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A devastating fire swept through the British-era Gorton Castle, which houses the office of the accountant general of Himachal Pradesh, in the wee hours in Shimla on Tuesday, reducing two floors of the magnificent heritage building to ashes.
The fire started in the five-storey building around 3am and fire brigade was informed at 3:35am. About a dozen fire tenders from Shimla, Theog and Solan besides those from the Army were rushed to the spot.
Within minutes the entire building, a magnificent specimen of imperial architecture, was engulfed in sky-high flames which could be witnessed from all parts of the town, fire brigade officials said.
The firemen fought the flames for about five hours and finally the fire was brought under control around 10:30am.
Crores of rupees had been spent on renovation of this heritage building which was built in 1904. Renovation work was on when the fire broke out in the building this morning.
Dinesh Malhotra, deputy commissioner, Shimla, who supervised the fire fighting operation, said that two floors of the five-storey building were completely gutted and office records, computers, furniture and other articles were destroyed or damaged in the fire.
The cause of fire was not known and exact loss was yet to be ascertained.
The office of Accountant General of India was located in this building till the late fifties when the central government office started shifting to Delhi. The AG's office of Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh continued to function from here till early eighties but presently it was exclusive housing the office of the AG of Himachal Pradesh.
Deriving its name from the former estate upon which it was built, this was the Government of India Secretariat Building from where the affairs of this vast country were administered during the summer months in the colonial times. At the request of the then Viceroy, Lord Curzon, the preliminary drawings of the building were made by Colonel Sir Swinton Jacob but were later amended by Major HF Chesney RE to suit the size of the plot.
Built of solid grey Sanjauli stone, its original red tile roof, which was easily removed by Simla's brigade of wild monkeys, has been replaced by galvanised red iron to protect the roof.
Originally, the building was made mainly of iron and stone and was fire-proof but massive woodwork superimposed on the building to make the interiors look beautiful and soothing, made the building fire prone.
One of the most striking buildings of the British empire, Gorton Castle is a neo-Gothic structure that had the famous Sir Swinton Jacob as its architect. The Rajasthan jaali work on its balconies obviously came from his 45 years of experience as the executive engineer of the princely state of Jaipur.
The site belonged to one Gorton, ICS in 1840. After changing hands thrice, it was purchased by a banker, Sir James Walker for Rs.80,000.
He wished to gift it for construction of a hospital. After much discussion and persuasion the building was acquired for its officers and Sir Walker was given an alternate site where Walker Hospital was constructed.
True to its name, the majestic building, pitched on the ridge between Railway Board Building and Council Chamber and surrounded by Deodar trees, looked like a "castle".