Bolton High School

July 18, 2021

Over the years, Bolton High School, which started in a mud and stone building with a few volunteer teachers, managed to produce graduates who went on to become successful professionals in different fields

Bolton High School

Our high school in Mansehra had a British-sounding name: Bolton High School. It was named after Horatio Norman Bolton, twice chief commissioner of the then North West Frontier Province, between 1923 and 1930. The chief commissioner was then the chief executive of the province; the office was later replaced by that of the governor. But there was nothing British about the school except, perhaps, the architecture the British employed in the hilly areas: sloping roofs of galvanised, corrugated metal sheets that were painted red or green, wide verandas, dressed stone walls and large glass-paned windows. Unfortunately, no one seems to have saved a picture of the quaint, colonial building of Bolton High School, as it once was, even though it was declared a heritage building. Mr Gulzaman Khan, the current principal of the school has promised to find one.

Located next to the school building and separated from it by a volleyball court, was a small boarding house. By the time I joined the school, in the 1950s, the only reminder of Mr Bolton was a large, weathered cement plaque on an outside wall that read: Bolton High School Mansehra – 1926. However, none of the students knew who Bolton was, or why the school was so named. I doubt if many of the teachers knew either. The school was commonly known as Government High School, Mansehra. It was one of the two high schools in the whole tehsil; the other one was in Baffa, eight miles away. The student population of the school, then, was about 300.

Just recently, I found an interesting story about the school in a book titled Tareekh-i-Hazara (History of Hazara), by Dr Sher Bahadur Khan Panni. Among other historical trivia about the district, it tells the story of how the Bolton High School was built and so named. Until the early 1920s, among the few civic facilities in Mansehra (the population of which was 5,000, at the time), there was also a middle school, known as the Anglo Vernacular School. The school was housed in a mud-and-stone building, located in the northeastern quarter of the town, and was administered by the district board.

Since the district board did not have enough funds to hire the required teachers, a small group of public-spirited young lawyers volunteered to teach. One of the volunteers, Ghulam Rabbani Khan, acted as headmaster and, within the given means, ran the school as best as he could.

Horatio Norman Bolton (not to be confused with the Mr Boulton after whom the Boulton Market in Karachi is named) happened to be the chief commissioner or the chief executive of the province. Soon after taking over charge of the province, Bolton visited Mansehra. Such visits by the chief executive provided an opportunity for local citizens to voice their grievances and request redress. Bolton’s visit presented an opportunity to ask for funds for the school, and was grabbed.

The teachers formed a committee of prominent citizens to receive Bolton and show him the school. Ghulam Rabbani Khan, the headmaster, and other volunteer teachers were on the committee. The committee received Bolton at The Bridge (the only bridge in town, over a mountain stream, from where the traffic coming in from Abbottabad entered the town). They garlanded him in the local tradition and escorted him to the school, over a path covered with red satin sheets procured for the occasion, which was a distance of one kilometer. It was an impressive reception, given the times and the resources of the town. At the school, they explained to Bolton the difficulties they faced in running the school: mainly the lack of funds to hire regular teachers.

Pleased with his “red carpet” reception and the dedication of the volunteer teachers, Bolton ordered that the school be made a government school, which meant that its staffing, administration and consequent funding would become the responsibility of the provincial government, and not of the district board. Later, in 1926, he approved the upgrading of the school’s status to a high school. A new school-building, built at the same spot, in the colonial architectural style, replaced the old mud-and-stone building. The school was named Bolton High School. Still later, a boarding house was added close to the school-building to accommodate students from the outlying villages.

Over the years, Bolton High School, which started in a mud-and-stone building with a few volunteer teachers, managed to produce graduates who went on to become successful professionals in different fields, including judges, civil servants, senior military officers and successful businessmen. Ghulam Rabbani Khan, the volunteer headmaster, remained a prominent lawyer of Mansehra and was later awarded the title of Khan Bahadur, an honorific bestowed by the British on distinguished local citizens. Mr Khan’s services to the school, among other things, may have been a factor that earned him the honorific.

In 2012-13, the old school building was demolished and a new, three-storeyed building, with better facilities, was built at the same spot. The school was upgraded to a higher secondary school. It has a current student population of 1,700. One hopes that the new school will continue to provide quality education to its students, keeping in mind what the master poet, Iqbal, said:

Jahaan-i-taza ki afkaar-i-taza say

hai namood keh sang-o-khisht say hotay naheen jahan paida

(New worlds sprout from a soil nurtured with free and fresh thinking,
Not by mortar and bricks; these don’t create a new world.)

The writer is a human resource consultant

Bolton High School