How the St. Joseph’s Boys School got itself a playground

(A weekly column on the region’s past culled from historical documents.)

The St. Joseph’s Boys Higher Secondary School is a survivor of time. One of the oldest schools in the city, it celebrated its 220 annual day on Friday. The school was, for its administrators, an enduring passion and archival documents show how their persistence won a playground for the school.

The issue is taken up by the school correspondent in a letter to the District Magistrate. Four years and a stream of letters later the then St. Joseph’s European Boys’ High School finally gets a school ground. In the letter written in April 1917, the correspondent says, “The want of a playground has been long felt by our boys. At present our 163 pupils play, the smaller ones on the square in front of the Church by the kind permission of the Church Vicar, the bigger ones, on the court ground by the kind permission of the District Sessions Judge.”

Though indulgent neighbours made sure that the boys got to play, the correspondent stresses the need for a proper ground. In the absence of any concrete space around, he suggests a tall task — filling up the Captain’s Tank. “As no other suitable land is available in proximity of the school we have set our eyes on the Captain’s Tank. The Tank, if filled up, would provide a very suitable site,” he writes. To make sure that the mission doesn’t appear too school-centric, he adds, “Filling up of the tank seems desirable also on sanitary grounds.”

Financial burden

Since such a task could be an economic burden, the correspondent suggests “from the government half grant towards the total cost” and also help from the town council as it will “improve the sanitary conditions of the neighbourhood.”

The Collector, F.B. Evans, immediately sets about the task. Notes reflect research on the Captain’s Tank. The notes say, “The Captain’s Tank appears to have once belonged to the Roman Catholic Church as it formed part of the landed property granted by the Zamorin in 1725.”

The Collector writes to the Municipal Council with which the property is vested. “The tank is registered as government paramboke; but I think it vests in the Municipality, so long as it is required for use as a tank,” he writes. The Collector also seconds the school’s wish, saying, “I believe that the water is only used for watering a few roads in the dry weather….therefore inclined to favour the application.”

A few months on, the Municipal Chairman grants the school authorities permission to fill up the tank. There is a rider. The authorities, he says, can fill up the tank “at their cost” and the task should be done “within three years of granting permission.” The Council estimates the project will cost Rs. 8,000. The Collector forwards these conditions along with a few more to the school. Permission is granted on the condition that “no building or permanent structures be put on it without the previous permission of the Collector.” He also desires that the ground be kept an “open maidan.” Also, the land had to be used as a playground and for no other purpose.

The school authorities try to buy time, especially since the cost appears daunting. They approach the Director of Public Instruction for grant. They also assert that the ground should be enclosed so that the “school may appear to have the exclusive use of and right to it.”

Meanwhile, a memorandum arrives for the Collector from the Madras government, after they received the school’s request for grant. Once the Collector gives his consent to the project, the government sanctions Rs. 4,000, half of the estimate instead of the two-thirds the authorities requested.

The school officials sweat it out to get the play space. The hurdles are many and the permissions to be attained endless. The correspondent writes to the Collector seeking permission to take sand from the beach for the filling. The Collector in turn refers it to the port officer. The school tries to get a wall around the ground without involving the Municipal Council, but the Collector resists that.

But the biggest road block is put up when the Collector writes, “The managing body applying for the alienation of land should get themselves registered under the Indian Companies Act.” This leads to another scramble with letters shot off to different places. The Collector keeps up the pressure. “Alienation of the site cannot be effected unless the body is registered,” he writes. At one point, the correspondent writes to the Collector that “the corporate body of this school has been registered.” But when the Collector demands “the certificate”, the correspondent responds, “The application for registration was made through the Collector of South Canara and the papers are still in his hands.”

The Collector writes to his South Canara counterpart to get to the root of the matter. The South Canara Collector replies that the application was returned as it did not comply with some new government notification. Finally, the body is registered under the act in 1920 and the Home Judicial Department certifies it. By July 1921, the government sanctions “the alienation of 0.71 acre of land in favour of management for use as a playing ground.”

Source: Regional Archives Kozhikode

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