Sunday Post: Shelter

I bring you two Sri Lankan dwellings which couldn’t be more different – The 1761 House, which I almost persuaded the owner to let me have on a peppercorn rent, and The 300 Year Old House, in the village of Meemure, a village that time forgot.

The tragic story of the 1761 house will have to wait for another day.  Empty now – save for a watcher, and desperately in need of a purpose – it stands proud on its hill, despite the vicissitudes of its family’s  history, an elegant but endangered example of upper-class urban architecture – the epitome of shelter for its time in colonial Sri Lanka.

A shelter desperately in need of a purpose.

The 300 Year Old House on the other hand, while in need of a more handsome roof and a little touch-up here and there, is still sheltering the descendants of its original owners.  Sited on a cleared knoll in the village of Meemure, at the end of the track, deep within the Knuckles Ranges at the centre of the island, this house might well have been standing when the young English cabin boy Robert Knox, and the entire crew of his father’s ship was captured by the King of Kandy in 1659.  Certainly Knox would have recognised every element of its wattle and daub construction, for it follows the time-honoured methods which he copied when he built his own house on the island during his 20 plus years of captivity.

The main entrance is reached by way of the front yard ...

Although we came at it from behind, grandmother drew us in for tea and a tour, telling us the stories of generations of farmers who have lived here and lovingly maintained the house and the lands from which they have sustained their livelihoods.

One can see how the house is sited on high ground and sits on top of a series of earthen platforms, plastered over with an insect-repelling mixture of  mud, straw and cow dung – as are all the other surfaces of the structure.  Built around a central courtyard which provides light and ventilation – and is in fact the utility area of the home – it offered shelter from the elements, and from the danger of leopard and other animals.  As was the case before the advent of glass, windows were small, and infrequently used, ventilation and light being provided by the central courtyard.

I will take you to Meemure one day.  In the meantime, I hope you enjoy a little tour of  The 300 Year Old House – Meemure, Sri Lanka.

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46 thoughts on “Sunday Post: Shelter

  1. I feel terribly sad for the 167 house – it looks magnificent. & the 300 year old house with its little details above the door and the warmth of humanity in its simple interior is lovely in a completely different way. Thanks 🙂

  2. Sri-Lankan daub is identical to the vernacular walling material in this part of France, here known as “masse” or “torchis”. When we first came, tin roofs were fairly common, but as people prosper, tin is replaced with slate. In Seychelles, tin roofs are just about universal.

    • There are so many messages I didn’t see yesterday (and the day before too!) – I’m sorry I’m only now answering your interesting comment. I’m not surprised, Viv, that the recipe is pretty much the same worldwide, and little changed over the centuries It’s such a shame the Meemure family gave up growing the roofing reeds but it’s understandable given they have to grow everything they need for everyday life. It’s interesting how materials transfer from one place to another: here the half-circle “Portuguese” tile is the preferred style for anyone with the money to use terracotta. Tin’s not usually used, instead if people can’t afford tiles, they use a corrugated ‘asbestos’ sheeting which is better in the heat.

  3. Pingback: Sunday Post: Shelter | Inspired Vision

  4. Very interesting to see the two extremes. Maybe the government should use the abandoned house for a community centre – it is a dwelling that should be ringing with the sound of voices.

    • You’re quite right Colline, the house needs to be full of people and activity again but is owned by the remaining descendent of the original owners. He can’t really afford to return it to its former glory, nor can be hear to let it go – hence for a few weeks there I was in with a chance to rent it myself (but somebody persuaded him some rich foreigner would come along …). It’s in a busy location, so I guess he’ll have to give in and rent it out as a commercial premises … just so long as it doesn’t get ruined. We don’t have heritage listing regulations here unfortunately and have lost a lot of valuable architectural heritage. Glad you liked it Colline.

        • I think that’s what the man is trying to avoid as much as he can, but the upkeep on these old buildings is very expensive, so he needs to achieve a high rent. The trick will be for him to rent it to a company that won’t destroy the building trying to make it serve their purposes.

    • That’s quite something coming from you! Thank you. I wish I had time to delve deeper into yours, but I will, I just have to figure out how to be quicker at all this! So glad you liked my old houses …

  5. These are the kind of houses that I love. I’ve never heard of a peppercorn rent…will have to look that up. I must say, that 1761 house would have been divine to live in. I’m already placing old comfortable chairs and rugs in it in my mind.

  6. What an interesting and educational post on a subject we might never have learned about otherwise. I enjoyed it very much… thanks for sharing! 🙂

  7. Pingback: Shelter « Simply Charming

    • It’s a slideshow. Rather than inserting the photos directly into the post at when you import them, you just import them into the gallery and then where you want your slideshow, you hit the media button, and all the pix in the post’s gallery come up and you hit ‘slideshow’ (or if you wish, ‘gallery’, which displays all the pix as thumbnails, which, when tapped by your reader, magically turns into a larger slideshow). Since I often have problems with bandwidth I usually have to import pix into my blog at very low resolutions and so slideshow mostly works best for me (unless I’m having a good bandwidth day, when go for ‘gallery’). Does that make sense?
      Glad you liked my shelter choices.

  8. Another wonderful post! Love the details. Sri Lanka reminds me so much of my hometown Mangalore on the west coast. The landscape and architecture are remarkably alike, as is the coconut laden cuisine! I was there for a wedding last week and was filled with nostalgia. Shall take you there sometime.

    • Now, the village of Meemure – there’s no electricity, only access is by 3-wheeler/4-wheel drive. No cars, tractors, a couple of motor bikes and a few lonely rotary hoes No roads, looks exactly like Robert Knox described. Very little money passes through their hands, what they don’t grow themselves they barter with their neighbours – but it’ll be dead in a decade or two. It’s bliss to visit, but there’re almost no young families, there’s no future except the vagaries of what can be wrested from the land by hand. Romantic, beautiful, doomed in its present form.

  9. “Peppercorn rent” ? I’m afraid I have never heard of such a thing! Please explain.

    Both of the houses are lovely; though, if I am being honest, the first was an “experience” for me. You know what I mean, don’t you? Not all pictures speak to each person, but when they do, there is an experience that often accompanies. Without even meaning to, my mind spindles got rather busy all of a sudden, creating stories and such for this spectacular lodging.

    I do love when you incorporate a slideshow.

    • Peppercorn rent: A token payment – you know little peppercorns?
      Oh yes, I understand. That house was an experience for me. For two weeks I was almost there – certainly all the furniture had a place, I was able to visualise my lifestyle there, and that of the girls. And the bliss of imagining creating a garden from scratch. Oh well, it was probably a blessing in disguise that he decided to try to get a high-flyer because I’m sure I’d have been up for lots of repair bills – the upkeep on old houses like that can be horrendous, and if the monkeys decided to use it as a trampoline, then it’s a nightmare and my pocket book’s stretched to the max as it is:)

  10. Pingback: Meemure – A Village in the Forest « The Wanderlust Gene

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