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 Post subject: Layards Broadway, Grandpass, Colombo
 Post Posted: Tue Jul 17, 2007 12:11 am 
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Layards Broadway, Grandpass, Colombo

Before World War II (1939 - 1944) Colombo had no slums: it was called the Garden City and up to the early 1950s its roads were washed each day. During the Japanese bombing of Colombo, many residents moved out to the suburbs and people from the villages moved in, creating Colombo’s slums. The British, even the governor of the time allowed the ordinary people to occupy vacated property, old timers say.

By Elmo Leonard
July 2007 / LakbimaNews


To old timers, Layards Broadway, Grandpass, Colombo brings nostalgic memories, because over 50 years ago, it was Colombo’s most transient location. For those who came in late: the junction of Layards Broadway can be accessed from near the Sugathadasa Stadium, Colombo and from Sirimavo Bandaranaike Mawatha. A by-way east of the stadium takes you up a flight of steps. Don’t be taken aback, as all you see today is a poor and dirty urban residential setting, eating houses, groceries, green groceries and cottage industries.

The history of Layards Broadway and its environs, gathered from living memory provides a fascinating insight into the changes the city of Colombo has been subject to.

Layards Broadway was so important, because the New Kelani Bridge which was completed in 1956. Before that, the only way in and out of Colombo North was through the Old Victoria Bridge (now demolished). Over 50 years ago, double and single bullock carts ruled the roads of Colombo, perhaps, as dinosaurs ruled the earth 65 million years ago. By afternoon, a-half-mile-long single file of bullock carts left the city through the narrow Victoria Bridge taking food, hardware, building materials and all other human requirements. Another single file of oxen-drawn carts came into the city, also bringing with it plantation exports. No motorist broke the two single lines of animal and motor traffic in and out, as discipline was the order of the day. Obviously, all traffic moved through the Victoria Bridge at bullock-cart-pace.

In those days and even up to the early 1960s a constant human parade of many thousands of people climbed up and down the steps, to Layards Broadway junction. Here, there was a constant stream of private buses belonging to COC, B J Fernando and other private bus owners, ready to take on the travelling public. Even after the bus transport system was nationalised in 1958, the same human parade continued through Layards Broadway Junction, through the early 1960s. There were queues of people to get into the buses, and no one ever jumped the queues.
The buses took commuters to the central Borella bus stand, to Bambalapitiya and beyond; to Wattala, Mattakkuliya and Narahanpita. Other buses went to the Eye Hospital Junction, Slave Island and all the capillary roads you could imagine.

Layards Broadway is in easy access of Orugodawatte. Up to about the early 1950s this place was a transit point for ferries, as its name in Sinhala implies. With motoring yet being in its introductory stage, it is easy to imagine that the arterial waterways of Orugodawatte which were clean in those days were the highways through which people around Colombo and its environs travelled through.

Layards Broadway was also known as Destructor Road and in Sinhala, Kunu Molaya meaning a place where garbage is treated or left to decompose. In the writer’s memory, there was such a place, where garbage was treated. But, B M Somapala 73, a barber, who was born in this place, says there was no such garbage treatment undertaken, here. Somapala says Layards Broadway was just the point through which the city’s garbage passed through before it was dumped into a great marsh, where today stands the Sugathadasa Stadium. Up to the early 50s Colombo’s garbage was often collected in vehicles which were powered by coal and steam, like the steam railway engines of the past. Such vehicles had solid rubber tyres, called “gal tyres”, which could not inflated.

Before World War II (1939 - 1944) Colombo had no slums: it was called the Garden City and up to the early 1950s its roads were washed each day. During the Japanese bombing of Colombo, many residents moved out to the suburbs and people from the villages moved in, creating Colombo’s slums. The British, even the governor of the time allowed the ordinary people to occupy vacated property, old timers say. Somapala named a few longstanding shops in Maradana and claimed they were occupied by people who were engaged in trading on the roads - with British blessings. That was the colonial times and what the colonial masters gave out was not challenged in courts.

Now, Layards Broadway is also known as Kosgas Handiya or the junction where jack trees grew. But, we could not find anyone who could provide a reference to where Jak trees had grown.

Up to the 1940s, some or most parts of Colombo had no sewage disposal system. Human excreta was collected in buckets which were removed from houses by Colombo Municipal workers to a place called Mahawatte. Layards Broadway was also such a transit point. As locals could not be found to collect the city’s night soil, people from India, called Sakkalies, were brought here, and they lived in what was known as the “Sakkali lines” aside Layards Broadway. These Sakkali people sold the houses given to them over 30 years ago; today Sinhalese people live here.

Up to the past few centuries, large extents of land were owned by a few families; much of Grandpass was owned by the Saram family, and today, just two such Saram families live in this area. They were philanthropists and doled out land, even to the Christian brothers. The land given to the Christian brothers today houses the Grandpass police station.


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