground for a multitude of birds. Cattle Egret, Pyed Myna, Indian Roller, Black Drongo, Kingfisher are a few of the innumerable number of birds. The club is an oasis of green within the concrete jungle of Calcutta, where Jackals still prowl at night.

A portion of the Golf course
A portion of the Golf course
A portion of the Golf course

Until 1950, Tolly did not even have a boundary wall and buffaloes mingled with golfers and equestrians. However, the club flourished until 1972, when a disgruntled worker murdered the then secretary at his desk in broad daylight. One night, in the same year, the club stables to the south of the property were set alight. The stable attendants were woken by Toby, the faithful guard dog, when they rushed the horses through the club gate to safety.

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A blow came in 1973, when the Government of West Bengal decided that Tolly was the perfect site for a vast new stadium. Fortunately, the plan did not materialize and the Heritage club was saved. Nevertheless, the club eventually had to give up a considerable portion of land, 25 acres in all, for the Metro Rail project for which they negotiated a handsome compensation.

Inside the Club House
Inside the Club House
Inside the Club House

Today, the Club offers a large variety of activities for the members. Most of the open spaces of the Club are occupied by an eighteen hole golf course and it has produced a number of renowned and professional golfers of India.

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It also offers facilities for riding, polo, clay shooting, tennis, squash, tent-pegging, swimming and indoor games like Billiards and Bridge Room.

The indoor swimming pool
The indoor swimming pool
Training for riding
Training for riding

It is also the ceremonial venue of the traditional Monsoon, Christmas and the usual New Year's Eve balls. The main attraction on New Year's Eve is the night tent-pegging championship, a type of cavalry sport of ancient origin, where riders pick up flaming tent pegs with a pig stick resembling a lance or spear.

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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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