What could be more picturesque than a white brick house peeling from the hillside? A few years ago, I had the opportunity to photograph a unique specimen of this genre. It was a house that stood at the edge of an old wooded road, on a hilltop overlooking a valley full of majestic brambles. I had driven up the road from the town across the Balinghai Valley to get a shot of the stone monoliths when I saw the house sitting at the end of the road. It was very interesting in the way it had been built, with its mortar joints and ornately crafted claddings. Its brickwork was a great deal more irregular than the regular type of masonry, I was accustomed to, and gave a feel of being almost impossibly delicate.
The white brick house was built in the seventeenth century by a family called Siddhartha, who settled in the area. It was one of the last settlements on the left bank of the river Yamuna, near what is now the village of Chittorgarh. For most of its history the house was regularly occupied by different members of the family, and as a result, there are many artifacts inside that were accumulated over time. One of the most exciting artifacts I came across was an orthopedic chair that was likely used by the Siddharthas in some form since the time of their establishment. I could see its cast iron legs and thought it was definitely a piece of furniture from the eighteenth or nineteenth century. If you are ever in Chittorgarh, then it would be well worth searching for this interesting artifact.
This was the white brick house, we will focus on today. Although the land slopes down towards the river, and therefore most of the house were built above the ground, it was built right up on the hillside, so that the whole building was in one long column. This made it very attractive from the road, and the natural light provided an impressive effect on the entire landscape. It is difficult to imagine anyone going back into a Victorian style home.
The interior had a lot of white and included a large and highly polished wooden door that led onto the paved veranda. It was decorated with floral designs, and on the first floor there was a foyer. A flight of stairs led up to the main room, which was a great feature for the time. It was big, and the ceiling was made of white bricks. There were no windows in this room, but the back wall was perfectly fitted with a large wooden skirting.
There was a cupboard in the corner, made of oak, and on the floors of the sitting and dining rooms there was a fireplace made of brick and glazed. At the end of the hall there were a fireplace, which were lined with tiles made from lime and earthen, and on the walls a fireproof door. The interior was completely airtight, with no windows or doors, so that everything was kept at arm's length.
The outside of the house had many advantages. The front was protected by a large boundary wall made of stone, which could be locked when not in use. There were no gates or any other obstacles to keep out unwanted visitors. Many modern conveniences such as electricity had not yet been invented, so the people of Whitechurch did not have the luxury of indoor facilities.
There was no means of heating the house, so many took refuge in woodstoves. The wood had to be harvested locally, and the house was heated by gas lanterns. Many guests would stay in the Great House itself, or in one of the neighboring country houses, and there they would dine on local food and enjoy the fine British service. Of course there were baked apples, black pudding and tea, but the general population ate such things as butter, cheese, and jam, and ale.
The white brick house is long gone, it is sad to think that it has only been around for about 200 years. But it certainly was a wonderful place to live. In the Victorian age, many visitors were allowed to stay for a day or two. Many of them later became deeply involved in the building of the town. Some of the original buildings still stand, and now they are home to the lovely Whitehouse Museum.
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