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.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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