In this transitory world we wake up every morning wondering what is in store for us. Accept we must with serenity the passing away of friends, for it is, alas, inevitable. And despite sentiment we ought to have the grace to accept with courage the things which for good reasons should be changed.
But an ill-conceived, needless change based on ignorance or made to satisfy some selfish private whim or fancy such as the contemplated alteration of the name “Bagatelle Road" ought to evoke other responses.The Municipal Council has recently given notice to the residents of Bagatelle Road (but in an unjustly discriminatory manner not to the residents of Inner Bagatelle Road, Bagatelle Terrace and Lower Bagatelle Road who, a little reflection will show, must also be eventually affected) that it is proposed to change the name of “Bagathale (sic.) Road” to “Dr. Vijayenanda Dhanayake Mawatha”.
In the Notice issued by the Secretary of the Colombo Municipal Council, it is stated that the proposal to rename the road has been approved by the Special Commissioner of the Colombo Municipal Council” and that “Therefore objections if any from residents of either side of the road or recognized organizations of the area” are requested to be submitted. Should the Commissioner have decided the matter without hearing representations in the first place? What was his decision based on? On an order from someone? Who made the proposal? The public must have answers if the decision was one made in good faith.
The Municipal Council has been guilty of gross, culpable ignorance. Culpable because despite being so informed (e.g. in newspaper articles for instance) it has deliberately or recklessly ignored the fact that it misspells the name of the road. The Notice referred to calls it ''Bagathale'', although a few weeks ago new sign boards were put up with the words ''Bagatalle Road”. Some of the earlier sign boards remaining also refer to “Bagatelle Road'', ''Inner Bagatelle Road’' and “Bagatalle Terrace''. At times it has been incorrectly called “Bagatalla at one end of the road but correctly described as Bagatelle at the other end. If something needs to be done, do rectify the error and install sign boards with the name ''Bagatelle''.
''Bagatelle'' is an English word derived from the early modern French word “Bagatelle” or the Italian word “Bagatelle'' meaning something small and portable like hand-baggage. It may sometimes denote a thing of no value or importance as for instance when reference is made to” a mere ''Bagatelle'' On the other hand a beautiful verse or an exquisite piece of music like Beethoven’s 24 Bagatelles (op.33, op.119 and op. 126) may also be referred to as a bagatelle because it is light in style. ''Bagatelle'' was also the name of a game which was played on a table having a semicircular end at which were nine numbered holes. Balls were struck from the other end with a cue'
Bagatelle Road was the name of a road to a property in Colpetty called Bagatelle. It was in proximity to a popular meeting place in early British times where walkers and riders stopped at the ''Three Mile Stone'' under a spreading Tamarind tree near the present “IC Drug Store” for a drink of toddy freshly drawn from the coconut trees. Perhaps they later adjourned to the Quoit Club close by for a game of Bagatelle?
Bagatelle first attracted public notice when it was advertised in the Ceylon Government Gazette of March 9 1822 in the following words: “A thatched cottage with a tent roof about two miles and a half from the Fort of Colombo to be disposed of by private contract. The Godowns will be completed in the course of ten days; and the cottage being well adapted for an occasional country residence, any Gentleman desirous of obtaining such will be at liberty to inspect the premises after the 20th instant. The grounds including a large kitchen well stocked, and a variety of exotic fruit trees in bearing, enclosures for Guinea grass, coffee, yams, potatoes and pines is in extent about six acres. The owner who has expended a considerable sum on the premises is induced to dispose of the estate in consequence of the change of house of public business depriving him of the power of devoting the best part of the day (the morning) to its improvement.”
There seems to have been no response and so the advertisement was repeated in the Gazette of March 16, 23 and 30 with the following new wording replacing ''The grounds including…” and so on, in the earlier version: “The purchaser may rent the ground on the opposite side of the road in front of the house for a trifling sum monthly and thus have the ground clear of cottages to the sea with the privilege of pulling down the one now standing on the premises”. There were no takers and believing that that was due to the work of Dadee Parsee, the advertisement was repeated in the Gazette of April 6, 1822 with the addition of the following words: “And (for the information of those whom it may concern) without reference to Daddy Parsee or any other person.''
Daddy Parsee was an astute merchant who had an establishment popularly known as “Daddy’s”, at No. 4 King Street Fort. Judging by the advertisement he published from time to time in the Gazette (there was no news paper till the Colombo Journal appeared briefly in 1832 and 1833) he sold, in the words of a popular song, “All kinds of everything” - choice wines (the Four year Old London Particular Madeira was the most sought after at the time), rare guns, fine linen, exquisite furniture and even good horses!
In accordance with the advertised ''privilege”, Charles Edward Layard pulled down the cottage and erected a magnificent mansion which he called ''The Bagatelle''.
Some years ago a neighbour at Bagatelle Road, Mr. Ernie Weerasinghe, purchased a rare sketch of that residence measuring 21cm x 12cm by C. T. Layard. I borrowed it and showed it to Mr. Ismeth Raheem who was not only a leading architect but also an authority on paintings of the British period. He was of the view that the drawing gave a distorted perspective view of the Bungalow. But it clearly shows that the house and garden were designed and laid out in a style which was prevailing in England almost half a century before. C.E. Layard, like several members of his family, took a great interest in horticulture and introduced several plants from Mauritius and Seychelles and grew them in his garden at Bagatelle.”
Charles Edward Layard and his brother, Henry Peter Layard, the Sons of the Dean of Bristol the Rev. Charles Peter Layard, had come out to Ceylon in 1803. They were employed in the civil service. Henry Peter married a Miss. Austen of Galle and their son Sir Henry Austen Layard was a close friend of the Governor, William Gregory. Sir Henry was the great explorer who discovered Nineveh.
Charles Edward Layard served in various capacities, including those of collector and Judge of the Provisional Court of Galle and Matara. On December 9 1804, at the age of twenty he married Barbara Bridgetina Mooyart, aged sixteen, the daughter of Gaulterus Mooyart, Administrator of the Dutch Company and claimed by the family to be the last Dutch Governor of Galle.
They had twenty-six children. Their eldest son was Sir Charles Peter Layard, the famous civil servant who served for fifty years from 1828 in various capacities - Member of the Legislative Council, Member of the Central School Commission, Extra Assistant to the Chief Secretary of Jaffna, Assistant to the Collector of Colombo, Assistant to the Government Agent of Kalutara, Western Province, Acting Government Agent of Colombo, District judge at Mannar, Colombo, Kalutara, Negombo and Trincomalee and Additional District Judge of Galle. He was the first Mayor of Colombo (January 1866 - June 1877). Layard's Broadway/Road” was named after him. A part of the road was renamed Jetawana Road.
C.P. Layard was the father of nine children who were all sent to England for their education. The eldest was Sir Charles Peter Layard Chief justice of Ceylon from 1902 to 1906. Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam (who was one of many distinguished residents of Bagatelle Road - Mr. Dahanayake was not one of them) introduced a Bill in the legislature to introduce a system for the registration of land titles. Governor West Ridgeway at page 110 of his Administrative Report for 1896-1903 commented that Chief Justice Layard “devoted great labour and care to the improvement of the Bill and returned it with a valuable report in which the opinion is expressed that the measure will conduce to the interest of the public and to the suppression of much litigation and crime”.
The last of the Layard was Barbara Jane who was born at the Bagatelle in 1843. She later lived at Grimsthorpe, Nuwara Eliya and was popularly known as Aunt Barbara” from the fact that 225 persons living at the time were quite properly entitled to call her aunt.
The Bagatelle passed into the hands of Charles Henry De Soysa. In 1870 De Soysa entertained Queen Victoria’s son, Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh. Gold plate was used and His Royal Highness was presented a gold plate, goblets and a knife and fork, all set with rubies, emeralds and pearls. There was dancing, a theatre performance and refreshments were served. Although the Prince and his party left at 2 a.m., the entertainment continued for a week. Alfred House and Alfred Model Farm were named after the Prince and to this day several roads in and around Kollupitiya, including Alfred Place which branches off Bagatelle Road, are named after Alfred.Despite all of this, in the event of a change being forced upon the residents of Bagatelle Road, it must be remembered that there will be serious security implication, for one's address is an integral part of identity.
Take a look at a National Identity card or a Driving Licence. Moreover, consider the inconvenience, confusion, financial loss, harm and damage that could be caused, for addresses are recorded in legal documents like Treasury bonds, contracts, title deeds, lease agreements, mortgage bonds last wills and powers of attorney. The present addresses guide one’s friends, relatives and clients to familiar destinations without confusion; they are in telephone, trade, business and professional directories; they are registered with suppliers of utilities, emergency medical care providers, the Central Depositary System dealing with stocks and shares, banks, Inland Revenue and Municipal Assessment authorities, tax and legal consultants. Who will effect the changes?
Who will pay for making the changes? Who will be accountable for consequential losses? These issues may not have caused problems to the authorities concerned in the past because they were endured by a public too afraid to object or for want of means to fight for their rights; but the time has come to stop getting pushed around.
The writer is a former Supreme Court judge