A Knight’s Tale (23: Corporal Punishment)

Corporal punishment was the norm in those days. At St Mary’s the administration was far more directly personal than I was to experience later at Wimbledon College.

I was about six or seven when, after her lesson at the end of the day, I incurred the wrath of Mrs Chapman. There had been a spate of lost coats.  It was suspected that these had been stolen.  I went to my peg and found my coat missing.  Full of trepidation, I reported this to the rather frightening teacher.  I was told to sit down at my desk and wait.  Off she strode to fetch the caretaker..  Together they scoured the buildings for my clothing.  Whilst they were gone, and it was growing gloomy in the otherwise empty classroom, I had a terrifying thought that set me a-quivering.  The clouds were darkening in Mrs Chapman’s face as she returned without the coat.  What I said next brought on the thunder.  Bottom lip trembling, ‘Please Miss’, I blurted.  All female teachers, married or not, were ‘Miss’ in those days before Ms had been coined.  ‘Please Miss’, I repeated, ‘I’ve just remembered.  I didn’t bring my coat today’……………  The calm after the storm was deadly.  Mrs. Chapman never bothered to send you to Miss Bryant for the cane, she administered a few hearty slaps herself.  At least they were on the palms of your hands.  Perhaps it hurt her more than it hurt me.  Then I had to go home and explain to my Mum why I was late.

Mr. Hyde, on the other hand – actually both of them – wouldn’t hurt himself with his method.  He used the flat of a ruler on the backs of your fingers, whilst clasping them to keep them still.  With his dark hair and visage; his hirsute nostrils and digits; and his fearsome eyes enlarged by thick lenses, he looked every bit the alter ego of Dr. Jekyll.

Miss Flaxman favoured a barrage of energetic open-handed blows on the backs of your legs.  A large red-haired amazon, I don’t think she ever took her coat off, for it always seemed to flap about when she stung your calves.  She had to bend down to reach small legs, which meant her head was a bit close so you had to try not to fart.  The strange thing about these latter two is that they would steam into you until they were exhausted.  His nostrils would flare and flare, and she would become redder and redder in the face.  Their breathing would reach a crescendo and eventually quieten, when they would suddenly cease.  Rumour had it that they were what we now call an item.  Perhaps these performances reflected a certain amount of sexual frustration.  They were Catholics, after all.

This physical chastisement takes me to my greatest deviousness.  Mrs. Braniff, unusually for her, had decided to send me to the headmistress, Miss Bryant, to be caned.  Perhaps she had dished out her own quota for the day.  Well, I didn’t fancy the cane, so I nipped round into a corner of the playground and hid for what seemed a reasonable length of time, after which I returned to the classroom hugging my hands beneath my armpits.  I suppose I thought that if I were sussed I’d only get the cane anyway.  Actually, I got away with it.  In the words of the the song, ‘I disremember what’ my misdemeanour had been. I must have been about nine years old.

In due course I will describe the corrective system of my Jesuit Grammar School.


  1. They have no business doing this to students. That is the parent’s responsibility. I got a few slaps in the face and daddy’s leather belt on my bum as a child.

      1. Over here, if a teacher disciplines a child the teacher may face legal issues. Yet they can indoctrinate them into a socialistic life as far as I’m concerned. It’s so vile.

  2. It reads like a horror story now. My dad told me in his first class at school (when he was five) his teacher had a rocking horse and a chair leg. If you were good you got a turn on the horse; if you were bad, you were hit with the chair leg.

  3. We had a principal who would dole out the beatings. The protocol was for the offending student to stand outside the classroom door and wait to be collected. Fortunately for me, there was washroom directly across the way, so when I heard him coming down the adjoining hallway, I would duck in the washroom and resume my standing when he was out of earshot, thus eluding the strap.

  4. This sort of physical bullying by teachers was waning when I was a child, though still occurred now and then. Some bad teachers resorted to mental abuse, with lots of screaming.

  5. So awful, even if it was commonplace at the time. Your description of the red-faced, heavy breathing–it certainly sounds like they were getting off on the beating. Ewww.

    Friends around my age or a little older talk about receiving corporal punishment from nuns and priests at Catholic schools, but it wasn’t allowed in public school. If a teacher had ever hit me, my mom would have been there in a second.

      1. You’re welcome, Derrick.
        Most likely if it was done routinely, I wouldn’t have told my mom either. But she did know somehow when I was mistreated.

  6. Dickensonian! “Please Ma’am, I don’t want more…..” Nothing more upsetting that adults who take out their frustrations on innocent children. I’m sorry this happened to you and to other children.

  7. My mother laughed when a teacher threw a chalk eraser at my younger sister — and yet she bragged about her strong tennis arm!

  8. It’s amazing what teachers used to get away with. Glad you came thru unharmed, Derrick. At least it would appear so 🙂 My eighth grade teacher, Sister Christine, would throw chalk. It’s a wonder she never blinded anyone. Can’t wait to hear your Jesuit experience.

  9. I taught 5-8th grade social studies in rural Georgia in 1980 because the social studies teacher had to quit teaching in the Spring because of a problem pregnancy. At that time, corporal punishment was allowed, but any teacher who wanted to use corporal punishment had to get another teacher to witness it. The students could be struck on the backside with (if I recall correctly) a ruler-sized switch. One of the male teachers really disliked the 7th-grade boys and would hit them as hard as he could I did not like to see the students beaten in anger. I used the threat of corporal punishment because it would break the cycle of me raising my voice and the class responding by getting even louder. I’m not aware of any other schools in Virginia or California allowing corporal punishment. I agree with another commenter who said it sounded like the two teachers were getting off on whacking the students.

  10. The only time I got the strap was when I was about 6, in a little country school that had students from Grade 1 to Grade 7. My brother Henry and his mate Walter were in Grade 7. It was Arbor day, and we had all raked the dead leaves in the yard into a big pile. We had brought potatoes from home to put in the leaves, and the teacher (Miss Grovum) was going to light the leaves; we would eat the roast potatoes.

    Well, either Henry or Walter had matches and decided they couldn’t wait for the teacher. Our school was right beside a little forest of pine trees, and she must have worried the fire would spread, and she’d be held responsible.

    So, she lined us all up, and strapped every one of us. She was very tiny, it didn’t hurt, and I remember she had tears in her eyes when she did it. But, it made a big impression on the little ones in our school, me included.

    We didn’t endure the sadistic cruelty so many of you obviously did

  11. That is a hilarious account. The narration is vivid and riveting —I can picture those perpetrators of corporal punishment as if they breathing down my own neck. Needless to say, this does remind me of many a ghoulish mentor.

  12. and so these “teachers” ere bullies could just do whatever they liked – I know so many people both genders who endured this type of punishment in the “name of god” and for that reason absolutely hated any part of that early schooling. My now elderly sister when to a private church high school with a scholarship – she never talked about it much, but when a reunion was in the offering she said “no thanks…it’s not something I was to reminisce about” – and obviously the situation didn’t come up again, as the next daughter and then me much later went to girls boarding schools which could have been better. Mine was a dogs dinner, but I did survive.

  13. Besides being bargaric, corporal punishment shows a lack of imagination and creativity. I had a big scary teacher for 8th grade study hall in public school who paddled everyone who admitted to talking while she was out of the room. Normally, I am an honest person, but have no regrets about lying in this case. I’m glad corporal punishment is not longer allowed in public schools.

  14. I’m so sorry you had to endure what you did, Derrick. 🙁
    Sadly, in those days right up through the 1960’s or so teachers could be abusive and get away with it. So sad. 🙁
    From ages 6 – 12, I only encountered 2 abusive teachers…who would be arrested today if they were teaching and did those things. The rest of my teachers were very kind and safe. I’m so glad for the good ones! 🙂
    Hmm…wonder if someone had let out a series of loud stinky farts at Miss Flaxman! 😉 😀

  15. I’m so sorry that happened to you. What’s always confounded me as an adult is how the school setting expects children to behave in ways that they are not developmentally ready for–and then punishes them for behaving in ways that align with their developmental stage.Hopefully, that doesn’t happen as much anymore.

  16. Absolutely appalling treatment. Did these teachers seriously believe their violence was making the place a better world?

  17. I don’t remember anyone inflicting such punishment when I was in school: at least, until I reached 10th grade and had the wrestling coach as my algebra/geometry teacher. He had a big fraternity paddle that hung on the wall, but I don’t remember him using that. What he would use on the boys from time to time was his huge college ring. One thump of that against a hard head would get attention.

    My mother had her own method, of course. Velveeta cheese came in two pound blocks, inside a balsa wood box with a sliding lid. That lid, once removed, made a lovely “TWANG!!!” when applied to a posterior. After one or two experiences, all it took to get me back in line was the question: “Do you want me to get the lid?”

  18. Oh Derrick, That’s is one more story that will prompt a telling of my own. At home we might be threatened with the wooden spoon. At school there was never any occasion when you could get more that sic from the cane.

  19. We had similar corporal punishments in our school days too! Although I never got punished throughout my schooling years, I recall how the thwack of a ruler or the cane would make my stomach churn or give me a headache when I witnessed these punishments which the boys got. I’m glad our city schools have banned corporal punishments.

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