“What is in a name”? Everything actually when it comes to history and heritage. Around two years back I had visited a group of abandoned brick buildings that were almost in ruins while on a trip to Achipur. The locals refer to this place as a “Barood Ghar” but no such references exist in any document. There is a signboard out there that says “Land Belongs to Kolkata Port Trust” but getting any information from the port authority is just beyond my reach. So my research started on Barod Ghar about its history and any important reference that we can tie up with this place.
What is a Magazine?
As the name suggests it is just a fortified building or structure where you store active gunpowder or any other types of explosives. The problem of storing gunpowder is that it is a highly flammable explosive and if not stored or handled properly can have serious consequences.
A typical gunpowder storage facility will have multiple small buildings so that the quantity of explosive remains divided in multiple locations instead of just one single unit. In the event of a fire, the damage is limited to the quantity of that single unit only.
Also, these old magazines used to have huge thick walls and a curved ceiling. The main reason for this was the strength of the walls to contain the explosion in the event of a blast and the curved vault roof is also to do with the strength of the top structure.
Why was this Magazine Built?
It was a common thing for ships back in 1800 and early 1900 to carry gunpowder which came handy for various purposes. Firstly and the most important was for self-defense, in the event of a pirate attack or offensive from any rival fleet then the cannons would be loaded with these gunpowders and fired on the enemy.
Apart from this ships also used gunpowder for signaling and also for gun salutes wherein a cannon would fire without any projectile or cannonballs. Gun salutes were required when celebrating or commemorating special occasions.
As per the official record from Fort William which was then the seat of power in this part of the country was worried about the damage that a ship with a load of gunpowder can do if it accidentally ignites. This can very well damage a huge portion of the houses and buildings on the riverfront as well as can cause harm to the structures within the Fort William which was located right next to the Hooghly River. Not to mention the other ships that also remain anchored around it will get damaged.
I would like to think from a different angle altogether. In my personal opinion, the company was worried about a surprise attack from the river or for that matter illegal gunpowder landing into the hands of the enemy from its shores.
On 16th of July 1801, an order was passed by the Governor-General in Council at Fort William stating that any ships arriving in Calcutta up the river must deposit their gunpowder at Atchepore (Achipur) where a magazine had been constructed for the safekeeping of gunpowder. The ship will receive a receipt of deposit and will be able to collect it back while on their return journey from Calcutta downstream.
A ship is allowed to keep 100 pounds of gunpowder which they can use for signaling and gun salutes while the rest has to be deposited at the Atchepore magazine. Any ships carrying excess than what is allowed and found will be seized of its gunpowder and fined with a penalty.
Another very important point in this order is the 8th paragraph which clearly states that all ships already anchored at Calcutta with excessive gunpowder must deposit the same at Atchepore Magazine by 31st of July 1801.
The above statement implies that the magazine at Atchepore was very much present when the order was passed and ready to accept the gunpowder from the ships.
Tax For Building The Magazine
Ships coming in and out of Calcutta not only had to deposit their gunpowder at the magazine but also had to pay a tax. This tax would cover the cost of building the magazine and its maintenance along with all the officials that would be required to run the Magazine.
A tax of one anna per tonne had to pay for every export and export did too and from Calcutta.
Shifting From Atchepore to Moyapur
So as per records initially there was a gunpowder magazine in Atchepore in 1801 but there was another one built at Moyapur. Possibly with the increase in trade, a much bigger infrastructure would have been required for storing gunpowder. Thus as per records, it was ordered for ships to store their gunpowder at the new location in Moyapur instead of Atchepore. The record indicates that from 1st of June 1803 all ships were asked to store their gunpowder at the new facility in Moyapur instead of Atchepore.
Achipur or Mayapur Magazine?
Here comes the name challenge for Barood Ghar. What do we call it Achipur Magazine, Atchepore Magazine, Mayapur Magazine, or Moyapur Magazine?
The confusion arises because most people visit this place after visiting Achipur or from Achipur so people mistakenly started assuming this to be Achipur Magazine instead if you see municipal jurisdiction then this locality comes under Mayapur which of course the British mispronounced as “Moyapur” and the name stuck. All the official old records that we have of this place are under Moyapur Magazine and not as Atchepore Magazine.
The confusion further got enhanced and most online media enthusiasts with little research and no multiple reference sources keep quoting one single official document which states the construction of a gunpowder magazine at Atchepore. In reality, the initial document did say about the construction of the Magazine at Atchepore but was later changed to Moyapur and that is where it got built and that is exactly what you still see today standing (almost).
Several records tell us about the distance if Moyapur from Calcutta and in one particular information source the author mentions the location of Moyapur Magazine in his diary as opposite of Rangamate Khal in Oolaberiah (Uluberia). Luckily Rangamate Khal is still very much in existence and is bang opposite to Moyapur (Mayapur).
Last but not least is an 1899 map of the river. In this document, we can see Atchepore and Moyapur with its magazine marked out.
Surprisingly even as recent as 1950, the Gazette of India shows the salary of Gurkha watchmen and jamadar at Moyapur Magazine thus it can be assumed that the structures were very much present some 70 years back and the one that we see now are the very same.
Thus it can be concluded that the Barood Ghar or the Gunpowder Magazine that we see today is none other than Moyapur Magazine.
The Magazine Now
The land remains under the Kolkata Port Trust thus there are no encroachments but the condition of the buildings is in complete shambles.
The structures that you can see are 3 + 1 Magazine Houses on the west side, 2 Pillbox (guardhouse) on the south can be seen while only one is still standing on the northern side. A small portion of the brick wall can still be seen on the northern side.
There is another magazine on the extreme east of the property which I am not exactly sure if it was a part of a storage facility or an office building considering the number of entry points to this small structure.
Up ahead you can see a two-storied structure with the floor between the basement and first floor completely gone and the walls standing. There were many speculations as to who used this building and for what purpose. We find references in several archive documents that British officers were posted at Moyapur Magazine for the collection of taxes and record keeping. Logically this could have been their residence or office.
Some reports also mention this building as the residence of the collector of 24 Parganas. In 1907 this building still had its floor covered in chines marble but the outer structure was completely damaged.
There is another small room right next to the two-storied structure which can be safely assumed as a house for the guards or servant quarter.
Next to the Magazine is another interesting structure that you should not miss. It’s the Moyapur Bar Semaphore signal post. Hooghly River carries heavy silt and at some points, the river is very shallow and dangerous for ships to navigate. One such location is Mayapur (Moyapur) where a signal post was installed atop a tall metal pole. This is a method to alert ships of the height of water during tides. Of course, ships don’t use these anymore as they rely more on digital communication these days but this post is still active and men from Kolkata Port Trust remain at post out here relaying information about Mayapur bar.
So finally I can rest and close another chapter. This blog has helped me explore this region of Bengal in many more details so hopefully, a few more blogs will be posted in the coming few weeks. So next time you are in Achipur do visit the Moyapur or Mayapur Magazine and please stop calling it Achipur Magazine.
Location Of Moyapur Magazine
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The Calcutta Monthly Journal Vol. 6 – 1834
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Journal By Western Society Of Engineers, Chicago
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