Osmania Women’s College, the first institute of higher education for women in the state of Andhra Pradesh, was not always a college. The site, originally built as an official British residency in the early nineteenth century, represents one of the first examples of the classical revival style in India. The building’s original inhabitant was Colonel James Achilles Kirkpatrick, the British representative to the court at Hyderabad from 1797–1805. Kirkpatrick commissioned the building from Lt. Samuel Russell of the Madras Engineers during a period of critical economic and military importance for Hyderabad. The building’s construction was financed by the sovereign of the state.
Kirkpatrick’s personal life drew as much attention as his official position. A convert to Islam who possibly acted as a double agent for India, he stirred controversy by marrying a Mughal woman named Khairunnisa Begum. The story of their love has been told in the book White Mughals (2002) by William Dalrymple. Ultimately, the actual couple’s union served to improve local Anglo-Indian relations. With their family, the couple made their home north of the Musi River. They were followed by many locals who had traditionally occupied the southern bank. After a flood in 1808, the sovereign also relocated his palace nearby, a move that further encouraged the flow of people and wealth to the north.
Conversion from residence to college
The area where Kirkpatrick and his family settled and where he commissioned his home came to be known as the Residency Bazaar. It emerged as the financial center of Hyderabad in the mid-nineteenth century. In the aftermath of the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny against the British East India Company, Kirkpatrick’s home was fortified with high walls and bastions. When India achieved independence, the residency was converted into Osmania Women’s College. The site has continued to function as an institution of higher learning into the present day.
2002, 2004 World Monuments Watch
By the end of the twentieth century, heavy traffic, poor maintenance, and faulty repair work had left the college in a poor state. The building was included on the 2002 World Monuments Watch after water damage to the timber support structure caused one of its large halls to collapse. Because the main part of the house was unsafe, classes had been relocated to the old elephant stables behind the main building. With our support, the trustees of the university conceived a long-term plan for the restoration of the building. Funds from the Robert W. Wilson Challenge to Conserve our Heritage enabled the completion of condition surveys in 2003.
Because the historic building faced extensive conservation needs, it was also included on the 2004 Watch. With funding from American Express, a conservation workshop and a training session in conservation was conducted at Osmania University in 2004.
World Monuments Fund’s ongoing commitment to Osmania
Work continued at Osmania Women’s College in 2005 and 2006. By January 2007, historic research, surveys, and vegetation clearance had been completed, and the structural stability of the building was being monitored and analyzed. A plan for the treatment of the roof and gutter system was completed. Due in part to the attention garnered by the project, the central Indian government recognized the building as an Ancient and Historical Monument in 2008. In 2010, we assisted the Osmania project team with the development of a Conservation Management Plan.
In 2013 momentum at the site began to build again when WMF, the National Culture Fund, and the Archaeology and Museums Department of Andhra Pradesh joined together to support emergency treatments in order ensure the building’s historic fabric would be safe during the monsoon season. In 2014 we supported condition surveys, documentation, and the beginning of conservation treatments in the main hall of the building. These interventions are set for completion in 2017, when further stages of the project will begin.
Our long-standing conservation projects at Osmania Women’s College, which today educates more than 2,500 pupils, make it possible for the school to continue its educational mandate in this extraordinary setting. With additional support provided by the Robert W. Wilson Challenge to Conserve Our Heritage provided in 2016, we can continue to carry out our commitment at this important site.