A Tale of Three Schools

Last week my elder son Jamshed had to make a 'school history' presentation for the benefit of younger students at assembly. While preparing his speech he asked me why our school was called Burn Hall School.

Flashback to the 70s …..

A favourite teacher asked our class the same question in primary school. Nursing a huge desire to impress said teacher, I tracked down a senior cousin during recess. It was very uncool to be tailed by a younger sibling in school but I was willing to risk public humilation for a higher cause. Luckily my cousin let me off lightly. 'Buddy, everyone knows the old school hall burnt down.'

The teacher, however, was not as kind.

'Dont be stupid, no school hall ever burnt down. Who told you this rubbish? Its named after a river in England.'

The flush of humiliation still rankles as does the memory of classmates sniggering at my embarrassment.

Cut to present day …..

Jamshed had gone through the history section of his school diary and the school website but could not find any clues to the peculiar name of the school.

I knowledgeably proposed the 'river' hypothesis omitting any mention of smart-alecky cousins or unsympathetic teachers. A quick bit of googling revealed that the school was not named after any particular river but for 'burn', a generic Scottish term for a smallish river or largish stream.

We also learnt that there was an Abbottabad branch of the Burn Hall School. Though there is no interaction between the two schools, they share a common history.


The school is named after an English Manor House which had a hall with a stream (burn) running through it, hence the name 'Burn Hall'

My teacher having saved me from a second dose of embarrasment almost four decades later, we managed to put together the following sequence of events:

The Mill Hill Missionaries, officially known as the St. Joseph’s Missionary Society of Mill Hill, are a Catholic missionary society founded in 1866 at Holcombe House in the Mill Hill locality of north London.

Having expanded their missionary activities to South Asia in 1875, the Mill Hill Missionaries took charge of the mission to Kashmir in 1884.

After successfully establishing St. Joseph's School at Baramulla in 1905 they founded another school called the 'Senior Cambridge School' at Srinagar in 1942.

The new school was started in the building which currently houses the College of Education (formerly the Teacher's Training College) at Maulana Azad Road. (Incidentally I have many happy memories of the Teacher's Training College and its heritage buildings, especially it's well-stocked library, which I could access by virtue of my mother being the Principal.)

In the aftermath of the 1947 tribal invasion, the Mill Hill Missionaries moved to Pakistan and established a school called Burn Hall School in the Abbott hotel in Abbottabad under the Diocesan Board of Education, Rawalpindi.

The school motto was 'Quo non Ascendam', which in Latin means 'To what heights can I not rise.'

After a spell of nine years the Mill Hill Missionaries returned to re-establish their Srinagar school.

The new school, also called 'Burn Hall School', was started in April 1956 in a building called "The Willows" at Gupkar Road. Fr. J. Boerkamp was the founding father and the first Principal of the school which was established under the management of the Catholic Diocese of Jammu & Srinagar.

The school motto was 'Industria Floremus', which in Latin means 'In toil we shall flourish.'

The Mill Hill Missionaries managed the Abottabad and Kashmir institutions till 1977.

In 1977, the charge of Burn Hall School in Kashmir was handed over to the Capuchin Fathers, while the Burn Hall School at Abbottabad was taken over by the Pakistan Army Education Corps and has since become a military style cadets institution known as the Army Burn Hall College and School.

The Capuchin Fathers inaugurated the new Burn Hall School complex in Srinagar in 1978 and the school celebrated its Silver Jubilee in 1981.

In 1990, the Montfort Brothers of Saint Gabriel took charge of the school for a contract period of 12 years.

The Catholic Diocese of Jammu & Srinagar took over the administration of Burn Hall School from the Montfort Brothers in 2001. Fr. Ivan Pereira is the current Principal of Burn Hall School in 2014.

Now that we are up to date with the history, why the name 'Burn Hall'?

In 1947, after shifting the school from Kashmir to Abbottabad it was renamed the Burn Hall school after the seminary in England where the Mill Hill fathers received their religious training. This seminary was housed in an ancient hall dating from 1821 in Croxdale, Durham county.

Croxdale is at the point where the river Browney joins the river Wear. On the banks of the latter stands the Burn Hall, designed by Ignatius Bonomi in the Gothic and Neo-Classical style for the wealthy Salvin family who had lived in the area since 1409.

In 1926, Burn Hall was sold to the Mill Hill Missionaries who used it to train boys as missionary priests at the Burn Hall seminary till 1995.

The building now serves as a private apartment block set within 72 hectares of the Burn Hall estate.

So teacher did know best.

'Burn Hall School' was named by its founding fathers after their own religious school housed in an ancient hall on the banks of a 'burn' called Wear in Croxdale, England.

No burnt-down halls anywhere in this tale.