HAILEYBURY SCHOOL WAS founded by the East India Company (‘EIC’) in Hertfordshire in 1806. It was an institution where young British men heading out to India to become British colonial administrators were given training. It was not the first of such establishments. In 1800, Fort William College (in Fort William, Kolkata) was founded by the Governor General Richard Colley Wellesley (1760-1842) to teach Indian languages, laws, and so on, to young recruits to the EIC. This school continued until it was closed in the 1830s. For various reasons, the EIC decided to open a training school in England – The East India College.
The East India College was first housed in Hertford Castle, where it remained whilst bigger premises, designed by the architect of University College London, William Wilkins (1778-1839), were being built nearby in Haileybury. When it was completed, the college moved from the castle to the new building, where a school has been located ever since then. Teachers at the East India College included well-known people such as Thomas Malthus and the Sanskrit scholar Monier Monier Williams.
It is ironic that one of the former students of the EIC college at Haileybury was Allan Octavian Hume (1829-1912). After studying at London’s University College Hospital, he was nominated to the Indian Civil Service. He went out to India in 1849 having passed through the course at the EIC college at Haileybury. After returning to England in 1894, having worked in the Indian Civil Service, he recognised that there was a sense of hopelessness and unrest amongst the Indian population and that the people were held in contempt by their British rulers. To try to remedy the plight of the Indians and to provide a ’safety valve’ for relieving unrest that he perceived in Inda, he founded what soon became the Indian National Congress. Little was he to know that eventually this organisation would play an important role in getting Britain to leave India.
Taking a rather circuitous route from Cambridge to London, we stopped for lunch in Hertford. I wanted to see the castle because I had just read about it and its brief connection with the EIC in an interesting book, “The Colonial Subjugation of India”, by Amar Farooqi. After enjoying a portion of splendid fish and chips, we entered the small park in which the castle is located.
What can be seen today is a well preserved brick building with crenellations and windows in gothic style frames. When viewed face on, the edifice can be seen to consist of a tall central portion flanked by two lower wings. The tall central part, which was constructed in the 15th century was the gatehouse to the castle, which was fell into disuse and was demolished long ago (in the 17th century). The two wings were added during the reign of George III. Today, the so-called castle, erstwhile gatehouse, houses Hertfordshire council offices. We entered the lobby and noticed the gothic revival interior décor within the castle. We will revisit the castle on one of its open days and see some more of the building.
Hertford Castle played a short role in the history of British India and the EIC. The school at Haileybury continued its imperialistic function until 1857/8, when the EIC was wound up after the Indian Mutiny (First Indian War of Independence) of 1857-58. The present school, Haileybury College, a private school with boarding facilities, opened its doors to pupils in 1862 and occupies the old college’s premises.