Delhi News

Pincode 110001: British surgeon’s home, shelter for anti-Sikh riots victims – the many faces of Ludlow Castle


From being home to a much-respected civil surgeon in the 1820s to a shelter for the victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, Ludlow Castle in North Delhi has played a major role in the history of the capital. Once a temporary home to the Nizam of Hyderabad, and the address of the British Delhi Club following the uprising of 1857, the premises in Civil Lines, which now houses a cluster of schools, has played multiple roles ever since it came into existence over 200 years ago.

Ludlow Castle was built in the 1820s for Dr Samuel George Ludlow, a civil surgeon of the British community in Delhi, who chose the suffix “castle” for his home as wordplay on the Welsh Marches’ most famous ruin.

The architecture of Ludlow Castle was in Gothic style, reflecting its colonial-era heritage and featuring intricate stone carvings and ornate balconies. It had several distinctive features such as its steeply pitched roofs, pointed arches, and lancet windows. With its central tower rising above the main entrance, the architecture of the building was an imitation of a large castellated house in Dr Ludlow’s village in England.

Today, several schools, surrounded by red parapet walls with an iron gate and vast green patches of gardens, stand at the spot where the old Ludlow Castle stood. These schools include Rajkiya Sarvodaya Vidyalaya, Shaheed Amir Chand Govt Sarvodaya Vidyalaya and Baptist Mission Gange Girls Senior Secondary School and are situated near the intersection of Mall Road and Shamnath Marg.

“Ludlow was a civil surgeon during the East India Company period in the early 19th Century; he also used to treat Mughal emperors and the royal family. He built this house, which was not really a castle. But people used to, in a humorous way, call it Ludlow Castle because there is an actual Ludlow castle in Britain. And because this house is sort of grand,” said historian and writer Swapna Liddle.

Dr Ludlow was transferred out of Delhi in 1831 and the house was rented out as a residence of the Agent from 1832 to 1857, becoming the Delhi Residency. As the residence of the Commissioner of Delhi, Ludlow Castle hosted Prince Alfred, the second son of Queen Victoria in 1870.

“In the 1840s, it became a residency where the British commissioner started living. Following this, the premises became the British Delhi Club. The old building is now gone; the actual building does not exist anymore. It’s Ludlow Castle only by name,” Liddle added.

Writes Sam Miller in Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity, “The Delhi version was never much of a castle — more of a sprawling two-storeyed mansion, with some modest gap-toothed crenellations and a stunted octagonal tower. It became the Residency, the official headquarters of the British Agent in Delhi, the last of whom was killed in the Uprising of 1857; officially referred to as the First War of Independence.”

Miller further describes the era of the British Delhi Club as: “Some of the bloodiest battles of the Uprising took place amid the bungalows of Civil Lines, and Ludlow Castle itself changed hands several times. In the post-1857 era, Ludlow Castle retreated into a more genteel existence as the very British Delhi Club, piano duets and whisky sodas”.

In 1903, Ludlow Castle was the temporary home of the world’s richest man of the time, the Nizam of Hyderabad, who paid what was then an astonishing sum of 3,000 pounds to stay there while attending the Delhi Durbar marking the coronation of Edward VII as Emperor of India.

As Delhi began expanding to the south, Civil Lines began to fade into relative obscurity, and the club was transformed into a school for boys. Eventually, the old building was demolished and Ludlow Castle was turned into a model school – co-educational and bilingual.

In its heydays, the Delhi Club was an exclusive “sahib’s” club and admitted very few Indian businessmen, educationists and royalty. It was famous for its Easter, Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.

Hinting at the castle’s bloodied past, Miller writes: “Whenever they dug grounds in school for construction, human bones turned up.”

In 1984, the school became a place of refuge for thousands of Sikhs fleeing the violence that followed then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination, Miller further writes.

In November 1997, Ludlow Castle found itself in the news one last time when as many as 30 students of the school drowned after a bus skidded off a bridge across the Yamuna.


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