Royal remains

WE VISIT RICHMOND regularly to see a couple of friends, with whom we almost always take a stroll, usually somewhere reasonably near their home. They know that I love seeing places that I have never visited before and almost always they take us to see something that they feel might interest us. On our most recent walk with them, taken in October 2021, we began by walking across Richmond Green, taking a path that was new to us. At the western edge of the green, we crossed a road and immediately reached a Tudor gateway that leads into an open space surrounded by buildings. The open space is on the site of a now mostly demolished royal residence that was particularly liked by Queen Elizabeth I.

The royal residence was Richmond Palace. It was built by King Henry VII, when the 14th century Shene Palace, which used to stand on the site, was destroyed by fire in December 1497.  Henry VII built a new palace on the same ground plan of Shene Palace. Richmond Palace, as the new building was named, was used continuously a royal residence until the execution of King Charles I in January 1649.

On a wall facing a pathway leading from the old gatehouse to the River Thames, there is a commemorative plaque with the following carved on it:

“On this site extending eastwards to cloisters of the ancient friary of Shene formerly stood the river frontage of the Royal Palace first occupied by Henry I in 1125…”

It adds that Edward III, Henry VII, and Elizabeth I all died in the palaces that stood on this riverside site in Richmond.

After Charles I lost his head, the palace, like many other parts of the royal estate, was sold by the Commonwealth Parliament led by Oliver Cromwell. Much of its masonry was sold. According to an informative source (www.richmond.gov.uk/media/6334/local_history_richmond_palace.pdf):

“While the brick buildings of the outer ranges survived, the stone buildings of the Chapel, Hall and Privy Lodgings were demolished and the stones sold off. By the restoration of Charles II in 1660, only the brick buildings and the Middle Gate were left.”

The same source relates that after being owned by the Duke of York, who became King James II, and after he was deposed:

“The remains of the palace were leased out to various people and, in the early years of the 18th century new houses replaced many of the crumbling brick buildings. ‘Tudor Place’ had been built in the open tennis court as early as the 1650s, but now ‘Trumpeters’ House’ was built in 1702-3 to replace the Middle Gate, followed by ‘Old Court House’ and ‘Wentworth House’ (originally a matching pair) in 1705-7. The Wardrobe building had been joined up to the Gate House in 1688-9 and its garden front was rebuilt about 1710. The front facing the court still shows Tudor brickwork as does the Gate House. ‘Maids of Honour Row’ replaced most of the range of buildings facing the Green in 1724-5 and most of the house now called ‘Old Palace’ was rebuilt about 1740.”

During our recent perambulation with our friends, we saw most of the buildings listed in the quote above but not the Maids of Honour Row. They also pointed out that Richmond Green, across which we walked, was used for jousting tournaments in mediaeval times. Today, this pleasant green space close to Richmond’s main shopping street is used for more peaceful purposes including walking, both human beings and their canine companions.

Once again, a visit to our friends in Richmond has resulted in opening our eyes to new places of great interest, and for that we are most grateful.

Bulky rather than beautiful

DURING THE LAST YEAR or longer, we have visited plenty of ‘stately homes’ in England. Many of them are very fine works of architecture.Today, we visited Blenheim Palace for the second time in 12 months., It was built for the first Duke of Marlborough and is still home to some of his descendants.

Of the many grand homes that we have seen during our travels, Blenheim impressed me far, far less than many of the others. It is impressive in its bulkiness but, for me, it lacks the finesse that characterises so many of the other aristocratic homes we have visited.

PS: To be fair, Blenheim was not completed as originally planned because at some stage the funds for its construction became dramatically reduced.

A hidden gem

SOMETIMES, IT PAYS TO BE “ECONOMICAL WITH THE TRUTH”, to rephrase the words used by Edmund Burke in his book “Letters on a Regicide Peace”, published in 1796, in which he wrote:

“Falsehood and delusion are allowed in no case whatever: But, as in the exercise of all the virtues, there is an œconomy of truth.”

HYD 4 real

The Residency in Hyderabad was built for the British Resident (for the Princely State of Hyderabad) James Achilles Kirkpatrick (1764-1805) in the style of a Palladian villa in about 1798. As described in an excellent book, the “White Mughals” by William Dalrymple, Kirkpatrick, like many other pre-Victorian Europeans in India, adopted local Indian ways of life. This Resident went so far as to marry (not too publicly) a local aristocratic woman from Hyderabad, Khair-un-Nissa (1786-1813). She remained in purdah and lived in a zenana, a ladies’ quarter, in the garden of the Residency but quite separate from it.  

The Residency was used for its original purpose by British Residents of Hyderabad until India became independent in 1947. In 1949, it became a building within the confines of the Osmania University College for Women (founded 1924).

Having read Dalrymple’s book back in 2011 just before visiting Hyderabad, I was keen to see the Palladian style Residency. With great difficulty our driver (from Bangalore) managed to discover the whereabouts of the Osmania university. We drove up to the gate and were stopped by a security guard, who would not admit us until we revealed (somewhat deviously) that the Director was expecting us. We entered the grounds and found the Director’s office. We suggested to her that I might be a relative of Dalrymple’s and that I was keen to see the building he had written about.

 

The Director assigned a member of her office team to take us to the old building, adding that it was not wise to enter it as it was in a perilous condition. What we saw, although in a very poor state of repair, was a magnificent, elegant neo-classical building. If it had been in the UK and restored considerably, it would have outshined many of the great houses built in the same era, which are open to the public. Ignoring the advice of the Director, we entered the crumbling structure and viewed its wonderful twin curving staircases and glamorous rooms. Although the place was in a parlous condition, its former glory was still very evident.

We left the former Residency without any of it collapsing on to our heads and feeling very pleased that we had ‘blagged’ our way into seeing this gem hidden from the public.

A royal palace

IT IS COSTLY PAYING A VISIT to the Faluknuma Palace in Hyderabad, but is it worth the expense?

The Faluknuma Palace, which is located on a hill, is high above the rest of Hyderabad. It was built in a neo Palladian style to the designs of an Italian architect between 1884 and 1890 as a residence for Sir Viqar al Umra, a Prime Minister of Hyderabad. To settle a debt, in 1897 Viqar handed his palace to his creditor, the 6th Nizam of Hyderabad.

The palace is now used as a luxury hotel. One night at this place will set you back by at least £440 excluding taxes. The most economical way to see the palace is by booking afternoon tea, which is not at all cheap. However, such a booking includes a guided tour around the palace. After much difficulty and numerous telephone calls to the hotel, we managed to book a couple of places for the afternoon tea experience.

The guided tour was fairly uninformative but gave us a chance to see several rooms that were used by the former Nizams and their guests.
Unfortunately, the guide was uninspired and his English was poor. It would have been better if the guide had been better informed as well as more interested in history and culture.

One thing the guide told us impressed me. He said that the palace was wired up for telephony and was supplied with electricity in the 1890s whilst the Nizam’s subjects lived without electricity until the late 1930s.

Each of the rooms and hallways of the palace look spectacular at first sight. However, after closer examination they are not so impressive. The rooms which were designed to amaze are actually rather dowdy and unrefined. The interior has a Victorian heaviness. In contrast, the Marble Palace in Calcutta, also built to mimic European tastes, is spectacular both macroscopically and in minute detail. Unlike the Faluknuma, the Marble Palace is an example of exquisite taste.

I find it sad that Indians such as the builders of the Faluknuma (and the Marble Palace) found it necessary to mimic, not always successfully, the styles favoured by their imperialist rulers rather than building in styles that have evolved from the rich legacy of pre-colonial architecture. One palace that I have visited, that at Bhavnagar, The Neelambagh, was designed by a European architect who paid tribute to India’s rich cultural heritage by successfully incorporating elements of India’s historical architectural styles. The so-called Indo-Saracenic style sometimes melds European and Indian elements successfully.

The afternoon tea was elegantly presented. The serving staff outnumbered the guests. There was a great deal of bustling about, but our requests were eventually fulfilled. Every member of staff we encountered at the palace was kind and caring. I felt that everyone wanted us to enjoy our visit, which we did.

Was our visit worth what we paid? I would say ‘yes’ cautiously, but I would have preferred to have been charged a little less. It would have been really good value at two thirds of the price. Is the palace worth seeing? I would recommend it not because it is either an aesthetic gem or an architectural marvel, but it is a great example of how the wealthy and powerful spent their money to impress their subjects and the British Colonial Officials, who guaranteed the continuing existence of their vassals, the rulers of the Princely States, of which Hyderabad was the largest, richest, and most powerful.

While we were sitting waiting for our taxi to take us away from the palace, we watched horse drawn cartiages passing by. They carry guests up the long winding drive to the hotel. We also saw staff feeding some of the more than one hundred peacocks which live in the extensive grounds of the palace, which provide a peaceful refuge from the city that sprawls all around the Faluknuma.

Art gallery

Bangalore in south India is not blessed with many tourist attractions. I will describe one of them, which gives me great pleasure.

Almost 10 years ago, a branch of the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) opened in Bangalore. Even if you have little interest in modern art this place is worth seeing. Part of the collection, which changes regularly, is housed in the former Manikyavelu Palace, a 19th century edifice which has been superbly restored.

The palace is linked to an elegantly simple contemporary building in which some of the permanent collection is displayed. The collection includes works mainly by Indian artists but there are also a few by European artists. Most of the artworks were created in the 20th and 21st centuries. There is a good selection of paintings by Bengali artists.

The new building also houses well curated temporary exhibitions. Currently, there is a wonderful exhibition of paintings and drawings by the artist Khanderao, who was born in Gulbarga. His early works were beautifully executed topographical scenes. He is also a superp portraitist. Like other great modern artists, for example Picasso, Khanderao has moved into abstraction, which he deals with beautifully.

A water feature separates the palace and its modern extension from another contemporary complex. This includes an auditorium, a library, a café, and a gallery shop.

The verdant gardens of the NGMA contain several modern sculptures.

The NGMA is, in my opinion, one of the loveliest attractions that Bangalore offers visitors and residents alike.