Mumbai Greens: Steeped in history and heritage, Horniman Circle Garden offers shade to the weary

Mumbai Greens: Steeped in history and heritage, Horniman Circle Garden offers shade to the weary

Flanked by banks, offices, boutiques, and flagship stores, the Horniman Circle Garden in South Mumbai is a step into the city’s history and heritage. The circular garden is surrounded by banyan and coconut trees at the heart of the busy Fort area and by the Reserve Bank of India and the Town Hall on its eastern side and Flora Fountain at the other end.

Located amidst the erstwhile trading zone, historically the area was known as Bombay Green and was used as a storage space for cotton bales, opium, and other merchandise. It is said that in 1851 an informal group of stockbrokers would trade under the banyan tree and thus begin the Native Share and Stockbrokers Association, which was later known as the Bombay Stock Exchange.

The garden, specially designed for those in need of water and shade, has a defined walkway, several small lawns, street furniture and a gazebo with a water fountain at the centre. (Express Photo by Amit Chakravarty)

Today, the Horniman Circle continues to be a green oasis for weary commuters, traders and labourers. Looking out at the majestic Asiatic Library, the garden is visited by residents of Mumbai as well as tourists. It is most crowded in the afternoon around lunchtime when it gets many visitors from the banks, an electronic store, a coffee shop and showrooms of big clothing brands.

The garden, specially designed for those in need of water and shade, has a defined walkway, several small lawns, street furniture and a gazebo with a water fountain at the centre. As one walks around the garden, most of its visitors can be seen either taking a nap on one of the lawns or taking calls. It is one of the few gardens in the city that is accessible to visitors in the afternoon. It is also one of the most frequented municipal gardens in the city and one that lies at the heart of the grade-1 heritage precinct.

The Horniman Circle Garden was upgraded in 1995 and the cast iron fencing enclosing the garden was restored by the Horniman Circle Trust. It received the urban heritage award in 1995, however, much of it now lies in a poor condition.

Horniman Circle continues to be a green oasis for weary commuters, traders and labourers. (Express Photo by Amit Chakravarty)

Spread across two acres, the garden has four entrances. However, except for the main entrance, others are blocked and now used to store garbage bins, or by illegally parked vehicles. The 18th-century garden has grand gates and fences made of unique cast iron. Despite being damaged at most locations, the cast ironwork is one of the finest in the city. The Mumbai civic body, which plans to spruce up the garden, said the restoration of the old wrought iron fencing would be a highly specialised work.

The Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI), which led the conservation study of the Horniman Circle commissioned in 1998, said it is one of the first major urban design schemes. The buildings around the circle, designed by James Scott, were under the strictest architectural controls viz form and skyline. “As the trading activities shifted from Bombay Green in the late 19th century, the dusty grounds were given the shape of a circular open garden under Mumbai’s first major urban design scheme, planned in 1869 and completed in 1872 with well-laid walkways and trees and now known as Elphinstone Circle,” said UDRI.

In 1947, the Elphinstone Circle was renamed after B G Horniman, the renowned pro-freedom movement editor of The Bombay Chronicle.


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