Bolton High School, Mansehra

The red-roof building is the new school building

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 Northwest 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 galvanized, corrugated metal sheets painted red or green; wide verandas; dressed-stone walls; and large glass-pane windows.

Located next to the school building, removed by a volleyball court, was a small boardinghouse.

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, nor were told, who was Bolton and why the school was so named. I doubt if many of the teachers knew either. The school was commonly known as Government High Mansehra and was one of the two high schools in the whole tehsil, the other being in Baffa, eight miles away.

Only recently, I found an interesting story about the school in a book, written in Urdu, titled Tareekh-e-Hazara (History of Hazara) by Dr. Sher Bahdur Khan Panni. Among other historical trivia about the district, it tells how the Bolton school got built and was so named.

Until the early 1920s, among the few civic facilities in Mansehra (population then five thousand), there was also a middle school known as Anglo Vernacular School. The school was housed in a mud-and-stone building located in the northeastern quarter of the town, 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 Mr. Boulton of the Boulton Market Karachi) happened to be the chief commissioner, or the chief executive, of the province. Soon after taking over the charge of the province, Mr. Bolton visited Mansehra. Such visits by the chief executive provided an opportunity for local citizens to voice their grievances and request redress. Mr. Bolton’s visit presented an opportunity for them to ask for funds for the school, and they grabbed it.

They formed a committee of prominent citizens to receive Mr. Bolton and show him the school. Ghulam Rabbani Khan, the “headmaster” and other volunteer teachers were on the committee. The committee received Mr. Bolton at The Bridge (the only bridge in town over a mountain stream from where the traffic coming 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, 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 Mr. 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, Mr. Bolton ordered the school to be made a government school, which meant the staffing, administration, and the consequent funding would become the responsibility of the provincial government and not of the district board. Later, in 1926, he approved the school to be upgraded 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; and the school was named Bolton High School. Still later, a boardinghouse was added close to the school building to accommodate students from the outlying towns and villages.

Over the years, this school, with a modest beginning in a mud-and-stone building and a few volunteer teachers, managed to produce graduates who went on to become successful professionals in different fields, judges, civil servants, and senior military officers.

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 the distinguished local citizens. Mr. Khan’s services to the school, among other things, may have been a factor that earned him the honorific.

In 2012–2013, the old school building was demolished, and an imposing three-story building with better facilities was built at the same spot, and the school was upgraded to a higher secondary school. Unfortunately, no one seems to have saved a picture of the old colonial building of the school.

Hopefully, the school will continue to provide quality education to its students, keeping in mind what the Master Poet Iqbal had said:
جہان تازہ سے ہے افکار تازہ کی نمود

کہ سنگ و خشت سے ہوتے نہیں جہاں پیدا

Jahaan e taza ki afkaar e taza se hai namood

keh sang o khisht say hotay nahin JahaN paida

(New visions sprout from a soil nurtured with fresh thoughts

Not by mortar and bricks; these don’t create new worlds)

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