FORMER BRITISH RESIDENCY IN HYDERABAD, INDIA, NOW OSMANIA WOMEN’S UNIVERSITY COLLEGE, SUCCESSFULLY RESTORED
In January 2023, the former British Residency has been restored thanks to years of painstaking conservation work by the World Monuments Fund, international and national partners, and now most recently the Commonwealth Heritage Forum. This marks the first
project under the Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Commonwealth Heritage Skills Training Programme; a Commonwealth-wide conservation programme.
Sarath Chandra, Founder and Principal Conservation Architect at GN Heritage Matters, supervised the conservation works at the former Residency, now Osmania Women’s University College. Sarath worked closely with the 16 trainees from the UK
and Hyderabad, provided under the Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Commonwealth Heritage Skills Training Programme in October 2022.
The trainees, all young people, worked side by side learning both practical and conceptual skills under the direction of Sarath Chandra, and other world-leading heritage professionals. Skills learned in slaking lime were subsequently put to use on re-plastering the South Porch. Similarly, lectures on jack-arch roof construction were followed by reconstruction work on the roof of Lansdowne Gate – one of the three, monumental historic gateways under restoration at the former Residency.
Following the Conservation Skills Traineeship in October, Sarah Chandra wrote: The conservation story at the former Residency has been a journey of discovery. Over twenty years, we have carefully unravelled multiple layers of history and we now have a much better understanding of the construction methods, and their evolution, from when work began on the site between 1803 – 1805.
The Traineeship at the former Residency in October 2022 was the first overseas project under the Queen Elizabeth Platinum Jubilee Commonwealth Heritage Skills Training Programme. The timing was good, as we had reached a point where we could reflect on the successes of the conservation interventions implemented thus far, carrying forward learnings for future conservation works, management and maintenance strategies.
Amongst other outputs, the Traineeship acted as a useful knowledge exchange platform. Trainees and experts shared their experiences of conserving similar buildings and sites, and the policies and management plans associated with such works. All the trainees learned how to hot mix lime, something not regularly taught, especially in the UK.
Since May 2022, restoration work on the historic gates (Robert’s gate, Lansdowne gate, and the Empress gate) and the gardens
enclosed within these gates and the wings (known as the Central Mall) has been undertaken by the World Monuments Fund and the Commonwealth Heritage Forum. The trainees who took part in the October Conservation Skills Traineeship focussed on these aspects of the site.
Aerial view taken above the main building at the former British Residency, showing the Central Mall leading towards the Empress Gate, seen centre distance. The gardens, Central Mall, and three monumental gateways are undergoing restoration and were what the trainees worked on in October 2022.
Prior to this, in 2013, restoration work on the Durbar Hall was begun. This was completed in 2022 and the building was then handed over to the Principal of Osmania Women’s University College. Works first started on the historic site as a whole in 2002, when the former Residency was added to the World Monuments Watch list.
During the Conservation Skills Training Programme in October 2022, it was interesting to note how conservation decision making is handled differently in India and the UK. This offered a new perspective on works being carried out on the former Residency. We had a multidisciplinary team and it was refreshing to see the UK and Indian students, along with local crafts people, and experts, all collaborate.
The success of the Conservation Training Programme, managed by the Commonwealth Heritage Forum and World Monuments Fund has encouraged the team here to explore the possibilities of establishing a permanent training programme, with practical learning experience in conservation works (as part of the Women’s University College), also enabling a sustainable maintenance and management programme throughout the year.
Site tour at the former British Residency, now Osmania Women’s University, with Sarath Chandra.
HYDERABAD: WHERE EAST DID MEET WEST
by William Dalrymple
James Achilles Kirkpatrick, responsible for building the British Residency in Hyderabad (c.1803–5), inhabited a world that was far more hybrid, and with far less clearly defined ethnic, national and religious borders, than we have all been conditioned to expect. Yet, only seventy-five years after his death, it was possible for Kipling to write that ‘East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet’; but this unlikely group of expatriates provides a timely reminder that it is indeed very possible – and has always been possible – to reconcile the two worlds. This is why the restoration of the former British Residency, now Osmania Women’s University College, matters so much: it is a symbol of East and West coming together, and, ultimately, of love conquering all.
I first heard about James Achilles Kirkpatrick on a visit to India twenty-five years ago. I had just finished a book, four years’ work, and went to Hyderabad to relax and recover. It was spring, and it was while wandering around the city that I stumbled upon the old British Residency, now Osmania Women’s University College. It was a vast Palladian villa, in plan not unlike its contemporary, the White House in Washington, and it lay in a garden just over the River Musi from the old city. The Residency was then in a bad way. Inside, I found plaster falling in chunks from the ceiling of the old ballroom. As the central block of the house was deemed too dangerous for the students, most of the classes now took place in the former elephant stables at the back.
The former British Residency, now Osmania Women’s University College, Hyderabad
The complex, I was told, was built by Colonel James Achilles Kirkpatrick, the British Resident at the court of Hyderabad between 1797 and 1805. Kirkpatrick had gone out to India full of ambition, intent on making his name in the subjection of a nation; but instead it was he who was conquered, not by an army but by a Hyderabadi noblewoman called Khair un-Nissa. I was told how in 1800, after falling in love with Khair, Kirkpatrick not only married her, according to Muslim law, and adopted Mughal clothes and ways of living, but had actually converted to Islam and had become a double agent working against the East India Company and for the Hyderabadis.
I thought it was the most fascinating story, and by the time I left the garden I was captivated, and wanted to know more. The whole tale simply seemed so different from what one expected of the British in India, and I spent the rest of my time in Hyderabad pursuing anyone who could tell me more. Little did I know that it was to be the start of an obsession that would completely take over my life for many years.
Beneath the familiar story of the British conquest and rule of the subcontinent, I found that there lay a far more intriguing and still largely unwritten story – about the Indian conquest of the British imagination. During the eighteenth and early nineteenth century it was clear that it was almost as common for westerners to take on the customs, and even the religions, of India, as the reverse. These White Mughals had responded to their travels in India by slowly shedding their Britishness like an unwanted skin, and adopting Indian dress, studying Indian philosophy, taking wives and adopting the ways of the Mughal governing class they slowly came to replace – what Salman Rushdie, talking of modern multiculturalism, has called ‘chutnification’. Moreover, the White Mughals were far from an insignificant minority. The wills of the period show that in the 1780’s over one third of the British men in India were leaving all their possessions to one or more Indian wives.
Back in London, I searched around for more about Kirkpatrick. My first real break came when I found that Kirkpatrick’s correspondence with his brother William, had recently been bought by the India Office Library. At first, however, many of the letters seemed disappointingly mundane – gossip about court politics or the occasional plea for a crate of Madeira wine – and initially I found maddeningly few references to Kirkpatrick’s love affairs. Moreover, much of the more interesting material was in cipher. It was only after several weeks of reading that I finally came to the files that contained the Khair un-Nissa letters, and some of these, it turned out, were not encoded. One day, as I opened yet another India Office cardboard folder, my eyes fell on the following paragraph written in a small, firm, sloping hand:
“The interview when I had a full and close survey of her lovely Person lasted during the greatest part of the night. At this meeting I attempted to argue the Romantic Young Creature out of a passion which I could not, I confess, help feeling myself something more than pity for. She declared to me again and again that her affections had been irrevocably fixed on me, that her fate was linked to mine and that she should be content to pass her days with as the humblest of handmaids. Until such time the young ladies person was inviolate but was it human nature to remain proof against another such fiery trial? I think you cannot but allow that I must have been something more or less than a man to have held out any longer...”
Soon after this I found some pages of cipher which had been overwritten with a ‘translation’, and the code turned out to be a simple one-letter/one-number correspondence. Once this was solved, the whole story quickly began to come together.
Hyderabad in 1800 was a frontier town a bit like post war Berlin or Vienna: a city alive with intrigue and conspiracy, where the British and the French were vying with each other for dominance. Soon after Kirkpatrick had managed to surround and disarm the French in Hyderabad, he had gone to a victory party. It was there that he glimpsed Khair un-Nissa for the first time. Despite the fact that she was only fifteen, was in purdah, and moreover already engaged to a leading Mughal nobleman, the two had fallen in love, and as a contemporary chronicle put it:
“When the story of their amours became public, a general sensation took place. The relations of the Begum were naturally very furious and for a time the life of the lovers was in danger, but their passion for one another was not of a character as could be restrained by fear or disappointment. Every obstacle thrown in their way only seemed to make it stronger & stronger …”
For four years I beavered away reconstructing the love story and gradually it began to take shape. It emerged how James had secretly converted to Islam and married Khair. Soon after Khair gave birth to a son, named Sahib Allum (‘Little Lord of the World’), and daughter, Sahib Begum (‘Lady of High Lineage’). To accommodate his new family James began a major building project: to design the vast Palladian villa I had seen as his new official Residency, complete with British-style park and grazing sheep. Behind he constructed a Mughal zenana for Khair built in marble with fountains and Mughlai wall paintings, as well as a Mughal garden. For four years James slipped very happily between these two worlds: by day, he lived his official life with one language, and one set of clothes, while in the evening he would get into his kurta pyjamas, and step into the parallel world of his Mughal wife and his Persian-speaking Muslim family.
The story of a family which drifted between Christianity and Islam and back again, between suits and salvars, Mughal Hyderabad and Victorian London, seemed to me to raise huge questions: about the nature of Empire, about faith, and about personal identity; indeed, about how far all of these mattered, and were fixed and immutable – or how far they were in fact flexible, tractable, negotiable. Yet clearly – and this was what really fascinated me – while the documentation surrounding Kirkpatrick’s story was uniquely well-preserved, giving a window into a world that few realise ever existed, the situation itself was far from unusual.
The British Residency on the North Bank of the Musi River, 1805, © Strachey Trust.
HYDERABAD TRAINEESHIP: ‘AN UNFORGETTABLE EXPERIENCE’
by Saleha Fatima
As an enthusiast architectural student, I will cherish my recollections of the Conservation Traineeship in Hyderabad. I felt like it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, so I can honestly say that, along with the other trainees, we made the most of it.
It was great to take part in the first overseas project under the Queen Elizabeth II Commonwealth Heritage Skills Training Programme, managed by the Commonwealth Heritage Forum. The team from the World Monuments Fund, who have been heavily involved in the restoration of the former Residency, and who co-managed this project, were great.
We all benefitted from the tutors breadth of knowledge – they each offered a range of perspectives and they are all very well regarded globally. Being able to go hands-on and really build something was, for me especially, a wonderful change, as I spend most of my time in the four walls of a college classroom!
One of my favourite activities during the Traineeship was without a doubt the process of lime slaking and jack-arch roof construction, which was supported by what we had learned in the classroom. It was amazing to work with Head Mason Sharvana and to get to witness how he and his crew function. I learned a lot from working with them in a short amount of time and they were more than happy to let us participate and experience every step of the process. Ravi Gundu Rao, who taught our lime sessions, was one of the best mentors I have ever met.
There were various other highlights for me too, the site visits to the Qutub Shahi Tombs and the Chowmahalla Palace with heritage experts gave me a unique perspective.
Trainees visit the Chowmahalla Palace, with Anuradha Naik, Conservation Architect.
Our group, made up of trainees from the UK and Hyderabad, bonded instantly. We could laugh together and learn from each other. The session on ornamental stucco was so enjoyable – I worked with UK trainees, Dean, Morgan, and Chloe, and it was inspiring to see how well worked together as a team.