What a beautiful setting for a school! This is La Martiniere Girls' College in Lucknow. It's not quite as old - and its buildings are not quite as grand - as the boys' school. But it is still fairly spectacular.
The school started in 1869, and moved to its present location at Khursheed Manzil two years later. This is a grand house in fortified style, including a substantial moat - a reminder of just how militarised this North Indian city once was.
Khursheed Manzil was built as the home of Khursheed Zadi, wife of the Nawab of Awadh, and was completed in 1818. It was for a while under the control of anti-British forces during the 1857 rebellion.
The small museum at the school explains the building's history
I had the privilege of looking round the school in the company of a former head girl (I'm not allowed to say when) ... and as such, she placed a wreath on the grave of Claude Martin at the boys' school on founder's day. She is also my wife.
We both really appreciated the opportunity to visit this great school.
It's both weirdly wacky and amazingly imposing. This is Constantia, the country house in Lucknow built by the French adventurer and soldier, Claude Martin.
The building is now La Martinière boys' school -
Claude Martin was born in Lyons in 1735 and came out to India while still a teenager to work for the Compagnie des Indes. He moved over to the British East India Company, but his wealth - and how! - came from serving the Nawab of Awadh.
Martin started work on Constantia in 1785 but it was only completed in 1802, two years after his death.
He went to great trouble to specify the details of his interment in the basement of his home (perhaps to put off any notion the Nawab might have had to seize the estate)
And go down a slightly sepulchral spiral staircase, and there he still is -
Martin willed much of his wealth to establish institutions of learning - and their are now La Martinière schools in Lucknow (separate boys and girls schools), Calcutta and his native city of Lyons.
La Martinière College in Lucknow has an informal precedence among the schools founded with Martin's money as it houses his grave and was his home. What a place to be educated!
By the way, if you think that's the Ukraine's flag flying from the top of the building ...
... you're wrong! The school's colours happen to be blue and yellow and the original school flag is on display in the museum:
You see the reference on the standard to the defence of Lucknow - well, La Martinière College opened in 1845 after a lot of legal wrangling about Martin's money, and twelve years later the Indian Rebellion (once known in British history books as the Mutiny) broke out. One of the main battle grounds was the British Residency in Lucknow -
The school was ordered to evacuate and pupils and teachers moved into the Residency, and during the siege they fought, carried messages and otherwise aided the defence. The roll of honour is of combatants not casualties. The only pupils to die during the siege of the Residency succumbed to dysentry.
The school itself was also the site of fighting and Martin's tomb was desecrated by the freedom fighters.
La Martinière must be one 0f the few schools to have a gun cannon in its grounds - one that has seen active service.
The school is non-denominational, but one of its most charming features is the chapel, decorated magnificently in the school colours.
Although the architecture is wonderful, and the buildings exceptionally well kept, it is a working school with both boarders and day pupils
And horse riding is encouraged, so the school has its own stables
In the school museum, another really nice touch, there's a portrait by the renowned Johan Zoffany of Martin's mistress and their adopted son
It seems that Claude Martin employed as a nine-year-old child the woman who became his mistress - and then bought her a son. It does send a shudder down your spine!
In the grounds of La Martinière College, there's the very dignified building which Martin had built to house Boulone-Lise's tomb.
'Sunlight on a Broken Column'
I'm so pleased to have come across this first edition of Attia Hosain's wonderful 1961 novel about personal and political loyalties among Lucknow's Muslim elite a generation earlier amid the rise of the Muslim League. I found it in the Bloomsbury Oxfam Books - a happy hunting ground for me. The dust jacket design is by Sally Bodington.
This is in part an autobiographical novel - it's about a young woman's coming of age, breaking free from the constraints of family and tradition. I was given a copy by the late Ram Advani when I first visited his Lucknow bookshop twenty-five years ago. I read it, enjoyed it, learnt from it - the writing is as elegant as the now lost culture it depicted.
Cecil Day Lewis was Attia Hosain's editor at Chatto & Windus, and Virago has republished Sunlight on a Broken Column in their modern classics series. The title, by the way, is taken from a line in a T.S. Eliot poem.
Ram Advani, Booksellers
While in Lucknow at the end of last month, I called on Ram Advani, who has been selling books on Hazratganj for sixty years or more. Ram himself is now 95 - and still spends six hours or so a day at the shop, and still plays a few holes of golf.
I can't say how greatly I admire Ram, and I'm very proud to call him a friend. It's more than twenty years since I first visited his excellent shop - and came away with a gift from Ram, Attia Hossain's Lucknow novel, Sunlight on a Broken Column.
This visit was my daughter's first to Ram Advani, Booksellers (she took the photo). And she too has been blessed by Ram's generous spirit - she now has a wonderful photographic record of Hazratganj, including recollections by Ram and others.
In these troubled times, there is something hugely reassuring about the enduring presence of such intellectual landmarks as Ram Advani's bookshop.
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