Friday, January 31, 2014
In 1902, the company founded in 1879 by Alfred Hugh Harman changed its name to that of the town it was based in. The town council objected, saying that merely being the town's biggest employer did not mean the company could automatically take over the town's name. Their objects came to naught, and the Britannia Works Limited became Ilford Limited. In the early 20th century, India was still a large market for British companies. Circa 1915, the city of Madras had an Ilford Company, which was probably bringing in film rolls from the principal's factory at Ilford, Essex.
There is not much more about the Madras company's history that I have been able to trace. Probably its fortunes rose and fell with its British parent, which, by the 1960s was owned by ICI and Ciba; the Ilford Co., Madras was bought out in 1977 by Saurabh Mehta, who was a distributor for Hindustan Photo Films. That purchase gave Saurabh the ownership of Ilford House, on Woods Road. The building had little going for it, architecturally or aesthetically, in keeping with its function as a storage house for medical X-ray film stock. By 1997, demand for such film had fallen dramatically and a large storage facility made no sense to Saurabh. Cannily enough, he found the perfect buyer; Fabindia, established in New Delhi in 1960, was expanding nationally and it needed space in Chennai. Saurabh realized that Fabindia would be the ideal tenant and struck a deal.
It is quite counter-intuitive; Woods Road is narrow, crowded and further cramped by haphazard parking. It is not a shopping destination. Maybe that helped, because folks would then not be distracted with other outlets and would shop only at Fabindia. Even though the chain now has several other outlets in Chennai, it is only Ilford House which provides the 'heritage experience'!