Thursday, 10 January 2019 | JASKIRAN CHOPRA | Dehradun–
Eighty-two years is a long time in the history of any institution and is an apt occasion to look back at the journey so far of that institution. An educational institution in a verdant green corner of the Doon valley where many well- known people went to as their first little school has today grown into a larger institution, moving from “strength to strength” over the last eight decades.
Welham Boys’ School, one of the renowned residential public schools in the country, turns 82 this January. Welham was founded in January 1937 as a preparatory school for boarding schools in England and India by Hersilia Susie Oliphant, an English lady, with a capital of £1000. Over the past eighty-two years, the school has grown into an institution preparing boys for the CBSE examination.
The story of H S Oliphant, who set up the Welham Boys’s preparatory school in the Doon valley is an extremely inspiring saga of a dedicated lady who worked tirelessly for the cause of education in India for several decades. Not many know that the founder was born on August 17, 1883 and spent her childhood at Playworth Hall, Retford, Nottinghamshire. There is no record to establish that she ever went to school or college. In 1920, Hersilia Susie Oliphant arrived in India to work as a companion to the Maharani of Cooch Behar. Soon, she left Cooch Behar and went to work in Kanpur and then Delhi. From Delhi, she came to Dehra Dun and worked at The Doon School and Colonel Brown School.
She was resolved to set up a Preparatory School in the Doon valley. In 1936, the owner of 5, Circular Road, Hukum Chand, informed her that the house could be made available for the school. The place was done up and the first boy to join the Welham Boys Prep School in January 1937 was Maqbool Hussain Khan. Miss Oliphant’s dream of a residential kindergarten and prep school for Indian children was finally realised. She was then 54 years old. There were only six boys to begin with. The year 1938 saw 30 boarders and twenty-day scholars.
The school was founded as a preparatory school for boarding schools in England and India by Oliphant, with a humble capital of £1000. Named by Oliphant after her girlhood home, the Welham village in Nottinghamshire, this boys’ school has indeed come a very long way from its sheltered existence as a little prep school in the quiet Dalanwala area of the Doon valley. It has gone from “Strength to Strength”, as says its motto. It kept sending its boys to other schools like The Doon School and Mayo College after Class 5, for many years -till 1980.The first Class Ten batch appeared for boards in 1985.
The school is spread over 30 acres and has a spectacular view of the Himalayan hills. The School Magazine titled “The Oliphant” is brought out by the student editors. In 1956 Oliphant donated all her assets to the Welham Boys School which presently is administered by a distinguished Board of Trustees.
There is great stress on athletics, table tennis, swimming, Taekwondo, dramatics and music at Welham. Welhamites are also very keen on plantations and reforestation activities.
Among the famous ex-alumni of Welham are Rajiv Gandhi, Sanjay Gandhi, Mani Shanker Aiyyer and Zayed Khan, the actor. In 2012, the school held grand celebrations to mark its platinum jubilee.
The principal today is Gunmeet Bindra under whose guidance the school is moving from strength to strength. “The private boarding schools in an Indian milieu continue to have their relevance despite the advent of quality day schools. These schools are mini worlds within themselves. The school system does demand independence, resilience, resourcefulness and a degree of emotional toughness, but you are generally respected and encouraged as an individual,” she says.
The life for a boarder at Welham Boys School is a mix of academics, sports and extracurricular activities and Bindra is quite happy with the performance of the boys on field. “Our boys have been excelling in different sports. Recently, they won the Kandhari Hockey championship, but I must add here that our thrust area is scholastic achievement followed by sports and other activities,” emphasises Bindra.
A keen hockey player and a swimmer, Bindra can be found dribbling her hockey stick in her spare time. She was selected for hockey India camp while studying at Indraprastha College (New Delhi) and is also a good swimmer. “We are appreciated for several things, but it would be wonderful if our young boys and girls working in different parts of the world are recognised for possessing strong values. A great deal of emphasis has to be laid on character building and it has to be done at the school- level,” says the principal.