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Notes on the Geography of Northern India: Shimla Houses

Shimla was once full of houses for rent or sale to British officials and the occasional Indian.

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Here's one, called Chapslee. Buck writes (p. 31) that "it became the property of the late Sir Arthur Ker, the well-known manager of the Alliance Bank of Simla, who bought it from Mr. Eliot in 1896, and who improved it beyond all recognition. In the opinion of many good judges 'Chapslee' is now surpassed by no other Simla residence in arrangement and general advantages." The Raja of Kapurthala bought the house after Ker's death, and it is still in his family.

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The view up top.

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Ship shape.

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Here's another house, now broken up into apartments.

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It's Stirling Castle, built in 1833. Emily Eden, sister of the Governor General Lord Auckland, wrote (in Up the Country, 1867, p. 278) that the "Aides-de-Camp have engaged a house for the Misses S. and their aunt, quite close to ours, called 'Stirling Castle'--a bleak house that nobody will live in, and that in general is struck by lightning once a year--but it is close by, and they are preparing for a ball.... The Aides-de-Camp are about as much trouble to me as grown-up sons."

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Boot scrapers. The house was abandoned in the 1850s, then reoccupied, most notably by the prolific author, W.W. Hunter. He rented it in 1880, when it was "a dilapidated house perched on the summit of a wooded hill.... It commanded a glorious panorama of the snowy range and had a large but neglected garden. So delighted was the tenant with the isolation and pure air of the place that he afterwards purchased it and made it his headquarters during the remainder of his stay in India." (Francis Skrine, Life of William Wilson Hamilton, 1901, p. 316)

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Parquet flooring. Hunter, editor of the huge Imperial Gazetteer of India , soon came to share Stirling Castle with Courtenay Ilbert, a senior official. The house was later the residence of Ian Hamilton, later to become the scapegoat of Gallipoli. Maharaja Scindia of Gwalior bought the house, and he was followed by the Maharaja of Nabha.

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Another named property, this is Bantony, built in 1880 as the summer home of the Maharaja of Sirmour, which was a princely state immediately south of Shimla. It's now the office of the deputy inspector general of police.

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Abandoned.

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Another sad story. We're an hour's drive east of Shimla, near Mashobra. The name Faridkot is recent; originally this was the Kenilworth and Sherwood Estate.

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Inside, a quiet lane with a stone commemorating the visit of Lady Willingdon, the viceroy's wife. The original house was owned by a Peterson of the Simla Bank, who called it The Refuge. Sir Alfred Mackenzie bought the property in 1889 and built a new house, which was later rented by several commanders-in-chief. When Mackenzie died, the Maharaja of Nabha bought the house, which was sold in the early 1920s to the Maharani of Faridkot.

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The house burned in 2003.

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Not much left.

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Other houses survive, dotted here and there.

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Any curb appeal?


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