Oak Grove School
Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO
State of Uttaranchal Pradesh
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Nestled amidst oak groves & Himalayan pines, perched at an altitude of 1,615 meters, spread over 102 hectares (undulating and landscaped), in the Himalayas, in the state of Uttaranchal in India, overlooking the sacred Doon Valley (between the two most holy rivers of India - Ganga and Yamuna) and built in elegant Gothic style of architecture; the Oak Grove School buildings are an outstanding example of a living cultural institution of the 19th century. The Oak Grove School has always been and is a boarding school, established by the erstwhile East Indian Railway, during the significant stage of change in human history brought about by the emergence of Railways. Long after the end of colonial rule and though the Railways in India need not now run such a school; it is valued for its cultural significance. It is reminiscent of its traditions as outstanding examples of interchange of human values and it is recognised for its cultural value. It is fully functional and it is being maintained in its original style.
In 1884-85, the erstwhile East Indian Railway (EIR) purchased the Oak Grove estate, near Mussorie (midway on the then bridle path from Rajpur to Mussorie), for establishing a school. The construction was started in early 1886 and the school was opened on 1st June 1888 for boys. The girls section was opened in the following November. The buildings were designed in the initial stages by Mr. Richard Roskell Bayne, Chief Architect of the EIR - a distinguished, serious and exceptional architect being only one of three students in 18 years to be awarded the certificate of distinction as a result of successful completion of the Royal Institute of British Architects Voluntary Architectural Examination in 1864. This was one of his last works with EIR before his retirement in 1890 and he had then risen to the rank of district engineer. The construction was supervised by the Company Engineer Mr. W. Drysdale. Water was tapped from the nearby Mossy falls through rights acquired for this purpose and water was plentiful even for the swimming pool. In 1894, the Fairlawn School (started as an offshoot of the Lahore Railway School and known as the Sind-Punjab Railway School) of the erstwhile North Western Railway was merged with this school. A separate girl's school was added under the superintendence of Mr. P.W.G. Scott of the Engineering department of the EIR Company and opened on 15th April 1897. An earthquake of April 1905 did not affect the Oak Grove School buildings except reducing the flow from the water source. The office-cum-residence of the Principal and the hospital, are also significant structures, built in 1906, midway between the boys school and the girls school. It expanded further with the opening of a Junior School in 1912.
The buildings are significant in terms of the colonial architecture for institutional buildings at that time and built at that time as modern buildings. At the same time; the design was done ingeniously for providing the functionality of a school as well as ensuring proximity of teachers and children in a boarding school. Built at the time when there were no lights & fans; it has been designed to allow natural light and air circulation in the classrooms, dormitories, dining and other areas. A dormitory in the junior school has beds for about 100 children and this is perhaps the largest dormitory anywhere in the world. The hospital is also thoughtfully designed with the nurse room between the ward for the boys and the ward for the girls and the isolation ward on one of the other sides.
Initially, it was opened only to the EIR Company's Europeans officers for providing a modern school education, physical training and moral values; as far as possible on the lines of schools in England. The faculty was from England only, trained in an educational career and with experience to handle a large number of students. A log of daily activities was started by its first principal Mr. A.C. Chapman in 1888 and has been maintained till 1956. The Oak Grove School was started initially to house 100 students and has now grown to have on its rolls about 550 students.
The overall functioning of the School was earlier under the Board of Directors and now under the control of Board of Governors (BOG) led by the General Manager of the Northern Railway and the Principal as Secretary. The Oak Grove School aims at providing quality, modern education while sensitizing them to cultural values; to the children of railway employees and also those not working in the railways. The School emblem, motto and methods have seen changes over the years with the changing cultural scenario and India's independence in 1947 but the medium of instruction remains English and the traditions of the school have remained in a continuum over time. The school emblem of 1888 was changed in 1926 and again changed in 1958 to reflect the changes in outlook and culture. The present school motto is "Take us O' Lord from Darkness to Enlightenment" taken from a famous verse (shloka) from a religious text (MUNDOKOUPANISHAD). Oak Grove strongly believes that school is the institution where the darkness of illiteracy, unawareness and conservatism are banished and then dawns wisdom, knowledge and creativity on the impressionable minds of young children, on whose shoulders lie the responsibilities of the future. The school has always been appreciated and viewed as a great institution and each year, the applications for admissions are well in excess of its capacity due to which many have to be refused admission. The students passed out from Oak Grove School have since settled across the world even in faraway continents of Europe, America & Oceania. They still spread its message and come back to Oak Grove School (some past their 80th birthday).
Justification of Outstanding Universal Value
The Oak Grove School is an outstanding and an early example of the harmonious blend of three significant cultural developments of the 19th century - Railways, Hill Stations and Public School Culture. It is a living testimony of this legacy and perhaps the oldest surviving example of such a landmark cultural institution. Set up in 1888 due to the need to provide western style education during the significant period of industrialisation resulting from Railways in the 19th century, it is still fully operational and positively reminiscent of the interchange of human values resulting from the combined impact of the coming of Railways, Hill Stations and Public School Culture together in the 19th century.
As an example of an interchange of human values, the Oak Grove School is part of that stage of globalisation, which was characterised by western influence in the third world. The Oak Grove School is an early example of setting up a western style education system (although not a unique one) of that stage. This interchange of human values has continued now for over 100 years within the cultural landscape of the school and from the message being spread by its students in faraway continents of Europe, America & Oceania. This has resulted from the need for technological development through the Railways. It is an outstanding surviving example of the interchange of human values, over time ever since the railways emerged, within its spectacular landscape and beyond through its old boys; facilitating the technological developments heralded by the Railways.
Such schools in India were assiduously modeled on their counterparts in the western world. Their faculty, curriculum, discipline and activities were the same. The Cambridge School certificate formed the educational goal. Most such schools in India were relentlessly British despite the majority of their pupils never having set foot anywhere in the United Kingdom. There was perhaps a much greater emphasis in the Indian sub-continent to become like a westerner and an even greater emphasis to mens sana in corpore sano. The Oak Grove School was no different. However, what's unique is that it still survives in the changed cultural circumstances of India's independence and now that the Railways have no need to run such schools. The interchange of human values has been well accepted despite cultural transformation that has taken place since it was set up. A recent commemoration programme in the school was dedicated very fondly and proudly to its first principal. It has adapted itself well over time with changes in the school motto and the school song but without changing its traditions and its medium of instruction that is English. As an interesting example of cultural adaptation; some of the words in the school song were earlier "We're British children true, We'll serve our God whom we adore, Our Queen and Empire too" and these are sung in the same tune though now changed as "We love this school of ours, We're Oak Grove's children true, We'll serve her in her darkest hours, And in her glory too". Also, these schools were still served by Indians, in an Indian environment and the majority of those passing out served in India. Thus, it is an example of an interchange in human values over a span of time on development of technology and now serves an early surviving example of that time.
As an outstanding example of an ensemble illustrating a significant stage in human history, the Oak Grove School is a unique example of the pioneering initiative employed by Railway engineers of the 19th century to establish ancillary institutions such as schools to further their purpose. In the 19th century companies were mainly driven by a profit motive and rarely invested in areas of social concern like educational institutions, which was mainly left to religious and philanthropic institutions. This was therefore a unique initiative to start an institution like Oak Grove, way back in the 1880's, children coming from faraway Kolkata in a school train. Thus, it is clearly and spectacularly illustrative of a significant stage in human history that saw pioneering rail construction and the consequent emergence of cultural institutions such as schools of the western world.
The coming of Oak Grove School served the need for education (virtually no facility of its kind in the 19th century) in the development of Railways the emergence of which was a significant stage in human history. Indeed, one of the interesting effects of the Oak Grove School has been the way it has created impact through its students, one of whom is even today serving in the top echelons of Indian Railways and many are now scattered in faraway continents of Europe, America & Oceania. It is an outstanding example and possibly the oldest surviving heritage educational institutions of the industrialisation era brought in by the Railways in the 19th century.
Hill Stations and Public School Culture came in that significant stage in history which witnessed the emergence of Railways in the 19th century. Their was a marked effort to create a cultural environment in the hill stations in terms of architecture / landscape / living; as was prevalent in the western world. The Oak Grove School ensemble is an outstanding example of the combined impact of these cultural developments and is testimony to these developments of the 19th century.
Today, the Oak Grove School stands out as a heritage symbol of the region. As an ensemble with its impeccably maintained buildings and its old artifacts; it is genuinely outstanding and unique type of a 19th century development that is preserved over time. Also, the Oak Grove School has been constructed in harmony with the beauty, serenity and grandeur of the surroundings. The Oak Grove School remains much as it was at the time of its completion in buildings and environment. It has always been a functioning school and as always, it plays an important social role serving the people of the railways and beyond; for over 120 years. Such institutions are rare and it deserves conservation and global recognition of its outstanding universal value.
Statements of authenticity and/or integrity
The Oak Grove School buildings retain their original features of 1888 when the school was opened. Maintenance standards of Oak Grove School are high, as it is used fairly intensively. The buildings are elegant structures maintained as in the original construction with stone walls, wooden trusses, sloping roofs, large verandahs, pillars and a tall appearance. These have been conserved in the same style. The archives / artifacts are old and of heritage value. The activity logs maintained from 1888 are well preserved. There is a lot of old equipment. The Ministry of Railways of the Government of India and also the Northern Railway administration, place great emphasis on the preservation of Oak Grove School and all associated buildings in their original shape to the extent possible.
The Oak Grove School is being run and has always been run for social welfare as a cultural institution resulting from the industrialisation era begun by the railways. While times have changed and the school has grown; it still maintains its charm, high standards of education (It's vision statement reads "We are committed to continuous improvement in learning environment that enhances values, self-esteem, responsibility and accountability in partnership with parents"), authenticity in architecture and cultural-connect; amidst the spectacular surroundings (full of pines, oak groves, streams and waterfalls with a diversity of attractive flora and fauna).
The countryside of Oak Grove School also retains its charm that over time. The natives look upon the Oak Grove School as a friendly symbol of the mountains rather than anything separate. Overall, the Oak Grove School is authentic, well preserved and has the necessary legal / management protection.
Comparison with other similar properties
Railways in India were the first such development in the Asia Pacific region. Further, railways in India were then established by the British to cover what is today all of South Asia - a sub-continent spread over India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. In the 19th century, the progress of railway development (now recognized as industrial cultural heritage) in the sub-continent was adversely affected by the non-availability of suitable western style educational institutions. To some extent, this was addressed by the industrial establishments such as the railways providing aid to schools. Railways in India at that time provided aid to schools such as one in Aligarh, Charbagh Railway School in Lucknow, St Mary's Convent Nainital, St George's School Mussorie, and Lawrence Military Asylum Sanawar. Also, aid had to be given to the parents and guardians. The setting up of the Oak Grove School was a pioneering initiative to address this requirement to further the progress of the Railways in the sub-continent. The Oak Grove School is a surviving example of a cultural institution of the 19th century, at a very early stage of railway development and the only and oldest of its kind in the Indian sub-continent.
Earlier, before the emergence of railways; educational institutions were set up by British for charitable, military or private purposes. These were in the plains at important centers controlled by them and maybe managed by the Church. The hill stations in the Indian sub continent were discovered in the 1820's (the Mughal rulers before the British were content in the plains). Their was a marked effort to create a cultural environment in the hill stations in terms of architecture / landscape / living; as was prevalent in the western world. Mussorie was developed very early in 1826, next only to Shimla. The first European boarding schools in the Indian sub continent were started in Mussorie and in 1835 it acquired a reputation as a centre for western education. Subsequently, boarding schools emerged in the other hill stations. The Oak Grove emerged in that period near Mussorie and is representative of an earliest example. However, since all the other schools were established for religious, military or private purposes; it is the earliest example of a boarding school set up as a consequence of Railway - combining the best of Railways, Hill-stations and Education.
The first Railway hill school in India was started in 1870's by the erstwhile Sindh Punjab & Delhi Railway, later known as North Western Railway; at a Bungalow called FAIRLAWN close to the land where Oak Grove is presently situated. It was part of the 'Rajah's Palace' which belonged to the Royal family of Nepal. The ruins of the Palace are still present and part of the estate has been developed for residential purpose. This was merged in to Oak Grove School in 1894. Thus the Oak Grove School becomes the oldest surviving example of its kind in the subcontinent.
Internationally too the Oak Grove School is unique. In England the 1857 Industrial Schools Act was intended for providing education in a boarding school. This followed later in the other parts of the United Kingdom and its colonies. The Oak Grove School established in 1888 is an early example that is surviving with its glorious traditions; long after India's independence and though there is now not the need for industrial establishments to maintain such schools. Further, industrialisation in the 19th century led to developments (railways, factories, waterways, mines etc.) that are now being recognized as World Heritage monuments and sites. However, that industrialization also heralded an interchange in human values at that significant stage of human history; which led to socio-cultural initiatives for better living like hospitals, clubs, institutes, institutions for social reform and above all it led to new schools bringing in a completely new culture. The emergence of schools from the industrialization of the 19th century has enriched civilization and the Oak Grove School is representative of an early surviving example of outstanding significance anywhere in the world.