The Byculla Area

The area that is now Byculla was part of the low-lying flats into which the sea poured at high tide through the great breach at Mahalaxmi. With the closing of this breach by Hornby Vellard in 1784 and the construction of the causeway known as the Belasis Road in 1793, this land became available for building. The European enclave in Mazgaon then began to grow westwards into Byculla. A race course was founded and became so popular that the Bombay Turf Club was established in 1800.


During the nineteenth century, Byculla grew into a prosperous and elegant suburb, with grand British and Parsi houses. Sir David Sassoon built a house and a synagogue here. When the Byculla Club opened in 1833 it was the first of Bombay’s residential clubs. In the same year a new church was completed, with neo-classical columns left over from those imported for the town hall. This immediately became the fashionable church for the British, totally eclipsing St. Thomas’ in the fort area.


By 1857, the Byculla railway station was completed, and the first mills were already polluting the clear air of this fashionable district. The Byculla iron works was established in the same year, and limps along even today. Carriage and furniture makers moved into the area, and established themselves near the railway station, where there was already a flourishing fruits and vegetables market.


By 1878 the first races were held at the site of the present race-course in Mahalaxmi. The decline of Byculla had begun by 1878, although chambers at the club were still much sought-after, with its Rs. 350 a month charge, including dinners that featured prawn curry and the Byculla souffle, full of liqueurs. The Turf Club moved out of Byculla in the 1890’s. Then the plague finally drove the British and the richer Parsis to the newly fashionable Malabar hill. The Byculla club doddered along, overtaken in importance by the Yacht Club at Apollo Bunder, founded in 1898. The Byculla Club then turned into a hospital during the First World War, and was eventually sold in the 1920’s. The area where it stood still contains some grand-looking buildings.


Byculla is now a middle class enclave with a predominant Muslim population. The furniture shops attract as much crowd as the Victoria gardens with its zoo, visited every weekend by large numbers of families out on a Sunday picnic. On such days the statue of Edward VIII at the entrance gets the attention, which it must have been used to while it stood in the Fort area and gave its name to Kala Ghoda.