[Himachal GK] Shimla British Times Architecture

Shimla Architecture

The presence of cedar forests has played a major role in the evolution and development of various architectural forms. The wood extracted from the cidar tree is full of strength and can be used in multistoreys, can withstand long periods of weather corrosion, the wood is insect and termite resistant.

The 'Kathkuni' or 'Kathkundi' style of building is something unique to this part of the world. A mesh
of interlocking horizontal cedar (locally, deodar) sleepers is created - and in this dressed or raw stone is packed. A singular characteristic is the absence of vertical members. With inherent elasticity, the design has an enormous seismic response - there have been instances when tremors have dislodged the stones from the frame, and later, have been hammered back into the intact mesh of wood houses and temples in the style are present in the districts of Shimla, Kullu & Kinnaur.

Walls of rammed earth are popular all over and in the treeless tracts of the Trans Himalaya, some stunning architecture has been created on seemingly insurmountable sites. The quality of dressed or carved stone has created remarkable temples, forts and residences. Fine slate or slabs of quartzite have provided roofing material.This came to be known as Hill Architecture. With the coming of the Europeans, Himachal added another dimension to its rich architectural heritage. It went on changing and the initial simple Swiss-type cottages/German country houses were outshone by architectural marvels in Elizabethan style of English renaissance or Gothic or the splendor of dressed stones and gray slate roof. All this assimilated well with the character of Shimla. It enhanced, not diminished the beauty of the hill station.

The state capital has some of the world's finest examples of British colonial architecture. Inspired by the Renaissance in England, is the grey stone former Viceregal Lodge (now the Indian Institute of Advanced Study), the neo Gothic structures of the gaiety theatre and the former imperial Civil Secretariat (now the Accountant General's Office). There are the Tudor framed Barnes Court (now the Raj Bhawan), and the distinctive Vidhan Sabha and the secretariat of the government of Himachal Pradesh. Some of the heritage buildings are:-


The Himachal Pradesh Secretariat (Ellerslie building) was designed by Lt. Col. H.E.S. Abbott 100 years back. This beautiful building was constructed after dismantling an old building of the same name that housed the Military Department of the Punjab Government till 1886.
Abbot sought permission for construction from the then Secretary of the Municipal Committee Major W.P. Larson and wrote " you are aware of the intensions of the Punjab Government to pull down the house 'Ellerslie' and build on the site a new set of offices to accommodate the whole of Punjab Secretariat." The permission was granted on 28th June, 1899. The inside of Ellerslie is made of stone quarried from Sanjauli and Barnes Court (Present Raj Bhawan) and stuck together using lime mortar. The brickwork too has lime mortar cementing. The Himachal Pradesh Secretariat occupied it in the summers of 1967. In July 1972 the "Summit Hall" where the cabinet meetings are held was spruced up and was given this name as initial summit meeting for Shimla Agreement between India and Pakistan. This building with sub-basement, basement and three floors, now has 143 rooms and 31 toilets. It covers and area of about 8663 meters.

The Vice Regal Lodge
On the Observatory Hills is located the Viceregal Lodge. Also known as Rashtrapati Niwas, it was formerly the residence of the British Viceroy Lord Dufferin, was the venue for many important decisions, which changed the fate of the sub-continent. It is quite befittingly the only building in Shimla that occupies a hill by itself. This rambling Scottish baronial edifice was designed by Henry Irvine, architect to the Public Works Department of the colonial government in India. The south facing entrance portico sees the visitor into the reception hall. The hall is marked by a grand staircase which springs from the right and spirals up three full floors. Facing the main entrance is the grand fireplace. A gallery with well-appointed teak panelling is the central space of the building around which the other rooms are arranged. The state drawing room, ballroom, and the wood-panelled dining room - decorated with coats of arms of former Governor-Generals and Viceroys - lead to the gallery at the lower level. Verandas and terraces surround the entire building at different levels. Those at the lower level link the lodge to the magnificent grounds while those on other floors provide superb views of mountains. Way back in 1888 this Lodge had electric light – when nobody else in Shimla did – and, would you believe it, an indoor tennis court! The lodge had extensive facilities including huge kitchens; separate rooms for storing table linen, plates, china and glass; laundry; an enormous wine cellar; a room for empty cases; boilers for central heating and running hot and cold water in the bathrooms. Pretty much as in Delhi’s Viceregal Palace, the Viceroy hosted lavish parties and entertained the royal princes and nawabs in style. Several momentous decisions were taken in this building. This was the venue of the Simla Conference in 1945. In 1947 , the decision to partition India and carve out the states of Pakistan and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) , was also taken here.

The Viceregal Lodge Or Indian Institute of Advance Studies

After independence, the Lodge remained the summer retreat of the President of India. In the early 60s the President of India, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, a leading philosopher and writer, and the Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru decided to make it a scholars’ den where the best minds would find an ideal retreat. That’s when the Indian Institute of Advanced Study moved into the Lodge in 1965.Obviously enough, some of the interiors had to be changed to accommodate the needs of the Institute. The state drawing room, ballroom, and dining room, for example, have been converted into a library; the Viceroy’s office is now the IIAS Director’s office; and the conference hall is now a seminar room for research scholars. Without the large contingent of vice regal attendants and the resources, the ambience of this large estate is very different from what it used to be in the days of the Raj. The institute seems like the perfect setting for lively intellectual debates and discussions. The list of Fellows of the Institute includes names the Burmese Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Sun Kyi, who was a fellow here in 1986.

Christ Church

The most prominent building on the Mall is the yellow Christ Church, reputed to be the second oldest church in northern India. The Christ Church is the most important landmark here and is photographed by tourists. The silhouette of this can be seen on the skyline for miles around. It was designed by Colonel JT Boileau in 1844, but consecrated only after 1857. The clock was donated by Colonel Dumbleton in 1860, and the porch added in 1873.It still has those lovely stained glass windows (five in all) for which it is so famed. Check out the one that represents the virtues of Faith, Hope, Charity, Fortitude, Patience and Humility. According to Mr. Bazel Dean, the pipe organ is one of the biggest in the country and was erected in September, 1899. Its tuning was completed on September 23, 1899, and the dedication and opening recital took place on September 28, 1899.The beautiful "king of instruments" was built by Messers Morgan and Smith of Brighten (England) at a cost of Rs 23,000. It was extensively repaired in 1932.The 155-year-old church first had an organ which was erected in 1855. The major portion of it cost £ 250 and was subscribed by Lady Gomm wife of the Commander-in-Chief.

In 1875, the organ was replaced by a new instrument which in 1899 was sold to the Rawalpindi Church to make room for the present organ. The two most expensive stops were presented by Air Mackworth Young and Sir James Walker, while the cost of decorating the pipes was defrayed by the Countess of Elgin to commemorate the marriage of her daughter Lady Elizabeth Bruce with H. Babington Smith in the church on September 22, 1898. In the winter of 1900 the six bells were hung in the tower. The actual cost of the church came out to be Rs 89,000.

Gorton Castle

One of the most striking buildings of the British empire, Gorton Castle is a new-Gothic structure that had the famous Sir Swinton Jacob as its architect - the Rajasthan jaali work on its balconies obviously came from his forty five years of experience as the executive engineer of the princely state of Jaipur, completed in 1904, this was the Civil Secretariat of the Imperial Government of India and housed the Legislative, Lands, Education, Home Health and Finance departments. Today, this houses the offices of the Accountant General of Himachal Pradesh. This three floored building with about 125 small and big rooms became the seat of the Accountant General in 1947. This finest house in Shimla, according to Sir Edward Buck also has one floor paved with rosewood like timber blocks which were brought from Andaman Islands by B.Ribbentrop head of forest department. The site belonged to one Mr. Gorton, ICS in 1840. After changing hands thrice, it was purchased by a banker, Sir James Walker for Rs. 80,000. He wished to gift it for construction of Hospital After much discussion and persuasion the building was acquired for its officers and Sir Walker was given alternate site where Walker Hospital was constructed.

The Railway Board Building
Built in 1896-97, this unusual cast iron and steel structure once held the offices of the Railway Board and the Department of Commerce. But at a time when safety was a core-consideration for important buildings throughout the British Empire, this was designed to be structurally fire fire-resistant, and a recent blaze has testified to this in Shimla. The building was originally designated as the 'Public Works Department Secretariat Offices' and was fabricated by the Bombay based firm of Rishardson and Cruddas. Above road level, the building has four levels and with one side exposed, climbing down the hill, it has three basements. On the 10 Feb,2001 a blaze broke out in the top floor and standing testimony to its construction and to the subsequent restoration, no trace of this huge fire remains today and its facade is as imposing as ever. Presently, it houses many of the Central Government Offices.

Gaiety Theater
The Gaiety Theater, and a tradition of amateur theatrical remains in the stump of the once colossal edifice that was the Town Hall. The architect Henry Irwin, who built the Viceregal Lodge, designed the theatre building. In 1911, the upper portions of the building were dismantled as the structure was found to be unsafe. It was opened on the 30th of May, 1887, Queen Victoria's Jubilee Year and its God- Father was lord Bill Beresford, who saved the Simla A.D.C.(Amateur Dramatic Club) , time and again from financial ruin. The formal inauguration of the Simla A.D.C. took place in the year 1888 and since then plays have been staged in the Gaiety with unfailing regularity. The history of ADC goes back to the times when theatre was looked upon as a major and serious source of entertainment and, therefore became a cultural necessity for the English elite. Hence, Shimla became the home of amateur theatre and the Gaiety Theatre produced the best of the plays performed in London.

Among the leading theatre personalities connected with the Shimla Amateur Dramatic Club are: Field Marshal Lord Roberts, who remained president of the Club from 1891-1892 during his tenure as Commander-in-Chief of India; Major P.H. Dnyer, a distinguished producer and actor who acted in Loyalties, Interference and Mary Rose; Lord Bill Beresford, V.C. who was the Military Secretary to Viceroy Lord Lytton, famous poet and author Rudyard Kipling, Lord Kitchner, Mrs. Deane, Major General Sir Godfrey Williams, the Chief of Scouts, Colonel Baden-Powell, and Sir Dennis Fitz Patrick, Lieut-Governor of Punjab during 1895 and many others. Notable film personalities like K.L. Saigal, Prithvi Raj Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor, Jennifer Kendall, Raj Babbar, Anupam Kher, Manohar Singh, Nasseerudin Shah, frequently performed on the stage of the Gaiety theatre.


Woodville is one of the oldest and finest houses of Shimla east. It became the honoured residence of the Commander-in-Chief in the year 1865, and its first occupant was General Sir William Rose Mansfield. After the year 1881 the Commander-in-Chief deserted it for Snowdon, near Lakkar Bazaar, which was burnt down some year back and the site is now taken by Indira Gandhi Medical College and Hospital, also called Snowdon Hospital. In the year 1881 Woodville house was bought by Sir James Walker and afterwards passed on to the Alliance Bank of Simla, which used it as the manager's residence. The bank collapsed in the year 1923 and not long afterwards the house was bought over by Raja Rana Sir Bhagat Chand of Jubbal, who tastefully converted it into his summer Palace. After the Raja's death, the Palace has been turned into a hotel by one of his grandsons. The house has lovely surroundings, beautiful wooded walks, clusters of pine and deodars, and well-groomed lawns, reminiscent of a large German country-house. Woodville is an ideal refuge for people who really want peace and quietude, away from the madding crowd. The owner of the Woodville Palace Hotel lives within the estate.

Shimla File

Annandale GroundNo Other landmark in Simla can revive more pleasant memories than the famous playground and race-course by the name of Annadale, located in a deep wide valley in the suburban village of Kaithu, simla west. This playground rests on a small patch of table-land about a three-quarters of a mile in circumference. The spur on which it stood was a sort of valley-flat which was greatly extended and improved. Now misnamed Annandale, the original name of this place was Annadale and this name is derived from a small story about it. The story is that Captain charles pratt Kennedy, one of the first incomers to this place, was so struck by the beauty of the valley that he saw, that be named after a young lady to whom he was so deeply attached in his young boyhood days. Her name was Anna and he combined it with the word 'dale' meaning a valley, thus calling the valley as Annadale. This spelling appears in the early lithographs of Simla done about the year 1840. Annandale, since its inception in the 1830s was the haunt of Anglo-Indian playful activities, amusements and entertainments. It was the favorite place for picnic parties, fetes and fancy-fairs, birthday-balls, flower and dog shows, army tatoos, races and gymkhanas, polo matches and other tournaments in 1888 which became a regular annual feature and which still bears his name although the venue of this tournament is now shifted to Calcutta.

An ambitious improvement scheme was launched by Lord William Beresford, the Military Secretary to Lord Dufferin, and his keen interest in the expansion of Annandale ground gave the 'Cricketers a new pavilion and a polo field for the polo fans.' The cutting of a big piece of the hill cost nearly Rs 80,000 to which handsome amounts were contributed by the Indian Rajas. In the old regime there was a general committee for the maintenance of the ground and funds were derived from the rents paid by the gymkhana, polo and cricket clubs, race committee and other voluntary organizations. Presently there are no more races and the field is utilized as a helipad and for army exercise and parades, sports and occasionally for other kinds of assemblages like Dussehra festival celebrations. The very first fancy fair was held in Annandale in the year 1839.

Scandal PointScandal Point is the hub of the town's social life. Behind this, stand the wide timber-framed Post-Office in Spartan brick and the building of the Church of Scotland, St. Andrew's. Arguably the Scandal Point still echoes the sentiments expressed by Harrop,"The transmitters of gossip are ever at work and savory and unsavory secrets of our society are flashed to the uttermost limits of Simla with all the speed of wireless." There used to be a mechanical equestrian statue here. It was a clever piece of mechanism, which smiles, salutes and slaps its horse occasionally, when it shows signs of undue activity and restlessness.

The Road to Shimla
In the early days of Simla settlement the visitor to Simla required Herculean strength to cope with the hardship of uncomfortable, cumbersome and exhausting travel. By the 1860's the East India Railway had come only up to Ambala (Umbllah) from where one had to proceed by four wheeled 'Dak Garry' or Mail Wagon to Kalka, at the foot of Simla hills. These Carriages were mainly drawn by horse but at times bullocks or even elephants were utilised to pull them across the bridge-less River Ghaggar. From Kalka another eight hours of grueling journey by 'Tonga', a two wheeled horse carriage, brought the visitor to Simla.The tonga was a greater affliction than the Dak Garry. It was a crude, uncomfortable but strong two-wheeled cart drawn by one or two Kabul ponies, harnessed in curicle style passengers sitting back to back, and luggage strapped on to the sides over the wheels, with the pathan driver at the reins. It accommodated 4 to 6 passengers. The other modes of transport of earlier days were bullock-carts, mule-trains, camels and horses, 'dandy' (a sedan chair slung on poles and carried by bearers) and 'jampan' or 'doli' which was a covered type of curtailed tiny box-like compartment, carried like the dandy. The janpan was described by one sufferer as 'a jolting, back aching abomination'

The Combermere Bridge
The Combermere Bridge on the mall is the oldest British landmark of Shimla. In the words of Captain Mundy, A.D.C. to lord Combermere (1928),"Lord Combermere amused himself, and benefited the public by superintending the formation of a fine, broad, level road round the mount Jakhu, about three miles in length...worked entirely by Hill men...and skillfully done. And when finished, will be a great acquisition to the loungers of Shimla.This is the present Jakhu round, a favorite woody walk around Jakhu Hill." Across a deep ravine, a quarter of mile from the town, his lordship erected neat 'Sangah', or a mountain bridge of pines; and under it a capacious stone tank was constructed to obviate the great scarcity of water." The bridge still bears the name of Combermere and it was the first step towards the improvement of Simla. Present Day Bridge was built in 1971-72. Today Combermere Bridge is a busy spot surrounded by the lift to cart road, Indira Gandhi Khel Parisar, Fruit vendors and Pram Wallahas.

Seven Hills
Shimla is surrounded by Seven Hills; these hills offer a wide variety of trails to visitors to explore. The seven Hills are:

(i) Prospect Hill in western Shimla, which has the Kamna Devi temple.
(ii) Summer Hill in western Shimla, where the campus of Himachal Pradesh University is located.
(iii) Observatory Hill in western Shimla, where the Indian Institute of Advanced Study is found.
(iv) Inverarm in western Shimla, where the State Museum is located.
(v) Bantony in central Shimla, which has the Grand Hotel.
(vi) Jakhoo in central Shimla, which is crowned by the temple dedicated to Lord Hanuman.
(vii) Elysium in north-western Shimla, which holds Auckland House and Longwood and reaches out towards the Bharari spur.

Bhalku and Kalka-Shimla Railway

The 95 kilometer long Kalka-Shimla Railway track, a unique feat of engineering, was laid under the guidance of Bhalku Sirmauri. He guided the engineers showing them the line, the track should take. A legend is that the track was revealed to him by the Devta. Railway line was laid exactly on the trace shown by him. It was built under the supervision of H.S. Harington, Chief Engineer. With the growth in the simla population, permanent and floating, the M.C.C. (Motor Car Co.) was not found capable enough to cope with the growth transport of passengers, luggage and the provisions of everyday consumption which had to be brought in from the markets in the plains and a necessity was felt to find a better alternative means of transport. So a Mountain Railway Project was planned in 1847. The narrow gauge track (2ft. 6 in. gauge) runs through picturesque mountain scenery ascending from 2800 feet to 7000 feet. From Kalka (at 640 m) the track rises to Simla Railway Station (2060 m) through 103 tunnels and passes through 800 bridges and 900 curves. Barog tunnel 2.8 Km long is the longest tunnel.

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