Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Palladian in Full - Lawrence and Robert Montgomery Halls, Lahore

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Government civil engineer G. Stone was the man who ruled the construction roost in Lahore for much of the two decades from 1860 to 1880. Evidently, a rather grim keeper of English values, he had very fixed views on the design of Raj buildings in the territories of the jewel in the imperial crown. He firmly believed that everything he built must drip with ‘Englishness’.

The Lawrence Hall, named after the first Lieutenant Governor of Punjab John Lawrence, was paid for by donations from the European community. Facing the Mall and the Governor’s House, it was among Stone’s earliest buildings in the Punjab capital and took a year to build. When it was completed in 1862, it was the first-ever purely neoclassical masterpiece in the truest Palladian tradition in Lahore. Without doubt, its majestic proportions embodied the might of the empire.

Four years later, in 1866, an adjacent building was ordained to commemorate Robert Montgomery. Funded by donations from leading Punjabi families, the building was designed by J. Gurdon, another government civil engineer. The precedent set by the Lawrence Hall was faithfully followed, only on a grander scale. While Lawrance Hall had a humble porch shading its entrance, the Montgomery Hall was fronted by the grandeur of a high Greek stoa or pillared porch crowned by a pediment. The new building also had a vaulted roof rather than a flat one at Lawrence Hall. This, however, did not last long: owing to structural flaws the roof was replaced within seven years of construction.

All external ornamentation such as the pediments and vault-shaped overhangs on windows, balustrades on the parapet and fluting on the columns and capitals, was faithfully copied from the older building. Finally, the two buildings were conjoined by a covered passageway to give the impression of being a single structure.

The Lawrence and Montgomery halls served as club and library for many years. After Independence, they were home to the Gymkhana Club until it moved to its present location in the 1960s. For some time, the halls were used for various government purposes before being made over to the newly established Quaid-e-Azam Library in 1985.

Set as they are in a large open park for viewing from a distance, the buildings are distinctly picturesque and impressive. This was the very purpose of Raj architecture. Civil engineer Stone may have entertained strict notions of architectural tradition but he managed to bequeath Lahore of the empire days with a few very notable buildings. Among them, these Palladian masterpieces are surely the most striking.

Note: This story first appeared in Stones of Empire - Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL) book of days 2013.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 11:51,


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Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

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