Lovingly called the ‘Queen of the Hills’, Shimla, which is the capital of the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, offers its visitors the chance of paying a memorable visit to a number of beautiful heritage buildings built during the era of colonial British India (colonial era 1615 A.D. to 1947 A.D.). The Gorton Castle, which boasts of being the most magnificent heritage one of them, is the main one of them. Being the historic summer capital of colonial British India, Shimla owns a great number of heritage buildings built by the British. After Kolkata – the current capital city of the eastern Indian state of West Bengal, Shimla is the next city in regards of being home to British colonial era heritage buildings.
Being a contrasting testament of Shimla, the British colonial era Gorton Castle, which was originally designed by Colonel Sir S. Swinton Jacob and modified by Major H.F. Chesney, the Resident Engineer, is one of the points of interest in this tourist destination. As per Lord Curzon (quoted by Pamela Kanwar in 308), Jacob, who drew the original plan for this magnificent heritage building, was reputed as the best professional architect in India. Hence, it was natural for him to be selected to design what was then proposed to be the new Government Secretaritat in Simla.
Being perfectly fitted to the commanding, airy hilltop plot which had originally been donated to the government for the construction of a hospital, Jacob’s plan was only to Curzon’s liking. The renowned four storey building still looked much same as both Curzon and Jacob had wanted in spite of the plan having been to be modified later by Major Chesney, the Resident Engineer.
Originally belonged to Mr. Gorton, an ICS in 1840 A.D., this site, which changed hands thrice, was bought for Rs. 80,000 by Sir James Walker, a banker who was willing to gift it for the construction of a hospital. The officers obtained this site after much persuasion and discussion and an optional site for the construction of Walker Hospital was provided to Sir Walker.
Until the independence of India, the Gorton Castle was treated by the British as their official ‘Summer Session Secretariat’. Being the Civil Secretariat of the Imperial Government of colonial British India, this heritage building hosted the departments of Finance, Home, Education, Health, Lands and Legislative.
At present, this heritage building owns the offices of the Accountant General of the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh.
Architecture and Location
Constructed in the Neo-Gothic style of architecture in the period of 4 years (1901-04 A.D.), this magnificent British colonial era heritage building, which is situated along the Mall Road at Nabha next to the State Vidhan Sabha, along the road leading to the historic Viceregal Lodge – another equally significant heritage building of Shimla, boasts of being the most magnificent heritage building in Shimla.
This heritage building has been constructed of stone set in the lime with red galvanized iron roofing. The designer of this four storey sprawling building complex was the best professional architect in colonial British India with his forty five years of experience as the executive engineer of the Rajputana princely state of Jaipur. Boasting of being a picturesque, multifaceted edifice has its entry gate with a chalet like appearance with a large portico with a decorative frieze. On the balconies of this heritage building, you can view the Rajasthani Jaali work, which is the result of 45 experiences of this architect as the executive engineer of the princely state of Jaipur.
The preliminary drawings of this British colonial era heritage building were made by Colonel Sir Swinton Jacob at the request of Lord Curzon, the then Viceroy of colonial British India. But the amendment was made later by Major HF Chesney RE to be suitable for the size of the plot.
Spread across an area of 400 ft x 100 ft, this British colonial era heritage building, which is situated atop the hill, has its highlight of the ‘Rajasthani Jaali Work’ on its balconies. Made of solid gray Sanjauli stone, the original red tile roof of this building, which was easily removed by a Simla’s brigade of wild monkeys, was replaced by galvanized red iron sheet roof for the safety.
You can view the famous bay windows on its sides. The solid gray stone walls of this structure are surmounted by square as well as the towers with high pitched points. Normally, you can view red galvanized iron roofing on the several other buildings in Shimla but if you see this charming building from a distance, the red towers of this heritage building charmingly look amidst the surrounding trees of Deodar (cedar) to provide it the feel of a fairy tale.
As per Sir Edward Buck, this finest house in Shimla also owns one floor paved with rosewood like timber blocks which were brought from the Andaman Islands by the head of the forest department, B. Ribbentrop.
After its completion, this heritage building housed the Civil Secretariat of the Imperial Government of India along with having the departments of Legislative, Education, Lands, Finance, Home and Health.
It is notable that the site of this British colonial era heritage building, which was basically related to Mr. Gorton, an ICS in 1840 A.D., changed hands thrice and was purchased in an amount of Rupees 80,000 by a banker, Sir James Walker, who was willing to gift it for the construction of a hospital. The officers acquired the site after much discussion and persuasion and Sir Walker was allotted an optional site where the construction of the Walker Hospital was done. This charming heritage building derived its name from the previous estate upon which it was constructed. During the summer months in the colonial times, the affairs of this huge nation were administered by this Government of colonial British India Secretariat Building. Real to its name, this magnificent building, situated on the ridge between the Railway Board Building and the Council Chamber and covered by the trees of cedar (Deodar), had its look like a ‘castle’.
Endowed with approx 125 small and large rooms, this three floored heritage building became the seat of the Accountant General of Independent India in 1947 A.D and played the role of the office of the Accountant General of Independent India till the late fifties when the central government office began shifting to Delhi. Up to the early eighties, the Accountant General offices of Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh continued to work from this office, but after this, it is the exclusive office of the Accountant General of the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh.
Devastated by Fire
Faithfully renovated in 2001-03 A.D. at a cost of Crores of Rupees and continuously being used as the office of the Accountant General of Himachal Pradesh, this British colonial era heritage building was devastated by fire ignited in the wee hours at approx 03:00 a.m. on Tuesday on the 28th of January, 2014 A.D. The fire began from the front part of the 4th and the top floor of the five storey heritage building and thereafter it broke out to lower storeys. Almost everything placed in the top two floors of this magnificent heritage building, record files, computers and official documents, furniture, and much more burnt to ashes. The real amount of loss (damage) in terms of infrastructure was undoubtedly more than several Crores.
Except a poor flying fox, which was lying on the ground half consciously, nobody fell prey to the accident luckily. In spite of being looked to have got some burns, it was alive. Probably, it resided in the top floor (attic) of the heritage building. The people expected it to be fine and soar the trees thereafter.
As Shimla woke up in shock and disbelief, the fire was seen engulfing the building. In this way, two floors of this magnificent heritage building burnt to ashes. To extinguish the fire of this magnificent specimen of imperial architecture of colonial British India, approx a dozen of fire tenders from Shimla, Solan and Theog in addition to those of the Army had to try their best.
While the fire brigade truly did struggle in strategically handle the circumstance, the army men were the first to reach the spot and provide emergency starting assist in extinguishing the fire. From early morning, the Shimla Police with its SP named Abhishek Dullar was in action. As per two cops, the SP took the water pipe himself and rushed inside the heritage building with other fire servicemen.
Somehow, as a severe fault, the Police did not enclose the premises of the burning heritage building and a great crowd assembled around it, which made it with mob for the fire fighters and other workers at work.
During it, the window glasses, iron grills, and the other remains were falling, which could easily cause accidents. It is notable that in crowded situation, the probability of a rampage is always very much. Several people had already made an entry to the site till that time, as the gates of the building were closed very delay.
The Chowk opposite the burning heritage building was also packed with viewers, most of whom were either leaving for their offices or the Bazaar. At the site, Sanjay Chauhan, the Mayor of Shimla, Dinesh Malhotra, the deputy commissioner of Shimla and some other higher officials were also available.
After fighting the flames for approx five hours, the firemen finally succeeded to bring the fire under control at approx 10:30 a.m. When the fire broke out in the building in this morning, the renovation work was on. This fire completely devastated two floors of this five storey building.
Originally built of iron and stone majorly, the building was fireproof, but a lot of woodwork superimposed on the building for making the interiors look soothing and charming caused the building fire prone.
To know the real cause of the fire is difficult. As per some of the early witnesses reached the spot, “The fire may have been caused by short circuiting or use of electric heaters, either by the night guards or officials, who may have left the heaters on while leaving the office”.
Other than official, financial, and architectural loss to this magnificent heritage building, the devastation of records, both in computers (soft copies) and hard copies, is likely to make a great problem for several beneficiaries and employees as it would take a long time to recreate and explore the damaged records.
Meanwhile, several employees waiting for transfer, promotion, or other official benefits, are possible to suffer a great delay.
At present, this building needs a more radical restoration. It is notable that in past two decades, the winter fires have gutted over 100 British colonial era heritage buildings of Shimla.
The Gorton Castle, which is one of the most breathtaking heritage buildings of the British Empire, is still a famous attraction in Shimla and very popular among the tourists and heritage lovers.
Finally, it can be justly said that the Gorton Castle is the most magnificent British colonial era heritage building in Shimla. If you also want to have a fine glimpse of this majestic heritage building, you can book Cheap Shimla Tour Package with ARV Holidays, one of the leading tour and travel operators of India. If you ever manage to escape to the ‘Queen of the Hills’, you must take a fine view of this majestic heritage building to make your Shimla tour memorable for you. If you get the chance of paying a visit to this magnificent heritage building, you would find that it is worth seeing during the tour of Shimla. The people, who go to the ‘Queen of the Hills’, do include the visit of this most magnificent heritage building in their itinerary. The heritage building and history lovers do pay a visit to it during their tour of the breathtaking hill station of Shimla.