On passing Lady Forester's Hospital you come upto a large gate. This is the present
entrance to the Begum's palace, now St. Charles' Inter College. The former and actually
the real entrance is from the North, by a very impressive gateway known as the `Lion
Gate'. But being about 200 yards on the other side of the building it is hardly
ever visited. But to really appreciate the palace it has to be approached from this
side. There before you is a broad stairway, tapering slightly as it leads upwards
to an imposing verandah lined with greek pillars similar to the ones on the verandah
of the church. The architect is the same person who built the church, Anthony Reghelini.
The palace was begun after the church had been completed, and was only finished
in 1835. The Begum lived only one year in her new residence. Within you may see,
with the permission of the management, the Begum's bathing rooms, all in marble,
inlaid with pietra dura, and beautifully designed walls still in their original
colour. Most of the mirrors in these rooms have been broken and pieces removed.
This is the result of a strange and unfounded sort of tradition, handed down among
the simpler people, that persons with goitre can be cured by looking at themselves
in these mirrors.
When the Begum died, her state was taken over by the British authorities, but her
personal property was not touched. The palace with its 74 acres was inherited by
her adopted son. When he left for England, it was left in the hands of an agent.
In 1897 it was sold at a public auction by the agent of Lady Forester, the widow
of Dyce Sombre. Many are under the wrong impression that the palace was left to
the Catholic Mission by the Begum. Actually it was bought by the Archbishop of Agra
for Rs. 25,000. Before the building was sold, the twenty-five oil paintings that
adorned the Throne Room were removed. Most of them were bought by the local government
to adorn the palace of the Governor of Uttar Pradesh, formerly in Allahabad and
now in Lucknow. Among the paintings that were removed, were portraits of the Begum,
General Sir David Octherlony, David Dyce Sombre, Baron Solaroli and Captain John
Troup, husbands of David's two sisters, and Major Reghelini. There was also a portrait
of Pope Gregory XVI in engraving. But today in the Governor's Palace are only two
paintings, one large one of the Begum in the Audience Hall, and another large one
in the Billiard Room depicting the Begum presenting a chalice to Archbishop Pezzoni
on the occasion of the dedication of the church.
From the time of the Begum till it was converted into a school the main entrance
was from the Lion Gate-Sher Darwaza. The ground on the other side reached right
upto the verandah. It terraced downwards towards the present entrance, full of gardens
and shady trees, surrounded by a wall that provided a secluded place for the Begum
and her ladies in waiting. It was only in the beginning of this century that all
this was reduced to the level of the surrounding ground to make play grounds and
also to be able to utilise the underground rooms that had formerly served as an
armoury and quarters for some of the Begum's personal guards.
When the Catholic diocese of Agra bought the palace, it was at once converted into
a school. All the boys that were in St. John's Seminary, the Begum's former palace,
which had been functioning as an orphanage, with children orphaned by the terrible
famine in the U.P. and Punjab at the end of the last century, were sent there. It
started as a Primary school. In 1910 it was recognised as an Anglo-Vernacular Middle
school under the patronage of St. Charles, in honour of the then Archbishop of Agra,
Dr. Charles Gentili. In 1934 it was raised to a High school and in 1951 it was recognised
as an Intermediate College. In 1955 the Archbishop of Agra entrusted the school
and hostel to the Congregation of the Brothers of St. Gabriel, a famous teaching
order. Since then the college has put up many new buildings, including a science
block, a large auditorium and a new hostel. The present strength of this Hindi medium
Inter College, together with the Primary school, is well oever a thousand five hundred.
There are about a hundred boarders, all of whom are poor Catholics of the Diocese
of Meerut that are maintained by the produce of 70 acres of land that surrounds