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HindustanTimes Tue,21 Oct 2014

Month after Gorton Castle fire, govt scouts for original maps

Gaurav Bisht, Hindustan Times  Shimla, March 02, 2014
First Published: 21:36 IST(2/3/2014) | Last Updated: 21:38 IST(2/3/2014)

A month after Shimla's 110-year-old Gorton Castle was reduced to ashes in a major fire, the central public works department (CPWD) is now scouting for the original drawing   of the building to restore it to its pristine glory.

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The British-era heritage building, famous for its neo-Gothic architecture, housed the office of the accountant general.

On January 28, 60 of the 125 rooms of the heritage building were completely destroyed in the fire that was doused only after six hours of firefighting by men of the Himachal home guards and army.

CPWD, which is responsible for the buildings that house government offices, has written to the office of the superintending archeologist for Himachal circle and the state's language and arts department, asking them to provide the detailed  plan of the building designed by the famous British architect Sir Swanton Jacob.

The design was amended by Maj HF Chesney RE to suit the size of the plot. The building also served as the secretariat during the British Raj. “We had asked the archaeological wing and the language department topprovide us with detailed maps. But, unfortunately, both these departments do not have the drawings,” superintending engineer PK Agarwal told Hindustan Times.

But, to the respite of the engineers, more than 70% drawings of the building have been found at the CPWD's architectural wing. “Our own architectural wing and heritage cell will now work on the restoration of Gorton Castle,” Agarwal added.

CPWD's architectural wing would prepare the drawings and start restoring the building after that. “It will take a month to start the restoration work,” he said. 

“A team of CPWD engineers, including architectural experts, has visited the gutted building and prepared a plan for its restoration,” senior deputy accountant general (SDAG) SK Sethi said.

For the time being, to protect the building from the vagaries of weather, the CPWD has drawn a plan to prepare synthetic roofing which would be completed in a week and used for protecting documents.

Originally, the building was roofed with solid grey Sanjauli stone. Since monkeys removed them easily, galvanized red iron sheets replaced it.  The building was made of iron and stone, but massive woodwork, superimposed on the building to make it look more beautiful, was added later. 

The castle, it is said, has been named after an Indian Civil Services (ICS) officer, Gorton, who owned the site in 1840. After changing hands thrice, it was purchased by a banker, Sir James Walker, for `80,000. The building was acquired by the British for its officers and Sir Walker was given an alternate site, where Walker Hospital was constructed.


Short circuit led to fire: inquiry
A magisterial-level probe into the fire has revealed that a short circuit had triggered the fire in the 110-year-old British-era building. The report, compiled by the additional district magistrate of Shimla and submitted to the deputy commissioner on Saturday, also said that when fire tenders reached the spot, the main gate of Gorton Castle was locked, and only after breaking the locks that fire tenders could reach the building.

It also said that there were fire hydrants, but were buried under tiles. The report also said that due to wrongly parked vehicles in the office compound, firefighting was delayed.


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