Conserving contested heritage in South India: the British Cemetery, Lovedale, Ootacamund, & Garrison Cemetery, Srirangapatna

Written by Duncan Marks, Conservation Studies alumni (2015-17)

 

Following recent restoration work by YCAA alumnus Ravindra Gundu Rao at two cemeteries in South India that hold close-association with the British Empire, and the wider work of the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia (BACSA), this article uses such conservation work to reflect upon the overlap between memory, place and commemoration.

As similar built heritage with imperial connotations has recently been seen by some as ‘contested heritage’, the parameters of such conservation are explored here in relation to time and space.  Parallels are drawn with other cemetery conservation and community initiatives, such as the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the British Government’s First World War Centenary Battlefield Tours Programme, and Israel’s Youth Delegations to Poland programme.  Ultimately, we need to ask for whom should this built heritage be conserved, what purpose might it serve, and how might knowledge of it be better promoted?

 

British Cemetery, Lovedale, Ootacamund, Tamil Nadu

The British Cemetery at Lovedale, Ootacamund, in the Tamil Nadu state of South India, was opened in 1832.  The site of the cemetery is in the high hills of an extensive 750-acre campus of The Lawrence School.

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Some of the repair, environmental and landscaping challenges at the British Cemetery.  Source: Ravindra Gundu Rao.

The School was founded in 1858 in memory of Major General Sir Henry Montgomery Lawrence, KCB, who died in the First War of Indian Independence against British Rule in 1857 (more commonly known in Britain as the ‘Indian Mutiny’).  It was created to provide vocational education to the orphans and the other children of European soldiers in India, and operated on a strictly Protestant Christian basis.  Despite the end of British rule in India in 1947, the connection of the school, and hence the cemetery, with the military continues today as a public school with a 40% pupil allocation reserved, and a 20% fee subsidy, for children of Indian Defence Personnel.

The cemetery has 124 tombs of which approximately 110 are of the British Christians who lived and passed away in India in the C19.  The work is currently in progress and soon to be complete.

The cemetery has suffered from exposure to monsoons, foliage growth on the stones, and other encroachments by nature; a common problem for cemeteries in India.  The scope of this project is to conserve the graves, statues and landscaping through repairs using traditional stone restoration works, structural repairs, restoration using traditional brick lime mortar, paving, stucco and lime plaster works.  As in many urban areas of India, a shortage of available local stone meant the British designed structures that were made of brick covered by plaster.  This only makes them more prone to deterioration from the effects of water ingress during monsoons.

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Conditional surveys conducted at the British Cemetery.  Source: Ravindra Gundu Rao.

The conservation project is being done in conjunction with the BACSA and funded by the school’s alumni Old Lawrence Association.  Indeed, the alumni association petitioned the school in 2016 for the restoration and maintenance of the school cemetery.  A sense of continued connection between alumni and the cemetery is evident in their petition comments, with ‘integral to the school’s heritage’ being a frequent remark made.  The comments made are on a personal and emotive level, with fond memories of the cemetery on the campus from their school days and a reverence to honour former pupils buried there.  There is little, however, offered to suggest the cemetery holds value in a wider national or political narrative. Continue reading

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Studley Royal Park Student & Alumni Trip, September 2017

Written by Jenna Tinning, Conservation Studies postgraduate (2017-18).

At the end of a busy first week for the new 2017/18 Conservation Studies cohort, the students and alumni gathered together on Saturday 30 September 2017 for a study to trip to the World Heritage Site of Studley Royal Park, known by many as home to the ruins of Fountains Abbey. We were very lucky to be led through the day by the extremely knowledgeable Dr Keith Emerick, Inspector of Ancient Monuments at Historic England, who has been involved in the conservation management of the site for many years.

As one of National Trust’s flagship sites (though interestingly managed by English Heritage!) the visit was a brilliant example of sustainable management of a cultural heritage asset as a visitor attraction. Keith picked up on a number of interesting points about the challenges that are faced in making this a reality. We started the day with a bit of background to the site, where we discovered just how many partners are involved in its running and what it means to be a world heritage site – including the fact that ‘fountains’ must have a management plan for every six years, which in turn forms the guidelines for the conservation work on site.

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Current students and alumni listening to Dr Keith Emerick’s (unseen) outlining of Fountains Abbey’s conservation challenges

 

Moving down to the Abbey we learnt more about issues with water drainage at the site and how efforts are being made to manage the impact of flooding, including the installation of some new porous floor tiling to help combat localised flooding. One of many highlights of the day was that we were given behind the scenes access to a large open space that used to be the dormitory of the lay-brothers above the cellarium, an area that is not currently accessible to the public due to the fact that there are large exposed archways on either side that are not cordoned off, meaning that visitors could be exposed to rather big drops off the edge! We discussed how the National Trust and Historic England are therefore working to open this space up to the public and the challenges they face in doing so – particularly to maintaining the aesthetic value of the site.

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Standing in the area where the lay-brothers’ dormitory used to be, with the abbey’s nave and Huby’s tower seen beyond.

 

Another highlight of the trip was taking in the views from some of the many Georgian follies and features located within the grounds of the site, including the spectacular ‘Anne Boleyn’s Seat.’ Each had been carefully designed to provide a new and contrasting vista and experience for guests. Considering that every day the Fountains Abbey and Study Royal site now attracts so many visitors – an average of 350,000 a year – an important and interesting observation to note was that there is still always a quiet place within the landscape where you can go and take in the surroundings in peace, without seeing any others visitors if you so wish.

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The “surprise view” from Anne Boleyn’s Seat, looking over the half-moon pond to Tent Hill and the abbey ruins beyond.

 

Unfortunately, because of the sheer size of Studley Royal Park with an area of about 800 acres, there was no way we could explore all the fascinating features of the landscape in one day, and therefore some aspects, such as St Mary’s Church, were left for us to explore in our own time. Overall, as can be seen by the feedback we have received, the day was a fantastic experience that gave us some really interesting insights into the management of such a diverse World Heritage Site, and it also proved a great opportunity to mix with our new course friends and alumni.

 

Student Feedback:

Just wanted to say that for me the Fountains trip was a really great opportunity to meet people. What with being in the first week…and just generally mixing us all together, it worked really well as a kind of induction event

 

I would like to thank the York Conservation Alumni Association (YCAA) for organising a visit to such an amazing place of historical significance and world heritage status. I believe that such visits on a regular basis will expose us to the practical world of conservation and create an interactive environment between the students, professors and professionals from the field. Looking forward to more such opportunities!!

 

The visit to Fountains was a wonderful experience…as for the ideas for other events, I recommend Saltaire, another world heritage site in Yorkshire.

 

The importance of field trips for studies like our own is very important, I think that they can be the equivalent of “a photo is worth a thousand words”: a well-organised field trip can worth a lot of hours reading and lecturing… so, similar trips as the one to Fountains Abbey will be more than welcome, although visits within the city of York are welcome as well!

 

The place chosen for the site visit was wonderful and we were able to understand many aspects that are concerned with heritage conservation – finer details of landscape planning, psychological planning in landscape, architectural details, colour palette of the place and of the trees, historical anecdotes gave an enriching experience.

‘People Power! – Catalyst for Change’ IHBC Summer School 2016

Written by Angie Creswick

The weekend after the Brexit vote I attended the IHBC summer school in Worcester. At the conclusion of the event, where community engagement had been a recurring theme, I had a fascinating tour of three of Worcester’s Georgian churches. The conservation needs of these churches is being addressed through three very different approaches. Continue reading

Venugopalaswamy temple in Karnataka, India

Written by Sonali Dhanpal

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View of Sanctum sanctorum. Photo by author. 

Authenticity is a concept widely discussed, defining something true, genuine or original. The romantic notion of an ‘unspoilt’ past in people’s imagination is met by authenticity, a form of social construction. But authenticity is perceived very differently in the Indian context and this is exemplified in the replantation of the Venugopalaswamy temple in Karnataka, India. Continue reading