With the heritage trot through Old Lucknow, you might have got a glimpse of its history that extends beyond the Nawabs. The Hussainabad Ghanta Ghar to be precise, is what might have given it off. In case you have missed what this is about, take a peek at my last post on the Heritage Lucknow.You will realize that it is the British Era of Lucknow that I am talking about. A chapter of history that is best experienced at The Residency Lucknow.
The Residency Lucknow is best described as the living quarters of the British General – a representative of the British East India Company in the courts of the Nawabs. Where the grand heritage sites of the Nawabs left me awestruck, visiting The Residency Lucknow, left me with mixed feelings. While on one hand, I could imagine the grand life that the British led, on the other, I could also, see the freedom struggle and the siege that this place witnessed.There is no denying that The Residency Lucknow is an integral part of the city and a definite must-visit when here.
History of The Residency Lucknow
Built by Nawab Asaf Ud-Daulah completed by Nawab Saadat Ali Khan in late 1700s for the British General, The Residency Lucknow soon became a hub for all British personnel. Initially, they were just representatives of the East India company. Later, as their reign grew, Lucknow became the administrative hub for the British. The Residency Lucknow thus, became the home of the British commissioner of Awadh.
The biggest and the most symbolic event that The Residency is known for was the First War of Independence in 1857. The trigger for this began with the Indian Sepoys employed by the British. The new ammunition that they were forced to use was coated with Beef and Pork fat. This went against their religion and despite several protests they were forced to use the cartridges. Thus, began the rebellion. One of the main centers for this Siege of 1857 was Lucknow and it was The Residency that was the Target.
Bullets and Cannons razed the place down. And what is left today, still bears the marks of that Freedom movement. This pretty much explains my mixed feelings when I visited.
The Treasury of The Residency Lucknow
The gate at The Residency Lucknow was called the Baillie guard gate. This was a part of the original construction and in its glory days, used to have a Guard of Honor – a practice started by the then Nawab. The name of the gate was after its first resident – Col. John Baillie.
As soon as you pass that, the first thing that you come across on your right are the ruins of The Treasury. Besides, of course, being the storehouse, during the 1857 war, this became a hub to manufacture and store the wretched cartridges. Naturally, it was completely shelled and destroyed.
On one of the walls, there is a marble plaque that honors soldiers from a section of the army that stood tall against the revolutionaries. The memorial seemed to be a later one for that was the only thing in this building that was not destroyed.
The Banquet Hall at The Residency Lucknow
Facing the treasury, came the most interesting building of all in The Residency. The Banquet hall built by the Nawab, still bore signs of the tall arches and the intricate carvings used by the Nawabs. The high ceilings and the elaborate hallways got me picturing those British evenings and ballroom dances.
As you walk through to the back, you can identify what used to be the kitchen. There were stairs that led somewhere but owing to the crumbling structures were barred for the visitors.
Then came the gorgeous entrance. A fountain stood in the center while at both ends were stairs that led upstairs. My mind raced to the balls described by Jane Austen in her novels and I could well imagine how the evenings were spent here. During the 1857 rebellion, this hall became a make-shift hospital and eventually, fell to ruins.
Dr. Fayrer’s house
Across the Banquet Hall, was the house of Dr. Fayrer, that became another haven to shield the British families during the 1857 shooting. Apparently, the house had a basement that was used to shelter the women and children. Besides being the safe house, it was also, used as a hospital. The house belonged to Dr. Fayrer who did an extensive research on snake bites in India and he used to be the resident surgeon of The Residency Lucknow.
The Residency Lucknow
One of the key buildings that I could not explore was the main Residency building. It was under restoration and hence, I had to give it a miss. However, what I did understand from the various signs and local guards was that it used to be a tall three-storied building that had a games room for billiards, a library and offices for meetings. It also, had an underground room that helped shield the British during the Siege. The Residency building was attacked with cannons and hence, was destroyed completely.
In front of the main building was this huge memorial cross that was dedicated to Major-general Sir John Inglis and his wife Julia. He was injured during the revolution and later died with an illness that he contracted post his injury. Behind the Residency building, was a cemetery that I missed owing to shortage of time. The Cemetry has graves of all the soldiers who died in the 1857 revolution at The Residency Lucknow.
Begum Kothi at The Residency Lucknow
I saw this mapped at the entrance of The Residency Lucknow and wondered why would a Begum (wife of the Nawab) have a house in British quarters. What I discovered later with the help of the meager signboards was that this house was sold to some Europeans by the Nawab and later occupied by the Begum Makhdarah Aliya. The lady was a Vilayati Begum – essentially a foreigner married to Nawab Nasir-ud-din Haider. She stayed here with her sister. What was left of it, showcased ordinary rooms but am sure with the decor in those days, it must have been grand.
The Mosque & Imambara
It was a bit uncomfortable with couples hiding in the corners of the Begum’s Kothi to actually see the place. Naturally, I just rushed out to the adjacent space that was occupied by a gorgeous Mosque. This was possibly the only standing structure within The Residency Lucknow. The mosque was used by the Begum’s step-sister Ashrafunissa, who inherited the Begum’s Kothi after the death of the Vilayati Begum.
The mosque with its intact minarets is the classic Persian architecture and even, today you can see the intricate carvings on the doors and windows as you pass by. I would have liked to examine these closely but with my race against time, there was only that much that I could have captured. Definitely one interesting structure within the historic Residency complex.
The Brigade Mess
A quick leap across the Mosque took me to another arched entrance that had an ancient well outside. A step through the door led me to discover the fallen structure of what was labeled as the Brigade mess. Most of it has fallen for this was another point of attack during the 1857 Siege. The mess had one intact building which I avoided for I saw some young couples busy in the corner.
While here, I also, managed to glimpse at a few more structures that looked like foundations of homes. However, before I could hop there – TRING! – went my phone. A call from my fellow travelers indicating the end of my time here and reluctantly, I turned back to the gate.
The Other structures at The Residency Lucknow
The scorching heat of May did not really bother me for I could have gone on to explore the other structures at The Residency Lucknow that were still there to see. Ommaney’s house, Anderson’s Post, Judicial post, Sago’s house – were just few that I would have liked to capture. Ah well, like I have been saying – Lucknow was incomplete and it still needs me to return back and continue what I missed. Maybe next year, maybe later, but I sure hope to do this.
The Residency Lucknow may be in ruins but it is the story that is trapped within these that bring the place alive. It is what made it interesting for me. This is what triggered my imagination. Somehow, there were emotions that were trapped within those walls and all we have to do is reach out and understand those. It might be different for different people but for me, it included rage, wonder, sadness and honor. I wonder what it sets off for you. Let me know what you feel after this virtual tour.
- Click this link to get the location of The Residency Lucknow on your phone. You can get here with the help of a bus, autorickshaw or a taxi in Lucknow.
- For Lucknow city, you can just book a bus, train or even a flight for it is well connected to all the major cities of India.
- The tickets for The Residency Lucknow are priced at INR 5 per person. You can visit it any day between 10 am to 5 pm.
- Given the nominal price, you will find all kinds of people visiting it. Beware of romantic couples who find themselves entwined in the corners of these ruins. Though there are guards around who try and chase them away, they are still there.
- There is a lot of walking to be done here. Comfortable clothes and shoes are recommended. Summers can be quite scorching and an umbrella or a cap is recommended. Sunscreens are a must. Winters are a better time to visit here. Light woolens are recommended.
- There are very few signages around the place. If you can hire a guide, it would make the visit more interesting.
- The place is not well maintained and hence, when visiting, beware of crumbling structures.