An ambitious conservation project spanning 20 years has helped restore an over 200-year-old colonial building in India.

Restoration of the Telangana Mahila Viswavidyalayam (formerly Osmania University College for Women) in Hyderabad city in the southern state of Telangana was completed this month.

The heritage building was once the residence of Colonel James Achilles Kirkpatrick, the British representative to the court at Hyderabad from 1797-1805 and was later converted into a university.

Over the years the building fell into disrepair due to heavy local traffic, poor maintenance and faulty repairs.

In 2002, the World Monuments Fund (WMF) – a non-profit that champions heritage places in critical need of protection – added the building to its watchlist and launched a 20-year-project to restore it. Sections of the building were restored in phases with funding from WMF and international and local charities and private donors.

In May last year, the world’s largest Commonwealth heritage conversation programme stepped in to complete the last phase of work, which involved restoring three historic gates and the building’s central hall.

The Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Commonwealth Heritage Skills Training Programme – funded by the UK-based charity Hamish Ogston Foundation – contributed £157,000 ($193,000) towards the project and also gave youngsters from UK and Hyderabad a chance to work on the building and learn conservation techniques from experts.

The university is the first of 20 projects selected by the programme for restoration.

The next project by the programme will be to repair Roxburgh House in the Botanical Gardens in the eastern city of Kolkata.

The same portico after restoration
The university is a prominent educational institution in Hyderabad. It currently educates more than 2,500 women every year at undergraduate, postgraduate, diploma and certificate levels across various streams.

The restored building will offer more facilities for the university. Green space has been created on either side of the central mall for recreation, and areas of the college campus widely used by students and staff have been spruced up.

Osmania college

The Roberts gate before restoration
Osmania college

…and after restoration
An university gate named after Lieutenant Roberts, who fought at the siege and capture of Delhi in 1857, was also restored. Trainees practiced slaking lime, sieving, mixing and preparing mortar while working on the gate.

Experts worked on restoring the papier mache ceiling in the university’s grand durbar hall. They had to put together small and large fragments of the ceiling that had fallen off over the years and had been preserved by the authorities.

“It was quite a painstaking process – we wanted to use each and every fragment or piece and it was a task trying to incorporate them all in the mending and restoring processes,” says Maninder Singh Gill, an art conservator who worked on restoring the ceiling.

Osmania college

The front facade of the building after restoration
The building is in the style of a Palladian villa and is similar in design to the White House in the United States.

Kirkpatrick had built the colonial mansion for himself and his Indian wife, Khair-un-Nissa. William Dalrymple’s 2002 book, White Mughals, is based on their relationship and captured how their love transcended all religious, political and cultural boundaries at the time.

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