x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Dhunjiboy Bomanji’s Pineheath mansion opens a window on the past

A mansion once used by an India aristocrat has survived a time capsule from an age of empire.

Pineheath,  the 40-bedroom mansion owned Sir Dhunjibhoy and Lady Bomanji,  who were well-known figures in British high society at the start of the 20th century and were friends of the royal family, has been sold to a local businessman who plans to make it a family home again. Bethany Clarke/ Getty Images
Pineheath, the 40-bedroom mansion owned Sir Dhunjibhoy and Lady Bomanji, who were well-known figures in British high society at the start of the 20th century and were friends of the royal family, has been sold to a local businessman who plans to make it a family home again. Bethany Clarke/ Getty Images

Sir Dhunjibhoy Bomanji was a true son of the British Raj.

A Parsee shipping magnate from Bombay, knighted for his philanthropy, he was as comfortable in the countryside of his adopted Yorkshire as in his native India.

Once a well-known figure in English high society, his name and legacy were all but forgotten.

But perhaps not for much longer. For the world inhabited by Sir Dhunjibhoy and Lady Bomanji has been found almost perfectly preserved in their 40-bedroom mansion in the picturesque spa town of Harrogate.

“Pineheath” is where the Bomanjis would spend the autumn months, after a summer at their home in Windsor and before leaving to winter in Poona.

Today it is a time capsule, untouched since the death of Lady Bomanji in 1985, but with much of the interior and contents dating from the 1920s.

The death of their only daughter, Mehroo Jehangir, last year cast doubt on the future of Pinelands, but a local businessman has bought the house and plans to restore it as a family home.

As a result, the doors of Pineheath have been opened to the outside world for the first time in decades.

Inside is a world of privilege familiar to anyone who has watched an episode of Downton Abbey.

An internal telephone system summons servants to every corner of the house. The yellow labels still carry the names “Sir Dhunjibhoy’s Dressing Room” and “Lady Bomanji’s Bedroom”.

In the drawing room, a portrait of Queen Elizabeth shares space with an oil painting of Sir Dhunjibhoy, who died in 1937.

Some of the walls are covered with 80-year-old hand-painted wallpaper, with the monogrammed initials of the owner in gold leaf pressed into the plaster mouldings.

Still in the kitchen are sets of heavy-metal weights for scales, an antique cake-decorating set and a wall-mounted coffee grinder.

Invitations to 40-year-old society events sit on a table next to yellowing newspaper cuttings. A reel-to-reel tape player from the 1970s seems like a concession to modernity.

Sir Dhunjibhoy, who made his fortune in shipping and jute, was knighted in 1922 for his services to the British Empire, including financial support during the First World War.

In the same year, he presented an equestrian statue of the British commander Earl Hague to Edinburgh, Scotland.

Mehroo was born and educated in what is now Mumbai but made England her home, where she was known locally as Lady Harrogate.

Widowed by an air raid in the Second World War, she had no children. Mrs Jehangir never disclosed her age, but was believed to be in her 90s at the time of her death.

Among the more poignant relics in the house is a pile of keys, labelled with everything from tennis courts to an “expanding suit case”.

Those same suitcases and trunks, now covered in dust, are still stored in the luggage room, empty of everything but the memories of the long voyage between Yorkshire and Poona.

jlangton@thenational.ae