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Mussoorie: The Nursery of Schools


Bygone Doon:

By Pradeep Singh

“Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.” – Chinese Proverb

The British East India Company had annexed the Doon Valley after their hard fought battles of the Anglo-Gorkha War of 1814-15. Originally, the Valley and much of Dehradun district was the dominion of the Raja of Garhwal but a large portion of it was retained by the British post the Treaty of Sagauli of 1816 with the Maharaja of Nepal. It was not long before the British succumbed to the seductive charm of the ridge that lay to the north west of the Doon Valley and came to be known as Mussoorie.

Surviving two summers in the heat and dust of India was an accomplishment for the British and many did not survive the first, itself, if burial records are looked at. Therefore, places with pleasant climates were always much sought after, both, for sanity and pleasure. In this, Mussoorie disappointed none as it matched many vistas of Scotland and Ireland to which all yearned to return even though many could not afford the luxury of travelling back due to high costs.

Particularly harsh was the Indian climate of the vast plains on the children and the women of the British, whose health often suffered irreparably. Thus, for them the discovery of Mussoorie and Landour in the early and middle decades of the nineteenth century was an answer to their prayers. But, to make the most of the bounties of the hills, there had to be an enabling agency to prepare a base for receiving children, and also many a mother, who would be expected to stay here from April till October before the weather would turn too cold for comfort.

The pioneering effort was made by a retired army school master, John MacKinnon, in 1834, when he set up a seminary for British and Anglo Indian boys. This educational institution was first located west of the Benog Hill. It ran till 1850 before closing down and it was re-opened in 1865 by the Diocesan Board of Education. The location was shifted to that now occupied by the iconic Savoy Hotel. It came then to be known by the name of its headmaster, Rev William Maddock. When Rev Arthur Stokes was its headmaster, it came to be called Stokes’ School. By now it had nine hundred students. Numbers however declined rapidly and when the school closed down in 1900 it had just 71 students on it rolls.

A more lasting effort was that made by a dedicated batch of French nuns of the Religious of Jesus and Mary. In 1845, Waverley Estate, belonging to an Italian, Paolo Solaroli, was purchased by Bishop Borghi of France on which the French nuns started the Waverley Convent for European girls. On the same premises, a school for poor students was also started, called the Belmont. In 1905, in an earthquake, the Waverley buildings were severely damaged and were rebuilt before the 1906 visit of Princess Mary of Britain. In 1940, the two schools were merged and came to be called the Waverley Convent, which flourishes to date.

A decade after the founding of Waverley, another praiseworthy effort was made at some distance to the east in Landour. Opening in March 1854 with just about a dozen students at Caineville House, in 1856 the school moved to Woodstock House, rented from the estate of Colonel Bradshaw Reilly. Unlike the Roman Catholic Waverley, Woodstock was in spirit a Protestant institution for girls. The well known American Presbyterian missionary, John Woodside, was a leading trustee of Woodstock. However, in 1871, the school shut down only to be rescued by the Presbyterian Ladies’ Society of Philadelphia, who re-opened Woodstock in the spring of 1874. Thereafter, the number of American students increased. In 1922, its Principal, Rev Allen Parker, introduced co-education at Woodstock. And, yet again, in the 1970s, a new development took place when the missionary part was de-emphasised and more Indian and other international students were granted admission.

Nearby Barlowganj, in a cottage called the Manor House, in 1853, saw the origins of what is today the illustrious St George’s College, an Alma Mater of several Olympic gold medal winners among other notables. Focused initially on education of Roman Catholic boys, the institution was managed by Capuchin Fathers up to 1894, when the Patrician Brothers under Rev Brother Stapleton took the school under their charge. That year, itself, the school took over St Fidelis’s School and Military Orphanage that had moved to Mussoorie from Simla. In 1948, St George’s and St. Fidelis’s were merged under Rev Brother Bernard Byrne.

In 1876, Miss Florence Holland purchased the Hampton Court from Rev Henry Sells and, up to 1921, it was called Miss Holland’s School. That year, it was taken over by the Religious of Jesus and Mary and it started a junior boarding school for boys. In 1998, while closing its boarding house, the school was raised to a High School. Ruskin Bond, the celebrated author in residence at Mussoorie, for a period was a pupil of Hampton Court, as was Hugh Gantzer, another author and resident.

Once again an orphanage gave birth to another leading school. The Christian Training School and Orphanage was founded in 1888 by Alfred Powell, Mr and Mrs Arthur Foy and Dr Condon. It started in Rockville in Landour but, by March 1894, the school relocated to its current location which was acquired through a generous donation by HG Meakin. Later, the Maharaja of Indore and David Sasoon of Bombay also financially aided the school which was by then well known. The girls’ section was called Wynberg Homes. On merging with the boys’ school in 1963, it became the Wynberg Allen School.

The rapid growth of Railways in the second half of the nineteenth century gave rise to a number of schools. But the one that has survived to date is the one located on the Jharipani spur. Started as the Sind Punjab Railway School in 1887, a year later it shifted to the sprawling 250 acre Oak Grove Estate and, hence, its popular name, the Oak Grove School. AC Chapman was its first Principal. It started as a boys’ school for Anglo Indians, to which a girls section was added in 1889. Interestingly, it took its motto from the Upnishads:

“Take us, O Lord, from Darkness to Enlightenment.”

Starting in 1911 at Annfield Estate in Landour, with Edith Bruce at its first Principal, was a school of the Seventh Day Adventist Mission. By 1919, a property on Vincent Hill was purchased and there the school shifted in March 1922 and was, therefore, called the Vincent Hill School. It primarily catered to American boys and girls. It closed down in 1969 and, in the very same year, it was acquired by the Guru Nanak Fifth Centenary School, which today is ranked as a prominent one amongst the newer institutions.

“School is a building which has four walls with tomorrow inside.” – Lon Watters

(A companion piece to this article on Dehradun schools was published earlier by the Garhwal Post on 28 November.)

(Pradeep Singh is an historian and the author of ‘Suswa Saga: A Family Narrative of Eastern Dehradun’ (2011) and ‘Sals of the Valley: A Memorial to Dehradun’ (2017). He may be reached at chpradeepsingh@gmail.com)