COMES TO TINTAGEL
A mansion steeped in history will soon become an exclusive
Two Prime Ministers, a Speaker of Parliament and
a President. Triumph and defeat. Happiness and anguish. Laughter
and tears. Death and intrigue. The first-ever political murder in
Sri Lanka's recent history where a reigning Prime Minister fell
to an assassin's bullet, rocking the very foundations of this country.
record that is difficult, nay near-impossible to match. That's what
the now silent but imposing colonnaded halls of this august and
beautiful British colonial mansion embrace within their portals.
This is none other than Tintagel down Rosmead Place in Colombo 7,
the living and breathing home of the Bandaranaikes since the mid-1940s.
the lives and destinies of the Bandaranaike family that have been
inextricably linked to the destiny of Sri Lanka, this stately home,
steeped in history is about to enter a different phase. The papers
have been signed on February 1 for a long lease and restoration
work has already begun to turn Tintagel into an exclusive boutique
hotel not only with the blessing of Sunethra Bandaranaike, the last
occupant but also with that of President Chandrika Kumaratunga and
Parliamentarian Anura Bandaranaike, for it belongs to all three
scions of the Bandaranaike family in equal undivided shares, after
the death of their mother, former Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike,
the world's first woman premier.
such a drastic decision for Tintagel? Why not turn it into a museum?
Sitting below the portrait of a young Sirimavo, in the hall of Tintagel
with its original parquet flooring, there is no hesitation on Sunethra's
part when replying though later looking up at the stained glass
centrepiece roof of her home, her eyes are moist.
this house has had drama more than any other in the country. A majority
of people in Sri Lanka consider this to be a treasure that should
be preserved for posterity," concedes Sunethra, suggesting
that people cast their eye not only towards far -away Europe but
closer home to India.
the huge palaces in Europe, the chateaus in France, the castles
and manorial homes in England and even the Maharajahs' palaces in
India have been turned into plush, posh elegant hotels," she
says, throwing the question, "Why?"
them to be maintained well and not go to rack and ruin, Sunethra
herself answers adding, "This is far too big a place for me
to live. The choices are limited."
on her illustrious family, she says that in her view the Bandaranaike
family creating any more political leaders seems remote. "For
families like ours, wealth came from property. In a sense we can
be called the landed gentry because we were not into business. When
our family needed money for politics, lands were sold and my father
even mortgaged the house he was living in. Then my mother, during
her premiership gave away our land under the land reform policies
and each of us was left with only 50 acres. Our generation, once
again did not take to business and because my sister and brother
have been involved heavily in politics, the properties have not
been developed. The net result is that the income from the land
is negligible but you have to live."
was a need to protect and preserve this house, considered a monument
by many. What were the options? Sunethra looked out for a good tenant
and along came Udayashanth Fernando of Paradise Road and Gallery
Café with no evidence required of his ability to create tasteful
places of elegance. "Shanth is a dear friend and there was
never any doubt that he would enhance and improve the house and
property while preserving its architecture. We discussed the concept
of a boutique hotel, while he explained in detail what he had in
mind for Tintagel. After lengthy discussions, where Nangi and Malli
(Chandrika and Anura) were kept informed, we thought it was the
Tintagel had been rented out twice before by the Bandaranaikes between
1962-67, first to the Burmese Ambassador and later to the Egyptian
Ambassador. "After the attempted coup of 1962, Amma was advised
to move to Temple Trees for security reasons," explains Sunethra.
decision to lease Tintagel was also precipitated by emotions closer
to the heart. For Sunethra, who had spent her childhood along with
Chandrika and Anura running around the rooms of Tintagel and romping
in the manicured gardens with their own little play corner with
mat-slide, see-saw and swings, life changed when Amma died on October
A single word says it all. "This was a lively house, full of
people and noise. With Amma's death the situation changed overnight.
I felt lonely and isolated. During the day I filled the place with
Sunera Foundation staff and people," she says. Sunera is an
organisation set up by Sunethra to provide opportunities through
dance and drama for differently-abled and underprivileged children
and youth to integrate into society.
at night the memories came of happier times when there was "life"
in the house, bringing with them sadness and loneliness. She hopes
to move out to a smaller place she has rented on Buller's Lane from
a cousin, in the near future. "The house turned into a catacomb.
The time had come for me to move out."
A neat pile of rocks lies by the arched side entrance
of Tintagel, giving a hint of what is to come, while a 36-candle
chandelier hangs in the home of Shanth Fernando awaiting rewiring
and a touch of paint before being carefully moved to 65, Rosmead
Place, to take its place as part of the classy décor in the
boutique hotel for Colombo was at the back of Shanth's mind, but
he was searching for the right place. "I believe in tasteful
and timeless style and for this I need space with potential,"
he says surrounded by sculptures and invaluable paintings by George
Keyt and others of his ilk at his home on Boyd Place.
a close friend of Sunethra, there was never a thought of exploiting
his friendship with her. "When I heard that she was thinking
about renting out Tintagel we discussed the matter. Tintagel needs
to be protected and preserved for posterity. If you look around
you see that most historic mansions have deteriorated," says
he takes it as his personal challenge -- to create a unique Sri
Lankan boutique hotel for the discerning tourist and visiting foreign
dignitary who themselves will know the value of a place of such
old world charm and history. Towards this end he has already begun
scouring Europe for the necessary accessories.
envisions eight suites, each with its own sitting room, attached
facilities and private balcony. A few walls will have to be opened
out in the 12,000-14,000 square ft house on 101 perches but no major
alterations will take place and he will make sure that the structure
remains intact. There will be a swimming pool and a lap pool, which
he explains as a one-lap pool.
privacy will be the bottom line and with this in mind, the fine
dining area will be restricted only to house-guests and in lean
periods, a few advanced reservations. The enclosed garden will be
an outdoor eating area.
with its British colonial architecture cannot be turned into a Sinhala
walauwa. There will be a clash. It will be like chalk and cheese.
It has to be sensitively furnished and decorated," says Shanth
who is planning to have British colonial furniture enhanced by paintings
of the likes of George Keyt. "Honoured," he says to be
called upon to develop a house with such a history in collaboration
with architect Philip Weeraratne. The boutique hotel opening is
planned for end-2005.
restoration while maintaining and preserving the architectural features
and distinctive aura of Tintagel, that's his hope to make it "stink
of style"."I want to show the world that we Sri Lankans
have the ability to recognise international style and taste,"
with a history
The immortal and heroic tales of legendary King Arthur
and the Knights of the Round Table have held a fascination beyond
compare for many generations. Through stories about his birth, life
and loves, one can be transported to Cornwall in England and see
in the mind's eye the turreted façade of Tintagel, the castle
cum fortress where King Arthur is believed to have been born.
taking its name from this castle, was a beautiful mansion on Rosmead
Place with no mean history and a fascination of its own, where events
and decisions that changed the course of Sri Lanka's history saw
their beginnings. Sri Lanka's Tintagel with stables and all, was
built back in 1929 by eminent Sri Lankan physician, gynaecologist
and writer Dr. Lucian de Zilwa.
rode out to see the building operations at Rosmead Place by the
contractor working under the supervision of the Parsee architect,
Mr. Homi Billimoria……….The central corridor running
from north to south had a marble fountain with coloured electric
bulbs. The corridor was enlarged to a hexagonal space round the
fountain, and the concrete floor above was cut to coincide with
this area, and a wooden carved railing was fixed for protection.
The roof above the aperture was covered with hundreds of glass tiles.
contrivance was copied from the Hope de Paris, Seville. Unlike most
big buildings in Colombo which were dark in the centre, this house
was flooded with light. For the front verandah and the steps I procured
marble from North India, like that used by the Moguls in Agra……..The
steps from the porch were large solid blocks of white marble. A
hundred and twenty one points of electric light were available.
The front verandah and the corridor had large pendant globes. The
drawing room with its parquet floor of teak blocks was floodlit.
north-west corner of the house had a tower like those in front,
and was accessible by a wooden staircase leading upto an entrance
with top covered by a moveable lid…………..The
maintenance of such an establishment was expensive….,"
writes Dr. de Zilwa about Tintagel in his autobiography, 'Scenes
of a Lifetime'.
house-warming was combined with Dr. de Zilawa's daughter’s
coming of age celebration in 1930. But with World War II, life at
Tintagel changed, with Dr. de Zilwa literally getting marching orders,
to vacate his home in eight days, from the British Military who
reckoned that a hundred soldiers could be housed there. Wistfully
he adds, "…….It is curious that on the day I left
Tintagel, on May 8, 1942, not only did my horse Reaction die of
poisoning, but the peacock was found dead in the morning having
been killed by a stray dog and partly eaten."
Dr. de Zilwa who was living in "a gypsy manner" in Colombo
decided to relocate in Kandy. The de Zilwa family had also fallen
on hard times and a heartbreaking decision had to be made."…….Tintagel
after its occupation by the military was a wreck. The lawn, flower
garden and the tennis court were ploughed by lorries. The teak blocks
of the parquet floor were displaced. Many of the beautiful lamp
shades were broken. No doubt one could expect financial compensation
after the war, but the work of restoration was one I could not undertake.
decided to sell Tintagel. Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranaike bought it
for Rs. 160,000, about Rs. 90,000 less than it had cost me. Moreover
the purchaser was to receive the compensation for war damage. The
broker got his 2 ½%, the mortgage loan was refunded and I
got a lakh," writes Dr. de Zilwa. Tintagel was for Sir Solomon's
son, Solomon West Ridgeway (SWRD) and his wife Sirimavo who were
living on rent at 'Wentworth', Lionel Wendt's house, on Guildford
Crescent. The young Bandaranaike couple had two children by that
time - Sunethra and Chandrika. The third, Anura, was born at Tintagel.
then on, life for the Bandaranaike family revolved round the halls,
rooms and gardens of Tintagel. How many history-changing political
decisions would have been made within its portals? How many eminent,
powerful and influential people would have walked its corridors,
sat in the verandah and shared a meal with the Bandaranaikes? If
only the walls could talk, what anecdotes this house would have
would have wept when the head of the household and also Prime Minister
at that time S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike crumpled under the bullets of
an assassin in its own verandah in September 1959 and would have
rejoiced when Sirimavo beat the world to become the first woman
Premier. It would have shivered in terror when the first family
was under threat during the attempted coup of 1962 and the insurrection
of 1971. This home which held the three Bandaranaike siblings close
to its bosom in their growing up years would also have cried tears
of anguish when Chandrika, the first woman President of the country
was caught in a bomb blast in December 1999. As Tintagel stands
on the threshold of a new life.....that is all history.