Richmond Castle

Should you find yourself in Kalutara in west Sri Lanka, twiddling your thumbs and wondering what to do next, having already seen the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, the famous Asokaramaya Buddhist Temple and the world’s only hollow ‘stupa’, then ask a local tuk-tuk driver for ideas. He might just take you to Richmond Park where you will find Richmond Castle.

Before continuing – and to avoid any confusion – I should point out that according to Google there are three Richmond Castles. It is the third one which concerns us…

  1. Richmond Castle. A gray stone fortress standing on top of a rocky spur overlooking the River Swale in North Yorkshire. Founded in 1071
  2. Richmond Castle. A British Cargo Vessel of 7,798 tons built in 1939. On the 4th August 1942, en route from Buenos Aires to Avonmouth, with a cargo of 5000 tons of frozen meat she was torpedoed and sunk by German submarine U-176. 14 of the 64 crew were lost.
  3. Richmond Castle. Main Gate A majestic Victorian mansion built at the turn of the century by wealthy landowner turned philanthropist, Padikara Mudali Nanayakkara Rajawasala Appuhamilage Don Arthur de Silva Wijesinghe Siriwardena. (Try squeezing that onto an envelope!) It stands in a 42 acre garden known as Richmond Park beside the Kalutara-Palatota Road, close to Kalutara town, Western province of Sri Lanka.

The Mudliyar

Being a man of considerable wealth, in 1896 the Padikara Mudali Nanayakkara etcetera etcetera, a.k.a “The Mudliyar”, felt that he required a home that befitted his position as Chief Aide to the British Regional Governor. To this end he copied the plans of an Indian Maharaja’s palace originally designed by an architect from London. This resulted in an Indian/British hybrid with 15 rooms, 99 doors, 38 windows – yes, somebody counted them all – and a single roof covering the entire building. Decorated with intricate carved teak – two entire shiploads were brought in from Burma for the purpose – and dressed with cast iron ceilings, Italian mirrors, windows of Scottish glass and marble statues Richmond Castle was considered one of the most spectacular architectural achievements of its time. It had a splendid hall for dancing with its own air conditioning system that captured the breeze from a nearby river, and a modern sewage system with flushing toilets – a local sensation at the time. Surrounding the house was a large and ornate garden known as Richmond Park. It is said that such was the overall extravagance of the building that the Governor of Sri Lanka – or Ceylon as it was then known – established a unit of 40 soldiers to guard the place. To the locals it was and remains ‘Rich Man’s Castle’.

mudliyar and clarice

Soon after the house was completed the Mudliyar married Clarice Maude Sooriya Bandara, the daughter of a prominent Sri Lankan family. They enjoyed a very elaborate and lavish wedding with much pomp and pageantry and many dignitaries, local officials and aristocracy attended, including Queen Mary from England. A special train was laid on for the personal convenience of the guests. Unfortunately the marriage of the Mudliyar and Clarice Maude was not to last. They were unable to have children – something that the Mudliyar had earnestly hoped for – and that was to pull the couple apart. After their separation the Mudliyar moved out of Richmond Castle and signed the building and the estate over to the Public Trustee Department. At first it was used as a circuit bungalow for high ranking officers of the British administrative service. Then it became a Montessori school for underprivileged children – a move that would have delighted the Mudliyar. He passed his remaining years in Room 37 of the Queen’s Hotel in Kandy. On July 4th 1949. at the age of 59, he died in his room, alone. As the local newspaper, “The Nation” observed… “it was a tragic and premature end for a man who built a mansion to rival the palaces of the Indian Raj.”

We do have a Richmond Park of our own in Richmond but there is no Richmond Castle or even a pub of that name. There are plenty of rich man’s castles though.

— from Martyn Day