The oldest school in Kolkata

St Thomas' School at Kidderpore in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta)

St Thomas’ School is the oldest in Kolkata, says the school website. The school was founded in 1789, just three decades after the British East India Company conquered Muslim-ruled Bengal. The British built the city of Calcutta (now called Kolkata), made it their capital, and extended their rule all across India. It was from Calcutta that Sir Stamford Raffles sailed to Singapore, reaching the island on January 29, 1819. The ship was an East Indiaman named Indiana.

Calcutta remained the capital of India till 1911 when, after nationalist agitations in Bengal, the British built a new city and made it the capital — New Delhi.

In the 19th century, when it was the capital of British India, Calcutta was called the “Second City of the Empire”, second only to London in size, population, wealth, importance and grandeur. Kipling compared Calcutta to London in A Real Live City, published in his collection of short stories, City of Dreadful Night.

The Bengalis in Calcutta and the Parsis in Bombay (now called Mumbai) were among the earliest in India to attend English-medium schools. Presidency College (now Presidency University) was founded in 1817, La Martiniere in 1836, Calcutta University in 1857 and St Xavier’s Collegiate School in 1860.

St Thomas’ began as a school for the children of Europeans and Anglo-Indians (called Eurasians in Singapore). There are very few Europeans and Anglo-Indians in Kolkata now. Now the students include Bengalis and non-Bengalis, Hindus, Christians and Muslims. The school at Kidderpore is close to the dock area, which has a substantial Muslim and non-Bengali population.

The school is closed for winter holidays. That is why the gates are closed and there are hardly any people outside. Behind the gates are extensive grounds housing a girls’ school, a boys’ school, an engineering college and a church.

When the schools reopen, the road outside will be jammed with cars, buses and motorbikes as students pour out of the gates after classes end in the afternoon, bringing traffic to a halt.

St Thomas’ was not originally located in Kidderpore. The school started on a site now occupied by the Scottish Church in Dalhousie Square (now called Benoy-Badal-Dinesh Bag) and then moved to Free School Street, near New Market. You can read about it in Wikipedia and the school website.

St Thomas’ moved into what used to be called Kidderpore House in 1916, says the school website. So St Thomas’ has been in Kidderpore for nearly a hundred years.

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