by Ayesha Abdur-Rahman, 2010

Thomas Lister Viliers b. 1869 in Adisham Rectory, Kent, and d.1959 in Kent.

In 1887 Thomas Lister Villiers arrived in Ceylon to start a career as a planter.  He began as a creeper (trainee) at Elbedde Estate, Bogawantalawa.  After his marriage to a daughter of another tea planter he spent four years in Brazil, returning to Sri Lanka to begin his own tea estate the Dikoya Group.

Lister Villers joined George Steuart and Company, a tea-trading firm in 1905, and became chairman in 1928 until his retirement in 1948, when he returned to Kent to spend his last few years.

During his career he built his English manor house Adisham, after the Kentist village where he was born.  Adisham spread over ten acres of lands was built in Tudor style in the manner of Leeds Castle in Kent.  Build by the British architects R. Booth and F. Webster, Burma teak was used unsparingly for the door and windows, paneling, staircases and floors and added to the colonial splendor of his country home.  Granite was quarried locally, and Indian stonemasons were said to have been employed for all the stone details including the fireplaces.  He is said to have imported all his porcelain, glass, silver and linens form England.  The house was completed in 1931.

Lister Villers gifted his home to the firm of George Steuart when he retired, and much later in 1961 was acquired by the monks of the Benedictine order for use as a monastery.

While researching the house, and photographing and cataloging what remains of Lister Villiers collection of furniture, the Burma teak environment creates a certain presence for his library and his furniture collection.  Not all pieces can be identified to specific woods, and I have used tropical hardwood as material for most objects.  Some pieces may have come from England and Europe, and many of the objects have been made locally by Sri Lankan cabinetmakers.  The oldest piece is a Dutch style cupboard dated probably to the 18th century.  As is the case of many of the grand homes, it is speculated that carpenters and cabinetmakers would have resided on the premises of Adisham while making the furniture.  For this reason I cannot say for certain they were made in the southwestern part of Sri Lanka where most of the furniture manufacturer came from.  I have used Sri Lanka as the origin.

For this brief essay I have used the following sources, below: 01
History of George Stuart and Company, from open book page in the library at Adisham.
BBC documentary on Adisham.  Although I have not found this, a BBC documentary is said to have been made by the grandson of Lister Villiers.