Frere Hall is the most remarkable building in Karachi for tourism.
The hall was built in 1863 to commemorate the long and brilliant administration of Sir Bartle Frere, when he was called to the Viceroy’s Council in 1859.
An amount of Rs. 22,500 was collected by subscription and the design of the building was prepared by lieutenant colonel St. Clair Wilson.
The hall is in the Venetian Gothic style with an octagonal tower crowned with an iron cage and a pointed roof turret.
It is built of the well-known yellowish Karachi limestone, very effectively relieved by white collite quarried near Bholari south of Kotri and red sandstones from jungshahi.
The columns and arches of the wide porches are extremely elegant and the whole detail pleasing. The top of the tower is 144 feet above ground level.
From the perch on the east side, a double staircase leads directly to a fine hall on the upper story, which is 70 feet long, 35 in breadth, and 38 in height.
It has wide porches on two sides and opens to the north with an arch. Downstairs, the main hall is the same as the one upstairs.
Set in a 19th-century garden, Frere Hall is one of Karachi’s most iconic buildings, but despite being the backdrop for many TikTok videos, its accessibility remains limited. so little was done to keep her in shape.
Designed by Henry St, Clair Wilkins, a British army officer who served the East India Company, Frere Hall was completed in 1865 as a town hall.
Located at the junction of the Saddar and Clifton areas of Karachi, it is named after Sir Henry Bartle Edward Frere, an administrator in Pakistan’s southern province of Sindh in the 1850s.
The first structure in South Pakistan built in the Indian Gothic style by British colonial architects, it is not only a majestic monument but was also home to the city’s first library.
“It was the biggest building in Sindh that had been built till then and it cost Rs 180,000. Before, the buildings that were made were not that expensive,” Yasmeen Lari, one of Pakistan’s most famous architects, told Arab News.
“No expense was spared, it’s very well built. It has some beautiful stones of different kinds.
It has many different kinds of displays, beautiful windows that are very Gothic, a very steep roof that gives it a very distinct kind of architectural character. The building had a very imposing appearance.”
Frere Hall was built by local craftsmen, but it was an “imperial building”, “The British also used architecture to express how they wanted to rule the empire.
So when they really wanted to take on different areas and wanted to show their minds, they used a classic style,” Lari said.
“At that time it was only for the British, no local or native was even allowed to enter.
But now that the colonial powers are long gone, little has been done to make the site accessible to all. It has also deteriorated significantly over the past few decades.
Journalist and social activist Afia Salam recalled visiting Frere Hall in the 1960s.
“Since my childhood, I have known Frere Hall as one of the most famous and important landmarks of Karachi.
As a child, I used to visit it with my parents and siblings, like every Karachiite, to play in the gardens and see the exhibits in the hall,” she told Arab News.
“Back then it was an exhibition hall, a gallery, then it changed owners over the years. There was a time when it was very dilapidated.”
Columnist and rights activist Akhtar Baloch frequented Frere Hall for the book market held there every Sunday.
“A lot of students now come to visit, as well as families, especially on the weekend,” he said. “Unfortunately, there is no facility for the public.
There are no men’s or women’s washrooms, and no potable water is available for visitors.”
Local authorities say they are doing everything they can to make the historic site as accessible to the public as possible.
“In the last one year, since Murtaza Wahab sahab became the administrator (of Karachi), there have been many changes,” Junaid Ullah, director general of parks at the Karachi Municipal Corporation, told Arab News.
“It has become one of the best parks in the city. The fountain, which was built in 1890, has been reactivated and additional facilities have been added.
Kids who can’t afford to pay for parks in larger areas come here, take pictures and TikTok videos and enjoy their time.”
However, major restoration work will still take place.
Some preservation is planned under the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation grant that the US Consulate General in Karachi gave to the Sindh Exploration and Adventure Society (SEAS) in October last year.