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.
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.
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.