Lost colonial heritage buildings of Shimla, HP due to fire accident!!

 Lost colonial heritage buildings of Shimla, HP:

That as many as 70 classic colonial heritage buildings have either  disappeared or severely suffered damages due to unexpected fire is a sad story of how well classified  old heritage structures are being taken care by the owners - both private and govt. departments. Little have they understood that  along with them were razed to the ground and turned into mounds of  debris the historical facts and culture of Shimla,  Which had served as the Summer Capital of the Empire for pretty long time.  Shimla, now the capital of the state of Himachal Pradesh, is a hill-station at 7000 ft plus in the Himalayan foothills, developed by the British after 1816 as a summer retreat and sanatorium.  The town bore  witness to many historic events such as Indo-Pak summit (Treaty of Shimla) in 1972, Partition of India, Treaty on McMohan line (1914) besides, several events that changed the course of history. 

Despite the fire mishaps and destruction of colonial edifices  some prominent  ones like  timber-framed buildings like the magnificent Bantony Estate, Winterfield, Barnes Court and the Municipal library are  very much there as the legacy of the British. The moot question is: How long  will they  escape from the fury of fire?

The following are some of the buildings of Shimla that were lost due to fire: 

The fire in 1896 had consumed the PWD building.

Kennedy House:

.The first House 1822.-The Kennedy House, Shimla, HPbl.uk

Above image:  The Kennedy House, Shimla, Himachal Pradesh: The first  residence in the form of a wooden cottage came up in 1819 in  a nondescript hamlet Shymala.  The then Assistant Political Agent of hill states Lt. Ross built the house.  The small village's  transformation  into a popular hill station  in colonial  India was a phenomenal one. But the first English residence on the hill  never survived and was gutted. 
Grand Hotel, Shimla:

Grand hotel, Shimla, HP..tripadvisor.in

Above image: Grand Hotel, Shimla - close to  Scandal Point of the main Mall Road near the historic Kali Bari temple, the Victorian era palatial grand hotel  with lots of wooden interior and  large -well furnished rooms  was a popular hotel in  1920s to 1930s.  On  May 14, 2019,  the hotel was gutted and a major part of it was severely damaged;  the fire spread quickly due to painted wooden structures. In 1922, the hotel that was owned by the Confectioner to the viceroy  Chevalier Federico Peliti,  was damaged by fire  and was rebuilt  and gained a name for its services in the 1930s. It was owned by the CPWD, central govt. agency. 

The Foreign Office building:

The Foreign Office building  known as Himachal Dham housing the HP Secretariat, was reduced to ashes in 1957. The fire at Grand Hotel, housing the Holiday Home of the Central Public Works Department (CPWD), had  raised concern about the safety of buildings in Shimla and precautions aginat fire in the near future......


Wildflower Hall, Shimla:

Above image: Now a heritage hotel  Oberoi Wildflower Hall, ear Shimla once was part of an estate comprising more than 22 acres of greenery - cedar and pine  tree at an altitude of 8,250 feet in the Himalayas. The estate was owned by the British Commander-In-Chief, Lord Kitchener. This hotel suffered recurring fire in the past..................


Ripon Hospital,Shimla, 

Din Dayal Upadhyaya Hospital)(formerly Ripon hospitalen.wikipedia.org

Above image: Ripon Hospital,Shimla,  now named Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Hospital (DDU), close to the  Old Bus Stand and below Lower Bazaar is a prime hospital here.  Proposed by Lord Ripon, former viceroy of India,  it was opened to public on 14 May 1885 by Lord Dufferin. Henry Irvin, who designed some buildings in Madras was the architect and the facade is an attractive one with many gables and slanted roof tops.  No doubt  it is one of the historical landmarks in Shimla. According to the Gazetteer of Shimla District of 1888-89 pre-Ripon period the charitable dispensary built in 1844  was  the only medical institution in Simla taking care of the need of the people and was functioning in an unsuitable building.'' This hospital also faced recurring fire accidenys in the past. ...........................


Walker Hospital, Shimla: 

 Walker Hospital of Shimla outlookindia.com

Above image: Walker Hospital that built in 1902 and used as military hospital since 1954 was gutted in the winters of 1999, when as usual, fire struck at midnight reducing the 97-year-old Walker Hospital into ashes........................


Regal cinema hall, Shimla, a famous one then was  destroyed in a fire in the mid-’80s. The building was later mired in a property-related dispute. Another British era cinema theater  Rivoli was shut down in 2013 after the building was declared unsafe for the public.............. 


Chelsea’ housing :

Above image: Chelsea’ housing - One of country's well-known convent school on a hill resort caught fire for unknown reasons just before Partition and was beyond redemption. .

The Western Command building housing:

ARTRAC HQ,Shimla, HM, India.

Above image: The Western Command building housing the Army Training Command was also a victim of fire accident. Built with   iron and wrought iron girders and minimum wooden frame, parts of the building survived and was repaired and restored back to old splendor.   ARTRAC - Army Training Command HQ moved into Shimla on March 31, 1993 from Mhow, (founded in Oct. 1991) MP. After 1993 WC moved near Chandigarh. The prestigious parts are Officers' mess Will Hall built in 1862 by Gen.Butler; renamed Knockdrin. in 1868 it became the residence of foreign secretary of the government. In June 1885, it was converted into officers' mess. The retreat at Chaura Maidan is yet another English style building.It is part of ARTRAC and serves as the Command House of GOC-in C....


Deputy commissioner’s office, Shimla:

Deputy commissioner’s office, Shimla. tribuneindia.com/

Above image: The building of the Deputy commissioner’s office, with heavy stone masonry work, too, withstood the fire and was restored to its original glory.  Built in 1815, it  was then known as the “Office of Assistant to Governor General”. Before Independence, it was renamed — “Office of Deputy Commissioner and Superintendent of Hill States”  A book entitled “200 years of Shimla Deputy Commissioner’s Office”, covering various aspects of the administrative history of the Queen of the Hills. .......................... 

While most of the important timber-framed buildings have been consumed by fires, a few like the magnificent Bantony Estate, Winterfield, Barnes Court and the Municipal library are still standing but one wonders how long will they survive.


Harcourt Butler school:

Harcourt Butler Sr Sec. school, Shimla. 

  Above image: Sir Harcourt Butler served as  the Lieutenant Governor and Governor in United Provinces  from 1918 to 1921. As an administrator he gave importance to technical education in India The Harcourt Butler.sr, secondary school in Delhi and the Butler institute in Kanpur bear his name. He was also instrumental in building a branch of Harcourt Butler sr, sec, school in the hill resort of Shimla, HM. During the Raj  some schools in Delhi would  move uphill to the Summer capital of the Empire  Shimla and  held  classes during the summer season from April Till end of September in a cool congenial place surrounded by wooded areas.....................

Barnes Court, Shimla:

Photograph by an unknown photographer, part of the Dunlop Smith Collection: Sir Charles Aitchison Album of Views in India and Burma. Barnes Court, here photographed from the garden, was from 1879 the residence at Simla of the Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab. The building, built  in 1830 in  Tudor style,  resembles  an English country house; half-timbered and set in spacious grounds, had originally been the official residence of the Commander-in-Chief in India from 1849 to 1865 and was named after General Sir Edward Barnes, the governor of  Punjab.  It featured a ballroom in the Moorish style added by John Lockwood Kipling, Principal of the Mayo School of Art in Lahore (and father of Rudyard Kipling). On the  11th of Apr. 1878 Punjab govt took initiative to buy Barnes court.  Gov. Sir Robert Edgerton 1879 used it as his regular residence. In 1966, it became Summer Raj bhavan of West punjab. After state reorganization  the Himachal pradesh state govt. used it  as state guest house. In  1970 it became a tourist  bungalow  and the historical Shimla agreement  was  signed after 1971 war (between India and pakistan) here between  Mrs. Gandhi &  Z. A Bhutto, an arrogant and authoritative politician of Pakistan.1972 It is now the Raj Bhavan or official residence of the Governor of Himachal Pradesh.




Peteroff building, Shimla:   

Peterhoff building, Shimla, HP dreamstime.com/

Above image: Peterhoff building, Shimla, HP: A Tudor style classic edifice with  wooden shingle eaves and roofs, Location : Chaura maidan. it was the first residence of viceroy and it first resident was   Lord Elgin 1863. It was here the sensational case - the trial of patriot  and assassin of Gandhi 1948-49 Godse was held as it served as the PUnjab High Court.  When Himachal pradesh was formed it became the Raj Bhavan. On  Jan 12 1981 fire broke out and destroyed many parts of the building.  It was rebuilt in 1991 and is  now a  heritage luxury hotel. run by HPTDC. A good example of wooden architecture in English style, Peterhoff  was well known for its intricate and artistic woodwork, 



Gorton Castle 

Gorton Castle, shimla. himachalwatcher.com

Above image: 1901 to 1904 - Gorten Castle built in Neo Gothic style and it once housed various govt.  offices - land, legislative and finance dept. It also served also served as chief secretariat. The offices of Principal Accountant General-Audit and Accountant General-Accounts and Entitlement of Himachal Pradesh served in this building last. 

It was gutted in fire in the wee hours and massive loss was  reported from the historic grey stone and rosewood structured building that was also having teak wood interiors and was surrounded by majestic Deodar trees.   About 65 rooms out of a total of 125 rooms were totally gutted in the four storey building.  Located near the Himachal Vidhan Sabha, earlier a seat of Central Secretariat of the British Government till 1942 the the office of the Accountant General of India was shifted to the Gorton Castle premises in 1954. The structure built with stone and timber was completed in 1904 under the command of Major H.F. Chesney at a cost of Rs 14.02 lakh. In 2004 it underwent massive repair and renovation.  


Minto Court:

Fire mishap. Nov.2014 Minto Court, Shimla.himachalwatcher.com

Nov.2014 Minto Court, Shimla. himachalwatcher.com

Minto Court, Shimla  himachalwatcher.com

Above image: Heritage building, Minto Court near Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, was lost in a fire break out. 2 Nov. 2014.

The building  built during in 1904, was named after Lord Minto. It was built by the British, According to  Raaja Bhasin, co-convener of the Himachal Pradesh chapter of Intach (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage) it was built in half-timbered Tudor style including all frames made of wood. Bhasin felt sad and said, "It’s one of the British-era’s iconic survival structures in Shimla. I am really saddened with the damage

Loss of Firgrove, Shimla: 

Firgrove” Shimla.thehindu.com

Above image:  Charred remains of an old vacant building are seen after it caught fire, located about 150 meters from Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister ’s residence ‘Oakover’, in Shimla in the second week of Feb. 2023. Fire was doused in 2 hrs, however,  smouldering continued for sometime.   Reason behind fire not known. No casualties, adjacent buildings were saved from fire.

The heritage site Firgrove had played a minor role in India's freedom movement as Mahatma Gandhi stayed at this house on one of his visits to the city. 



Some of the  old  buildings have suffered recurring fires and some of them having gutted in fire are now being  replaced by modern concrete establishments.

Some other structures like the Western Command building, at present housing the Army Training Command, were also ravaged by fires. Unlike other buildings it was not standing on a timber frame but had been constructed with iron and wrought iron girders, which survived the fire, enabling the authorities to rebuild the burnt portion as per original design. The building of the deputy commissioner’s office, with heavy stone masonry work, too, withstood the fire and was restored to its original glory.

It is quite interesting to note that the Roman god of fire Vulcan took a permanent residence on the hills of Shimla and visits the British buildings once  in a while. In the winter of  1999 being a destructive god of fire he had his eyes set on the  97-year-old Walker Hospital and  darted the tongues of flames and turned the hospital into ashes  ?  .