Colombo Clock Tower/Chatham Street Clock Tower

An iconic landmark in the city, the Colombo clock tower is older than Big Ben in London. Situated on Chatham Street, the ‘finest of all crossroads’ of the Colombo Fort, are numerous more attractions that complement this ancient relic.

Table of Contents

Colombo Clock Tower

An iconic landmark in the city, the Colombo clock tower is older than Big Ben in London. Situated on Chatham Street, the ‘finest of all crossroads’ of the Colombo Fort, are numerous more attractions that complement this ancient relic.

The Colombo clock tower is packed into most Colombo city tours and Sri Lanka trip packages due to its historical importance and rich histroical tale. Every Colombo city tour includes many hisotrical monuments such as wolvendaal church, gangarama temple, Independence msquare and the Colombo clock tower is also among those historicla monuments.

The Chatham Street Colombo

Formerly known as “Bier Straat,” Chatham Street in Colombo 01, also known as Colombo Fort, was a tree-lined avenue that served as the residence of high-ranking officials of the Dutch-occupied Sri Lanka, or Ceylon as it was known at the time. It was dubbed “the finest of all crossroads” by Dutch traveler Daalmans of the Colombo Fort.

Arrival of Portuguese in Colombo

The Portuguese by accident discovered this tiny island, and it was too good to miss. The Portuguese established their trading post in Colombo, where they constructed an esplanade and a fort with twelve bastions after gaining a foothold in the odd and exotic region that a storm had practically swept them away from. Men were stationed to keep a close eye on any potential seafaring adversary who would claim this abundant island with a healthy climate, and guns were positioned on the walls.

Transformation of Colombo under Dutch administration

The Portuguese fort in Colombo was remodeled after they surrendered it to the Dutch in 1656, over a century after they had first fortified the city. The original Colombo Fort was therefore replaced with a new castle, or citadel, surrounded by ramparts, nine bastions, and deep moats. The Dutch referred to the Fort—which is locally known as kotuwa—as the “Casteel,” or the castle.

Colombo under Brtitis rule

The area outside the Fort—which is locally known as Pitakotuwa or Pettah—was referred to as the “Oude Stad,” or the old town. Colombo Fort saw significant changes after the British occupied Ceylon. Dutch buildings were replaced with British architectural elements, and the Fort’s streets were given new names. The British destroyed the fort between 1869 and 1871 to make way for urban growth. Even though the ramparts were destroyed more than 200 years ago, the area is still known as the “Fort,” or Kotuwa, and there are still clear signs of British colonialism.

Chatham street best for shopping in Colombo

One of the main thoroughfares in the city, Chatham Street in Colombo is well situated in the center of the nation’s economic center and may have gotten its name from the well-known dockyards at Chatham in Kent. Chatham Street’s diverse mix of tourist agencies, drapers, jewelers, money changers, and antique dealers confirms its closeness to the Colombo Harbour. Chatham Street, which was formerly home to the best silk emporiums and sailors’ watering holes, also takes pride in being the hub of the nation’s road system.

The history of Colombo clock tower

The Colombo clock tower is 166-year-old and resides on Chatham Street is a symbol of the historic street. Chatham Street’s pride is this clock tower, which is two years older than Big Ben in London. The Colombo clock tower was designed by Lady Elizabeth Ward, the spouse of Sir Henry Ward, the British Governor of Ceylon at the time, and was built by J.F. Churchill of the Public Works Department. The clock tower was finished on February 25, 1857, two years before the Big Ben rang out throughout London for the first time on May 31, 1859, according to the tablet placed inside the tower-arch.
Once a hub for measuring the length of the island’s local road network, the Colombo clock tower was joined ten years later by a lighthouse, making it the sole lighthouse clock tower globally. Oil lamps were first used to illuminate the lighthouse, but in 1885 “dioptic flash lights” were added. After two years, gas lamps were introduced, lighting the Indian Ocean in the shape of tiled glasses. Electric bulbs equivalent to 1500 lighted candles supplanted the dioptic flashlights in 1932. The lighthouse was permanently dimmed in the early 1950s when it moved to Galle Buck Tower. Governor Henry Ward, who commissioned this historic monument, made reference to the Chatham Street clock tower, which still stands tall and continues to be “an ornament to the town of Colombo.”

The central point

The stunning Central Point Building, which is located directly across from Chatham Street’s clock tower and is named after it, is the focal point of the island’s road system. Originally constructed in the Greco-Roman architectural style, this structure was originally the highest building in Colombo when was opened to the public in 1914. The Central Point Building, which currently houses Sri Lanka’s Economic History Museum (EHM), was formerly the headquarters of the international insurance company National Mutual Life Association of Australasia Limited.
The EHM, which is housed in this historic edifice and is overseen by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, was founded to showcase the development of Sri Lanka’s economy from the time of the ancient monarchs to the present. A visitor can view an intriguing collection of coins from the third century BC that have been used on the island at the EHM’s Currency Museum. Also on exhibit is a substantial collection of coins that were used when the nation was ruled by colonists, including a good number during the British colonial era. Those who are interested can take a complimentary tour of the EHM. There are also a number of publications available.

Salon of Lord Nelson

Nearly a century old, the “Lord Nelson Salon” is another charming little attraction that was once home to the long-gone Lord Nelson’s Bar next door. This long-lasting homage to one of Britain’s greatest naval heroes, Lord Nelson, is a men’s haircut salon and one of the oldest professional body tattoo establishments in the nation. When Justin Fernando, a former barber at the British Garrison’s salon on neighboring Hospital Street, opened the establishment in 1928, he named the establishment Nelson Fernando in honor of the powerful admiral.
VIPs and members of the British militia frequented the location. During his tour to the nation, Prince Phillip, the father of King Charles, also had a tattoo done at Nelson’s Salon. More than just a location to get a hair trim, a relaxing hair massage, a shave, or a tattoo, Lord Nelson’s Salon provides a window into the island’s British colonial past. The salon chairs were brought here from England more than a century ago. The “head rests” and leather-upholstered solid hardwood chairs offer character and charm from a bygone period. A portion of the apparatus is over sixty years old. Another unique equipment is the tattoo machine, which is made in the United States.
Any modern business might find inspiration in Nelson Fernando, the current proprietor of Lord Nelson’s Salon, who often says, “the place is more than a business, but a way of life.” The third generation, his son Prabhashana, has now joined his father in preserving the heritage of this humble home that was founded and grown around the tenets of excellence, reliability, and hospitality.

Jumma Mosque

The Jumma Mosque, also known as the Fort Mosque, is located a short distance from Lord Nelson’s Salon. During the British occupation of the island in the 19th century, this chapel of worship was constructed. The mosque was later expanded from its modest origins. It is now a magnificent three-story building with eye-catching dark green steeples.
The Chatham Street mosque serves as a barometer of Sri Lanka’s rich cultural diversity. Prominent Muslim professionals and businessmen frequent the mosque, which is tucked away among other religious establishments, and they join in the midday, afternoon, and evening prayers.

N.D.H Abdul affoor Jeweller

The majestic N.D.H. Abdul Caffoor Jewellers is located where Chatham Street meets York Street. It proudly states that it has been in operation since 1884. The store, which bears the name of its founder, is among the oldest sellers of jewelry, pearls, precious stones, and jewels. It takes pleasure in carrying only authentic items, including one of the rarest and greatest collections of precious stones and gems in the world. The crowned heads of India, Belgium, Romania, England, and Spain had all supported it.
N.D.H. Abdul Caffoor, also known as NDH, opened his first jewelry store in the Bristol Hotel building in 1894. By 1915, he had constructed the famous Ghaffoor Building on York Street in Colombo, which was hailed as one of the city’s finest and largest commercial buildings. Since the turn of the 20th century, his jewelry business has been featured in numerous international exhibitions all over the world.
During the Prince and Princess of Wales’ royal visit in 1901, NDH was asked to showcase his finest pearls, rubies, sapphires, and other jewelry creations in the Kandy Pavilion. Two years later, in 1903, he made a presentation at the USA’s St. Louis Exhibition. However, he did have a stall in the British Empire Exhibition in 1924 as well as the All Ceylon Exhibition in 1912. His Majesty Queen Mary paid a visit to his stall at the Wembley Exhibition the very next year, in 1925, and showed a particular interest in the fine jewelry and jewels he had on display. In 1926, he held his last exhibition at the Philadelphia Sesquicentennial Exposition, where he won the Grand Prize for having the largest gem collection ever shown in the United States.
Iqbal Caffoor, the founder’s grandson, has taken over the role as the company enters its 139th year of operation. He credits their success to their constant goodwill for their clients.

Chinese shops on Chatham street

The New Chinese Shop and S.L.A.M Markar are two more attractions on Chatham Street nowadays. The New Chinese Shop was established by Chang Yung Hsien in 1941, and its interiors are modeled by the gambrel roofs, thick walls, and large double-hinged doors of Dutch architecture, which can be seen in many of the Galle Fort’s structures. It is now limited to school uniforms, having once been a destination for exquisite tailoring and all things oriental, including exquisite Chinese materials. Win Lee Chang, the store’s current owner, extends a cordial greeting to every patron, even visitors who stop by just to admire the vintage design of the establishment.
Another strange place to visit is S.L.A.M Markar, the store next door, which sells local handicrafts, leather products, antique coins, and curiosities. Over the previous 118 years, the store has been operating.

Transformation of Chtham street

Like every other street in Colombo’s business district, Chatham Street has experienced changes to its skyline. It has witnessed the days of the green mango tree, which is where history says it all began—a port with green mangoes (kola-amba-thota). The symbol of Sri Lanka, it has withstood numerous wars and other adversities and still greets guests with a grin.

About The Author