Not much is known about our founding fathers, but this much is certain that it began with a vision — a vision for children who, irrespective of language, creed or color would grow up in an institution devoid of racial prejudices, would be able to express themselves fearlessly and be taught by teachers totally committed to the cause of sound, all-round, value based education.
St. James’ School was established in 1864. Almost from its inception, reports show that these were years of stress and struggle. In the first twenty years of its existence the school faced intensive financial difficulties. Apart from its financial conditions the question of the school’s relevance as an institute of higher education was also raised. Opinion was sought from Mr. Pedler, Director of Public Instruction, Bengal and Vice Chancellor of the Calcutta University, who stated, “I see little good in propping up an institution of this kind. The present policy of the Education Department is to insist on concentrating on the teaching of higher courses in the European Schools. Judged by this test, St. James’ School fails to justify its existence.”
The school closed in December 1904. According to reports, there was an upsurge of sentiment on the part of parents, well wishers and old boys at the closure of the school. In 1907, with financial assistance from the Church Education League, the school was reopened. However, again it ran into difficulties and closed in 1918. Relying on the evidence of a few surviving records, we find that the tenacious spirit of the school made it open its doors again in 1924 under the Rectorship of The Rev.. Thomas H. Cashmore, also the Vicar of St. James’ Church. Rev. Cashmore established a renaissance in the life of both church and school. He had a strong feeling for the traditions the school had established in the half century of its existence, particularly in the field of sport, looking back to school’s triumphant winning of the Beighton Cup in hockey in 1900. So refreshingly different from the desiccated bureaucratic attitude that had condemned the school to closure, Rev.. Cashmore’s faith in the vitality of his pupils and his humanism indemnified the morale and reputation of the institution. Sports was greatly encouraged as essential to character development and the feats of his pupils in hockey, football, cricket, boxing, swimming and athletics are remembered with affection. Rev.. Cashmore left in 1933 to return to England and was succeeded by Mr. I. M. Valentine who contributed much to the consolidation of his predecessor’s work during his tenure from 1933 to 1950.
The impact of World War II was felt in the period between 1942 and 1946. Air raid shelters were constructed in the school compound and the school premises requisitioned by the R.A.F. on rent. The boarders were sent off to Christ Church School, Jabalpore, and to Bishop Westcott School, Allahabad. The school itself functioned from two rented premises on Ripon Street and Lower Circular Road. The school moved back to its own premises in July 1947 but the entire premises were in a state of disrepair and it took considerable funds to make the place usable. The school now functioned as a day school for boys, the old boarding section having been demolished. In 1950 Mr. Valentine resigned as Rector and Mr. F. R. Marshall had a short two year tenure and was succeeded by Mr. E. C. Chippendale in 1952, who ushered in a period of considerable change. There was an increased emphasis on the teaching of science and streaming into Science and Humanities began in Class IX.
In 1960 the school had above six hundred pupils on its rolls, and with the care of the Rector and the Board of Governors, was atlast financially sound. A new science block was constructed and named after Mr. Chippendale, on his departure in 1961, after nine years of service. Mr. L. N. Bird took charge as Rector in 1961, the designation of Rector being changed shortly thereafter to Principal. Mr. F. P. Pakianathan succeeded Mr. L. N. Bird in 1971 and the numbers of pupils on rolls now increased from 640 in 1971 to 1200 in 1977. Paul J. Meyer, world acclaimed founder of the Success Motivation Institute, once commented — “If you are not making progress you would like to make and are capable of making, it is simply because your goals are not clearly defined.” A profound statement no doubt, and if we turn the sentence around we could draw the logical conclusion that if are making the progress we would like to make, it is because our goals are clearly defined. It is with this vision and clear, definite goals that Mr. J. A. Mason joined this institution as Principal in 1978.
The scope of academic, cultural and extra curricular activities was greatly increased, the school buildings renovated and the gardens nurtured with care. In this phase the school enjoyed increasingly, the goodwill and respect of the people of Calcutta. The expansion programme initiated by Mr. Pakianathan required additional accommodation, which was provided in December 1979 with the opening of the Schunker Block constructed over the school hall and annexe, consisting of fourteen large and airy classrooms to accommodate the Junior School. Numbers during this period rose to 1800 with as much as ten percent of the pupils studying at concessional rates or on freeships. The number of qualified teachers rose to 60 and there was a steady all round development of the school. Today, our school enjoys not only an excellent profile among the educational institutions of the city, it preserves a spirit of vigor and participation in life and a refusal to give in to the vicissitudes it has faced in the 134 years of existence. Over this period, this institution has shown a remarkable ability to bounce back in meeting the uncertainty of changing times, and its spirit of commitment and faith which characterizes the ethos of our school.