On a cold winter’s day in February 1957, 10 young girls assembled to start their boarding school experience at Welham Girls High School in Dehra Dun. This was how an incredible journey began, that would take our School from its humble beginnings to the incredible institution that it has become today.
Founded by Miss HS Oliphant, Founder-Principal of Welham Boys Preparatory School and our first Principal Miss Grace Mary Linnell, the School began to function from the residence and gardens of Nasreen, the iconic building at No 12 Circular Road, that every Welhamite, old and new, will always recognise and associate with as ‘School’. Another property at No 19, Municipal Road was taken for the Principal’s residence and School office. No 17, next to No 19, was taken later and housed the Junior School. Founders Day programmes were held in the back verandah of No 19 and the audience sat in the garden. Gradually, over the years, this small campus has grown and developed into today’s Welham Girls School, credited with being the best residential school for girls over the last few years. During Miss Linnell’s tenure classes were held in No 19 and a small barrack like building in No 12, which was then demolished, and the current double-storey classroom building went up in its place. While it was being built the BIs and AIIIs trudged back and forth from a rented house where their dorms were located. Next to the new classroom building was a long single-storey low set of rooms which had the playroom, the games master’s office, 2 tiny rooms for piano classes and the tuck room at the back, scene of many a raid. Along the back wall new dorms were built with rooms for the HMs. The Junior School remained in No 17. The tiny games field in front of the classroom building, which has now been cemented over, somehow managed to cope with many an enthusiastic hockey player and Welham girls were the backbone of the U.P. State Hockey Team. Baseball batters tried to hit the ball into the windows of the biology lab on the first floor and some even succeeded, much to the staff’s dismay. Chose a subject and somehow Miss Linnell, from the then small town of Dehra Dun, found someone to teach it, be it elocution, French, shorthand, typing or classical western music appreciation. The dining room, a low, single storey, long room also became an auditorium when a stage was built at one end.
Stepping into Miss Linnell’s shoes was Miss Saroj Srivastava, the English teacher, who took on the daunting task of taking the School out of the ‘red’ into a healthy financial status, which she succeeded in doing, supported by her Board of Governors, trusting donors and understanding parents. It was during her tenure as Principal that the first Alumni daughter joined School. Concentrating on getting School’s finances into a healthy condition was the highlight of Miss Srivastava’s term and she will always be remembered for this. During her term No 6 was taken for dorms. Some of the lovely fountains and garden area in No 12 gave way to Miss Linnell’s grave and the prayer platform, but the peacock throne and summerhouse remained. Land purchased by Miss Linnell, for which she came under fire from the Board for spending too much money, had lain unused, and Miss Srivastava finally attempted to use this for games when plans to consolidate a campus were made.
It was then up to Mrs Shanti Varma, a parent and former member of the Board of Governors, who took over from her, to begin the process of acquiring more land and developing buildings. It started with the School’s current auditorium, so aptly dedicated to and named after her in 2017. Her tenure began during troubled times and efforts to shift the School, from the Dalanwala campus to a larger area, had not succeeded. Land near Haridwar had been purchased but was considered unsafe from a security point of view and land on the Chakrata Road had issues with adequate water supplies. If we had shifted, a proposal to turn No 12 into a girls’ college had also been considered, as the idea of giving up our beloved Nasreen was unthinkable. The decision then was to remain in Dalanwala and try to buy properties around No 12, taking the dream of a consolidated campus forward. No 17 was sold and Narauli House purchased for dorms while the older ones were refurbished; the Home Science lab building came up on the tennis courts next to the original entrance and the playroom building and long jump pit gave way to another block with labs, the library and the art room. Sadly, the trees along No 12’s original grand avenue entrance, directly opposite No 6, had to be cut down because they were old and diseased. The entrance then changed to its current corner gate, donated by an alumnus. A house towards the rear of the School was purchased for the Bursar and hospital, which later shifted across the road to another property. A corridor of land giving, easy access from No 12 to the Games field was bought as well as another property adjacent to the field for tennis courts and other sports facilities.
Mrs Jyotsna Brar, alumnus and then Principal of another school succeeded Mrs Varma. During her tenure the School changed quite dramatically. The grounds and buildings were spruced up. The interiors of Nasreen were restored to their former glory with fireplaces, woodwork and tiles being highlighted. Dorms were all shifted out to the other buildings. The building facings were changed to have the same appearance. The Principal’s Office was shifted to No 12. The old building in No 6 was demolished to make way for the swimming pool and the corner property next to it, opposite No 12, was purchased for a variety of activities. Alumni generously donated the current hospital and the old hospital turned into staff quarters. An office block came up in No 19 to accommodate office staff. More refurbishment and renovation were undertaken. Water harvesting began, the School got its own tube well water supply Donations from alumni helped in improvements to both building and facilities with each anniversary batch doing their bit to help, specially with an underground passage to link No 12 to the property across the road.
With the very recent change of Principal from Mrs Brar to Mrs Padmini Sambasivam comes more development. A shooting range has been added to sports facilities. The Tadpole tuck shop has been enlarged to make practice areas for Kathak and Bharat Natayam dancers during rainy days or for girls to just chill. The underground passage has been completed and leakage in dorms fixed. More floors are planned for staff quarters and music room and gym facilities are to be improved.
And so, from these humble beginnings to today, through years of trials and tribulations, shifting, adjusting and making do with what there is, from crowded dorms to captains’ rooms and ‘dungeon’ bathrooms to running hot water, through two wars and rationing, epidemics of chicken pox and measles, changes in exam systems and digitisation have come the most amazing alumni a School could ask for. From politics to public service; art and architecture to advertising and adventure travel; media and medicine have come athletes, doctors, dancers, yoga experts, filmmakers and documentary producers, actors and housewives, corporates and authors, poets and lawyers; carers of refugees, challenged children, the disabled and homeless animals; experts in international affairs and economists; distinguished eminent citizens, media personalities and famous artists. Scratch the surface of a profession or a field of interest and you’ll be sure to find a Welhamite, living up to the intrinsic values these courageous and far-sighted women have inculcated in us, nurturing and mentoring, while keeping in mind the prayer of our English Founder-Principal, Miss GM Linnell: “Make us chose the harder right instead of the easier wrong”; setting us our focus in no uncertain terms, while inspiring us to enlightened humanity with our motto Arth Shanti Phala Vidya