Aerial view of Richmond Castle
Three-foot high graphic mosaic lettering in Hollywood style announces the entrance to the vast park grounds of the Richmond Castle. A short drive or if you prefer, a long walk up the gravel pathway decorated with curious marble statues and canopied in greenery spotted by occasional bursts of colourful blossoms leads to a spectacular first glimpse of the regal Richmond Castle.
Words: Dinali Sugathadasa | Photography: Menaka Aravinda
A century old country mansion with the outward appearance of the 19th Century British noble residencies, the Richmond Castle as of yet has only given us an initial taste of her grandeur through her surrounding beauty and imposing exterior grounds. It is later, upon entering the premises that we learn of her luxury and opulence of which evidence still remains and the tale of her stately past.
A story unveils
The tale of Richmond Castle's past is a gripping saga of events running parallel to that of its owner, Nanayakkara Rajawasala Appuhamilage Don Arthur De Silva Wijeysinghe Siriwardena, the Mudaliyar of Kalutara District during the early decades of the 1900s.
The son of a wealthy and influential planter, the young Arthur De Silva Wijeysinghe was schooled in Britain.On completion of his studies in England he was bestowed the position of Mudaliyar by the King and returned to Sri Lanka to take up rank.
On returning to his homeland, the Mudaliyar inspired by the palace of his old school pal, the Maharaja of Ramnad in India, built the Richmond Castle. A symbol of splendour and power with every inch boasting of luxury, all essential supplies for the building were sourced from abroad beginning with the floor and roofing tiles to timber, stained glass and decorative items, even bathroom fittings. The Mudaliyar moved into Richmond Castle upon his marriage to a young beauty of noble rank, Clarice Matilda Maude Suriyabandara.
The park of Richmond Castle was completely cultured in fruit and flower, while the mansion often hosted banquets for dignitaries, both foreign and Sri Lankan, with its own 50 manned troupe of performers for the entertainment of its guests. The Mudaliyar was the owner of a grand white horse driven carriage - a symbol of power in the time of British rule in Sri Lanka and employed a small private army for protection; he lived and was respected much like a provincial king.
Though the young couple was blessed with every happiness and comfort in life they lacked one of the greatest, that of a child of their own. The Mudaliyar it was told, laid marble statues of infants all about the park and it is said that the couple was often seen lovingly gazing upon them from atop the balcony, now the possessors of almost every joy in the world.
This fairytale however had a tragic ending, the couple separated later in life and the Mudaliyar bequeathed all his wealth to the Public Trustee. He lived as a hermit having no contact with the outside world, residing in room number 77 of the Queen's Hotel in Kandy for the remainder of his life never returning to Richmond Castle and never attending to his estates thereafter. He died in 1947 at the age of 59 but made provisions for Clarice till the time of her death in abode at a nunnery at the age of 80.
DID YOU KNOW?
RICHMOND CASTLE is a HOTSPOT for theatrical productions,it was even a location for the internationally acclaimed ‘WATER,' by filmmaker Deepa Mehta.
The mansion is an example of architectural fusion blending the styles of the masters of structural design on a trail from the East to the West. It encapsulates four distinct styles of architecture. The local courtyard tradition, the Maharaja and Roman-Dutch style of architecture, the latter an influence believed to have been derived from the Mudaliyar's Roman Catholic roots as well as an inclusion of Greek genre of architecture.
Ruling upon 42 acres of land with a staggering 99 doors and 38 windows, Richmond Castle has accomplished some very amazing feats of structural design.
The banquet hall, which at times doubled as a performance arena for the entertainment of the Mudaliyar's guests has an underground ventilation system, which harbours the cool air of the Kalu Ganga directing it into the hall through an ingenious underground pathway that runs right through the foundation, naturally air conditioning the hall and keeping its guests cool and comfortable. The hall also showcases intricate Embekke style carvings on 12 great Rangoon teak pillars connecting six massive decorated arches that hold up its roof.
The giant staircase greeting any guest by the front entrance set upon checkered marble floors, is another very unique piece of architecture with a fusion of western and local carving patterns embedded in it. This magnificent piece of art separates right at the centre and reaches the top floor in two separate stairways, the pure pomp of it doubles the richness of the mansion.
The bedrooms on the upper floor have been ingeniously designed to be soundproof, and the techniques used are directly visible with certain parts of the lime puttied walls now peeling off in its ripe old age. However, the purpose of using this substance was to maintain a comfortable temperature within the mansion interior no matter what time of day or year.
Past and present
Richmond Castle is now a monumental historic site made open to the public by the Public Trustee Department, who also maintain a children's home within. The large servants quarters are now renovated and washed in colour making a loving home for the less fortunate young ones and certain rooms of the mansion are designated study areas for them.
The master bedroom has been converted into a memoir to the past splendour of Richmond Castle as the proud chaperones who guide the numerous groups that visit the site everyday draw their attention to old photographs depicting the grand wedding celebrations, the parties and banquets, the Mudaliyar's gallant achievements and his preeminent acquaintances.
In its heyday, no doubt in par with the luxuries in the likes of the Pemberlies of 19th Century England, the long ago memories of Richmond Castle remain in the form of a grand old house and vast cultivated grounds, living proof evident of a resplendent past.
Richmond Castle, Tekkawatta, Palatota, Kalutara South
Opening Hours: 8.30am to 4.30pm on weekdays