Ooty: While the 133-year-old Assembly Rooms theatre here recently witnessed an encroachment controversy, the Nilgiri Documentation Centre (NDC) recalled how a British enterpreneur couple took the initiative to build this theatre in the late 1800s. This day in July marks the death anniversary of one of its founders.
D. Venugopal, director of NDC, said, "July marks the death anniversaries of John 'Tonga' Browne and his wife Harriet Ann, the enterprising couple who founded the Assembly Rooms. While Harriet died on July 9, 1899, John died on July 19, 1902. Both were buried at the cemetery at St. Thomas Church here," he noted.
The Assembly Rooms is an old English institution for theatricals and entertainment for military communities which came up in most towns colonized by the British. The Assembly Rooms in Ooty came up much before the present one, and was started by the Misquiths who were related to the Brownes, he noted. One of the businesses which thrived after 1878, was the horse drawn tonga service from Mettupalayam to Ooty. The Brownes made almost a monopoly of this trade, earning the sobriquet 'Tonga' Browne.
The Brownes built the present Assembly Rooms in Ooty evidently in 1886. But the Rooms did not do well as it was found difficult to get performing artists and troupes. The fortunes of the Assembly Rooms in Ooty was revived in 1922 after Governor and Lady Willingdon purchased the building to form a public trust for public entertainment and recreation. Since then, the Assembly Rooms have grown from strength to strength till about the past decade, when it has been beset with one problem or the other due to official apathy and indifference of the management, he noted....