Three Centuries, All The Way From Black Town
By Archita Suryanarayanan | Published: 08th August 2014 09:56 AM |
CHENNAI: As the school guard rings the bell, children and teachers walk along the arcaded corridors and the school echoes with the now rare Anglo-Indian accent. St George’s Anglo Indian School will soon turn 300, just 75 years younger than Madras itself.
Considered the oldest school in South Asia, its seeds of the school were sown in 1715 as the Male Orphans’ Asylum, a home for the orphans of British soldiers. From the British’s ‘Black Town’, the school was shifted to the Egmore Railway Station in 1872, and finally established itself as the Civil Orphans’ Asylum in its present location on Poonamalle High Road in 1904.
Today, the orphanage building — Conway House - still stands, with the structure mostly unchanged but now painted a lime green. Most of the blocks in the school are single-storeyed red buildings with wooden windows and quaint, green painted grills. The school chapel that stands in the middle of a large, overgrown lawn appears straight out of an English village — a warm and homely exposed-brick building with steep tiled roofs and spires — the way it was in 1884.
“The orphanage now has 30 children, there were 300 when I joined,” says Isabel Manoharan, the oldest staff member of the school, who joined the school in 1976. “The Anglo-Indian community now has greatly reduced. Earlier the orphanage was open only to Anglo Indian children, and then we began taking children whose fathers were Anglo Indian, now we take them if one parent is an Anglo-Indian,” she says.
The orphanage students study in the school, which is government aided. “There are around 600 Anglo Indian students in the school today,” says N George, Headmaster of the school. The school provides midday meals to deserving students and the government aid helps in the fees of the Anglo-Indian students.
“We have been carrying forward the old traditions of the schools,” George says. One of the long standing traditions is hockey, and the school has a strong team that takes part in national and State level tournaments.
The tri-centenary celebrations are scheduled for April 2015 and the countdown has already begun, with events and competitions. “Alumni from across the globe are expected for the event,” says Isabel. The school will also be holding a carnival to join in celebrating Madras Day, with stalls, photo exhibitions and competitions.