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History of St. Hilda's School Ooty

Saint Hilda 

HISTORY OF ST.HILDA’S SCHOOL, OOTY

St.Hilda’s Diocesan School was founded by the sisters of the Church Extension Association in 1895, near the lake. It stands on a spur of the Nilgiris, being  300 feet above the lake, commanding a wide stretch of hills and valleys covered  with tea and cinchona plantations, eucalyptus woods,  grassy downs and picturesque villas almost hidden by their shady compounds. A terraced garden, brilliant with English flowers, slopes towards the valley, while the camellia hedge, sweet verbena trees and towering daturas covered with large bells, add to the ideal loveliness of the spot.The house was Sheddon House, purchased on behalf of the sisters by Dr.Duham .

That first year , six candidates were presented for the Cambridge university examination. Like most of the older schools in the Nilgiris, the school was started for the children of the clergy, officers and planters, to enable them to obtain an English education while remaining in India.

Numbers grew rapidly and the school had many affluent patrons, including Sir Hector MacDonald of South African fame and Her  Excellency Lady Ampthill  Letters from Sister  Martha (one of the first of the sisters to run the School )  contain fascinating accounts of school life at the turn of the century.

The tranquil Gothic – style chapel was built in  1902. 1903 found the school so full that the sisters had to turn many applicants away. Mrs. Casson Walker sent a letter dated February 14 , 1905 to the press in praise of St.Hilda’s  - a glowing epistle which ended  :   “  I  cannot imagine a healthier life or better education for young girls than that provided by the Sisters of the Church in Ootacamund.”

Mr.Robinson installed the Chapel’s lovely stained glass window and also gave the school a beautiful print of Boticelli’s Madonna in memory of his wife. A brass plaque to her memory is still in the chapel and the print adorns the Principal’s house.

The first world war saw the girls of the school collecting funds and knitting socks for the soldiers and in 1918, the school’s newly formed Girl Guide Troop, under the direction of Miss Forty, the Principal, gave “ a varied programme of play and music to a splendid audience of 500 soldiers at the Garrison Theatre at Wellington”. These men were of every possible regiment invalided from Mesopotamia. The following year, eight girls were examined by Dr.Creserof the Trinity College of music,London, all of whom passed and one with honours.

In 1925, the sisters decided to withdraw from the Nilgiris and this caused great consternation among the public as the school would have to close down. The Lay Trustees of St.Stephen’s and the Diocese decided to take over the responsibilities of the School, and the then Chaplain, J.J.D.Borlase sent out an appeal for funds to the British community in South  India, which received good response. The school never closed down.

The school Magazine of 1930 shows that the school was much the same as it is today. The uniform has not changed (Skirts being shorter now), and original buildings only slightly modified . The school motto ‘BeatiMundoCorde’ had been established by this time. Plays and performances were regularly staged as they are today and were equally well received by the parents and public.

The School has always been a small one, the strength now being 450, with 200 days-scholars. Miss  G.Devadasan was the school’s first Indian Principal until the early 1960’s the students were mainly British and European, but from 1969, the number of Indian children started increasing, and now the students are almost entirely Indian. The children are prepared for the Indian School certificate, and three Indian languages – Tamil , Malayalam  and Hindi   - are available. French and Latin are also taught for those who want these languages.

Five new class rooms and a new two storeyed block have been added in recent years, with proper laboratory facilities and a library.The grounds have also been improved to provide a proper sports ground, and there is a good basket – ball court. The gardens are well kept and present a lovely sight.

The “Palm – leaf class rooms” are today thriving modern buildings filled with bright and happy faces, humming with activity.