La Martiniere College restoration: Tales of time under layers of plaster


The ongoing restoration work at the more-than-225-year-old La Martiniere College building is revealing many more architectural features of the structure.

The extension to the Claude Martin Museum, housed in Mahal Serai, the oldest building on the estate, is revealing fire places sealed into the walls, niches for torches and lamps, windows and doorways, skylights, intricate bas relief work covered over by coats of limewash over two centuries, said principal Carlyle McFarland.

According to the principal, it is evident that there were three phases of construction and adaptation. First, the original building – more an open pavilion, built in the 1790s. Second, the extension which involved raising the walls to the current roof level to accommodate three more rooms. Lastly, the addition of the deep verandas (front and rear) was made in the latter part of the 19th Century.

‘Within these three centuries of change, lie wonderful stories, a dwelling occupied by the native doctor, masters, housemasters, bachelors mess, etc. Now a Museum to hold all those memories!,’ his social media post reads.

McFarland said, “It is recorded that Claude Martin, who built Constantia palace used the Mahal Serai as an outpost during the construction of the building. It is only when layers of plaster are being uncovered that we can clearly make out how the place must have looked to the eyes of the Founder.”

Conservationist Ansaruddin who supervises the overall conservation work was excited about the discoveries. He said, “It is like unfolding pages of history when we see the bricks, some of them with dates, the distinct additions to the original structure and the fine craftsmanship of the decoration”.

According to Ansaruddin, the most challenging part during the restoration work was to maintain the architectural beauty of the building. “We put in special care to match the original work,” he said.

Old Martinians agree that the building is to be best used to house artefacts and other historical material related to the College.

When McFarland became principal of the college in 2011, his hunt for a skilled conservationist led him to the 350-year-old Teele Wali Masjid where Ansaruddin was engaged in restoration work. Ansaruddin was then given to restore a small portion of a wall in the college. Impressed with his work, the college hired him to carry out the complete conservation work.

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