Crumbling hall in Pakistan named after Charles Bradlaugh ordered to be preserved

The Bradlaugh Hall (Picture courtesy of 'Save Bradlaugh Hall, Lahore' via Facebook)
The Bradlaugh Hall (Picture courtesy of 'Save Bradlaugh Hall, Lahore' via Facebook)

Pakistani authorities have been ordered to preserve a dilapidated hall in Lahore named after former Northampton MP Charles Bradlaugh.

The 19th-century building was a symbol revolution for British India and carries the former Northampton MP's name because he was greatly admired in Indian circles because of his support of Indian self-rule.

So popular was Bradlaugh he was dubbed the Member for India.

The hall was once a hub for political events, receptions, literary readings and poetry recitals where Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs all gathered, but its condition has deteriorated for decades.

Earlier this month, a team of experts formed on the orders of Pakistan's Supreme Court to report on historical sites falling on the route of a metro project visited Bradlaugh Hall.

They inspected the premises and held meetings with officials and concluded the hall, which is under a Special Premises Ordinance, was in need of protection and preservation.

The authorities have been directed to protect the hall in line with the judgement of the Supreme Court.

Chris Pounds, a member of Northampton's Charles Bradlaugh Society who commemorate the MP's achievements, said: "We are very pleased to hear of this intervention.

"There have been several more positive developments recently, including a visit to the hall by a group who are organising the Lahore Bianale event next year.

"People are actively looking at sources of funding for restoration work, but most importantly, the authorities have been instructed to take steps to protect the hall from further vandalism and neglect.

"The rock band The Call helped increase awareness of the plight of the hall when they performed there a year ago."

Bradlaugh Hall consists of several rooms, a pavilion and a vast area for public gatherings. The entire building is covered with an iron roof.

Shahid Mirza of the Save Bradlaugh Hall, Lahore Facebook group explained the hall, in the last few years, was most consistently used by teachers- who were the legal custodians of the site - for evening classes.

After the government sealed the building, locals whose children used the space were angered.

"Even the present visit and statements unwelcome since the residents were never consulted, their genuine concerns never addressed and they are just dismissed as illegal occupants," said Shahid.

"I dont expect much to come out from the present visit and concerned statements because I believe the issue is not just the restoration of the building by upper middle class enthusiasts or multinational funding agencies but restoring the confidence of local residents who absolutely value and support the revival of building as a community space and have protected the space from vandalism or misuse so far."

Bhagat Singh, an Indian revolutionary who remains a significant figure in Indian iconography today, frequented the hall and his legal defence was carried out there.

Pakistani journalist Aown Ali toured the hall in September 2015 and reported his findings in an article on news website dawn.com.

He described the interior as "damaged all around" and the podium where leading political figures would give their speeches was "utterly wrecked".