A club with colonial charm

As Bangalore Club turns 150, here's an overview of the history and activities of the elite club that carries a heritage tag

Founded as the Bangalore United Services (BUS) Club, it was inspired by the United Services Club, set up in London in 1815 for army and navy officers.

Located beside Richmond circle, on FM Cariappa Road in Bengaluru, Bangalore Club sprawls across a little over 11 acres. The turquoise blue buildings have an old-world, colonial charm about them. Bangalore Club is one of the two oldest clubs in Bengaluru, the other being Bowring Institute which was founded in the same year (1868). Founded as the Bangalore United Services (BUS) Club, it was inspired by the United Services Club, set up in London in 1815 for army and navy officers. Hence, Bangalore Club’s emblem has a fort as a crest and a club and an anchor crossing each other, signifying the club’s beginnings of catering to men from the army and the navy, the United Services (the Air Force came later). 

Bengaluru was in two parts — the pete (city) with the native civilians and the cantonment with the military and Anglo-Indian families. Bengaluru came under the princely state of Mysore, a part of the British Indian empire. Those were the days when Englishmen used to hunt cheetahs and fish mahseer in and around Bengaluru. For many Europeans, Bangalore Club was a home away from home. Formerly, there were horse stables and servant quarters behind the main clubhouse.

Adapting to the times

The private clubs of India, started by the Englishmen, were meant to be exclusively for them. But as time flew by, the clubs had to adapt to the times, stop discrimination, and take Indians as members. Bangalore Club invited King Krishna Raja Wadiyar IV to become the first Indian nominal member. However, it was his brother-in-law, hero of World War I Col Jagirdar Desraj Urs who became the first Indian member in 1918. Initially, women and children were not allowed into the club. The Dovecot, near the main clubhouse, was where the women could be. In 1939, the club became a mixed one, opening to women as well. The two World Wars saw a drop in membership as the servicemen went away on duty and the club wore a deserted look. Hence, in 1946, the club was opened to civilian families and renamed as the Bangalore Club.

The presidents of the club were distinguished members of the society. Col J P Grant, who oversaw Mysore’s Revenue Survey and Settlement, was the president of Bangalore Club for four terms, from 1896 to 1906. Sir Donald Robertson, made Commander of the Star of India (CSI) and Knight Commander of the Star of India (KCSI), became the British Resident of Mysore in 1896. He became president of Bangalore Club for two terms. He set up the first hydro-electric plant in Shivanasamudram which supplied electricity to the KGF (Kolar Gold Fields) mines and helped develop townships there. Robertson approved and laid the foundation stone for the Sheshadri Iyer Library Hall in Cubbon Park, in memory of the late Dewan of Mysore, who was also a KCSI. The Mysore Maharaja honoured Robertson in 1902 by naming a town in KGF as Robertsonpet.

Brigadier RCR Hill served for many years as the president and his tenure is considered to be the most eventful one. He didn’t return to England, instead preferring to stay back. He can be called the architect of the club. Brigadier Hill Terrace, a party hall, and Brigadier Hill Annex in the club premises are named after him.

People joined the club not only to socialise but to improve on their sporting talents as well.

Laura Woodbridge was an Englishwoman who made Bangalore her home. As a member, she honed her playing skills in the club. In the 1950s, she went on to become a national-level tennis champion. Col John Pennycuick was a British engineer and civil servant who served in the Madras Legislative Council, during the Raj. He was a member of the Madras Cricket Club and the Bangalore Gymkhana Cricket Club, which later merged with the Bangalore United Services Club. Pennycuick was a cricket lover and tried to promote the game in India. He was an all-rounder and represented both the Madras and the Bangalore cricket clubs.  

Tournaments were held between Bangalore club and its affiliated clubs like the Madras Cricket Club, Madras Gymkhana Club, Presidency Club, Cochin Club, Bamboo Club and the Secunderabad Club. The club was known for racquet games such as tennis, badminton, squash and table tennis. It has grass and clay tennis courts, badminton and squash courts, billiards room, table tennis court, swimming pools, children’s play area, billiards room, basketball and football court, as well as a room to play bridge. 

There are bars (including a Sports Bar and an Umbrella Bar), lounges, coffee shops, dining hall, party halls, reading rooms, library, a theatre hall, cyber cafe, spa, salon and a large restaurant for members. The Brigadier Hill Annexe has a dancing hall with wooden floor. The former bachelor’s quarters have been increased in number and been made into residential rooms and suites to accommodate guests. Bangalore Club has a modern sewage treatment plant as well as underground, rainwater-harvesting wells.

Facts & trivia

The Oval Lawn has a large bell, called the Pagoda Bell. In Myanmar, there is a Buddhist temple called the Shwedagon Pagoda, or the Golden Pagoda. This gigantic, old bell was hanging there.

In 1945, the Allies accidentally dropped a bomb on the Pagoda. The bell was hit and when dislodged, it fell down several steps. After the war, the monks refused to take back the bell, saying it was bad luck to do so. Therefore, the British soldiers took it to Rangoon. From there they brought it to Madras and then to Bangalore in 1946. Brigadier Hill had it placed at the Annex entrance. Later it was moved to the lawn. Made of gunmetal, it has an inscription on it. Another interesting episode linked to Bangalore Club is how Winston Churchill owed it Rs 13 which was later written off as ‘irrecoverable debt’.

Legend has it that Sir M Visvesvaraya, the then Dewan of Mysore, was turned out from Bangalore Club and hence he started Century Club. In fact, Visvesvaraya recognised the need of clubs for Indians in order to promote social and cultural progression. So, he first founded the Deccan Club in Pune and then the Century club in Bangalore. The club gets its name since it initially inducted only 100 members. In 1922, Maharani Kempa Nanjammani Vani Vilas founded the Vani Vilas ladies club in Mysore, exclusively for women, both European and Indian.

Over a century and some decades, the Bangalore Club members have brushed shoulders with politicians, sports luminaries and army heroes, among other distinguished personalities. Currently, there are around 6,800 members. Some of the famous personalities among the current members are
former chief minister S M Krishna and Margaret Alva. Dewan of Mysore Sir M Kantharaj Urs, former chief minister Ramakrishna Hegde and famed physicist Dr Raja Ramanna were some of the members in the past. Here the dress code is followed diligently. This elite club has a reasonably hefty entry fee and a long waiting list of wannabe members. This year, the 150th anniversary is underway and many celebrations have been lined up.

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A club with colonial charm

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