Corporal Punishment in Fiction

I attended a private school and Grammar School in Cornwall during the 1960s. Both schools were known as Caning Schools because of the extensive use of corporal punishment, especially my private school. Caning was administered by the Headmaster in his study, and trousers had to be taken down before bending over and touching toes. Since the number of strokes could be varied, I received 1-2 strokes of the cane for fairly minor offenses up to 6-8 strokes for serious misbehavior. Being sent to the Headmaster invariably resulted in the cane and a return to class, red-faced, in tears, and disheveled to face the ridicule of one’s classmates. On average, I was caned about 2-3 times a term, and there were three terms in a school year. I would love to hear from anyone who had a similar experience at school. The private school was mixed, and girls were also caned but much less often. The Grammar School was boys only, but the Girls’ Grammar school next door did administer the cane, but again a lot less frequently than in the boy’s school.


If you attended a private school I can only presume that your parents approved of corporal punishment. Did they ever spank you at home?
I went to a boy’s state grammar school. A lot of teachers there used a plimsoll in the classroom. It hurt but at least it was across the trousers. The headmaster and deputy’s head gave canings for more serious misbehavior. There was an adjoining girls’ grammar school next to my school but I never knew of any girls being caned or slippered there. Were the girls in either of your schools caned across their bottoms or was it across hands for them?


My parents thoroughly approved of corporal punishment and yes, it was practiced at home. During my admission interview, the Head told my father I would be caned if I misbehaved and he said that’s why they had selected the school. I was slippered at the Grammar School and caned by the Head or his deputy for more serious offenses. Most offenses seemed to be serious! I know for a fact the girls at the Grammar School next door were caned across the bottom. Caning on hands was considered likely to cause injury.


I went to a state school, and the cane was still in use by the headmaster across the palm of the hand and across the bottom. I received both. Once across the hands, and twice across the seat of my trousers.


My mother certainly approved of spanking at home. I just accepted that if I misbehaved I’d be punished. I didn’t live in terror of it. It certainly hurt and I remember my bottom sometimes still being a bit sore the next morning.
The school cane was very different it scared me but if I was in trouble there I just had to accept it. I was in my first year for my first school caning. Three of us had been caught ‘play fighting’ on the stairs. After a lecture about the dangers of such games, the headmaster produced a cane. He just said to one boy “You know what to do.” Obviously not his first school caning he bent over the end of the headmaster’s desk. I watched as he took three hard strokes.
Then it was my turn. The head just said, “Now you.” I just did as the other lad had done. The desk felt hard, different from over the knee, sofa arm or my bed. The cane was equally as different. It seemed to cut into my bottom. With spankings, the sting built up but the cane was instant agony. I was almost unaware of the third lad being caned.
I had a note to take home for my mother to sign. She said very little except that now I knew what to expect if I really misbehaved in school.


I also had to bend over my headmaster’s desk when I was caned twice across my backside. Similar experience, especially the after-effects. Spankings over my Dad’s knees would leave me with a sore bottom for a while.


Thinking back it was odd that spanking at home seemed to stop for most youngsters at around at a certain age yet in school we could and sometimes were caned till we were older.
I’m not sure it was the same for some girls though. I remember one girl panicking about being home late one evening. When I asked why she was so worried she said she’d already been late home once that week and had been warned. I didn’t dare push for too much more information but she did say she was still treated like her younger brother and sister.


The regime at your private school sounds fairly draconian.  Two or three canings a term, each of up to eight strokes!  Not something I would have cared to encounter.  And with trousers down and over underpants only too!  Quite unusual that practice for boys I think.  I’ve no personal experience in receipt of the cane at all but I’ve read a great many accounts by others of both sexes who were less fortunate.

Some argue that with a painfully penetrative implement with a highly concentrated area of impact like the cane, and assuming normal school clothing, it makes little difference to the overall pain experienced whether the punishment is delivered over trousers or otherwise.

I am sure though that there must be differences in the degree of embarrassment and perception of how bad the experience is going to be, and indeed is.  If being caned in private I suppose the embarrassment is minimized.

At the private school you attended were canings by the headmaster conducted on a one-to-one basis, or was there a witness, or witnesses to punishments?  As you say the school was co-ed possibly there was the female staff.  If so, and if witnesses were involved, were they ever female?  Were groups, for instance, those involved in the same offense, caned together?

Were any adjustments ever made to underpants prior to the cane being administered, pulling up, pulling tight or similar?   Was the degree of severity adjusted solely via the number of strokes or did the headmaster ever cane on the bare in cases of considerable misbehavior?  Was the cane ever delivered publicly, in assembly for instance, for gross misconduct, and if so was any disrobing enforced then?


I knew almost nothing of girls receiving CP when I was at school, 1953 – 1966. The infant section of my primary school both boys and girls had the same, slaps across the backs of their legs, generally one firm slap. In the junior section only boys received CP and only very occasionally.
Back then many youngsters were spanked at home, myself included. Mum would put me across her knee and slap my bottom, what she called a ‘tanning’ or a ‘good hiding’.
I passed my 11+ and went to the local boys grammar school. Most senior schools used CP back then. It was the cane or slipper in my school. At least I kept my trousers on there! There was an adjoining girls school but I never knew if CP was used there. I was aware that some girls had it at home, my aunt used to spank my cousins.

The Dragon in the Garden by Reginald Maddox. United Kingdom. 1968.

The book is written in the first person as the memories of a boy named Jimmy Stewart who is 13 and has never been to school. His somewhat unconvential artist parents have taught him at home, but after a fight, his father decides he needs to go to school to learn how to deal with other people and he is sent to the local all boys comprehensive. On his first day, his new classmates tell him that the best way to get along with their strict Form Master, is to make sure you call him “Charles” and never “Charlie.” When Jimmy does this, he is asked to identify the boy who told him this and when he does so (with no real understanding that you don’t tell on other people) that boy receives two strokes of the cane on his hands in front of the class. The Form Master intends to cane Jimmy, who refuses on the grounds that he didn’t know he was doing anything wrong, and that he doesn’t believe in corporal punishment anyway. He is sent to the Headmaster who impresses him with his fairness, making it clear that he will be caned and be expected to accept that if he deserves it, but on this occasion he won’t be.

Later on in the book, he mentions being slippered on the backside by the Gym Master who he likes and respects, when he deserves it.

I can’t avoid mentioning one other scene – he is sent to school because of a fight with a local bully named ‘Fagso’. When Jimmy’s father and Jimmy encounter Fagso engaged in an act of mindless vandalism, his pacifist father winds up putting Fagso across his knee and spanking him until he’s bawling like a little boy.


The Machine Gunners by Robert Westall. United Kingdom. 1975.

Set in a dockside city of England during the bombing raids of the Second World War. The local children collect souvenirs from the bombing – the more dramatic the better. Chas McGill has the second best collection of war souvenirs in the city – second only to his archenemy, the bully, Bodser Brown – and then in the wreckage of a German bomber hidden in the woods, Chas finds the ultimate souvenir – a machine gun and 2000 rounds of ammunition.

There are three canings in this book – Chas manipulates Bodser into getting six of the best for stealing souvenirs from the same plane Chas got the machine gun from (thus diverting attention as well), and also receives three strokes for for not paying attention in assembly. But the most detailed events surround a fight between Chas and Bodser where Chas seriously injures the much bigger boy by using his gas mask case as a weapon and receives six of the best across his bottom on the grounds that “British boys fight with their fists.”


Fathom Five by Robert Westall. United Kingdom. 1979.

Sequel to The Machine Gunners. Two years after the events described in that book, Chas McGill becomes convinced there is a spy operating in the city passing on shipping information to the Germans. Along with his friends (at least the ones who aren’t still locked up in Approved Schools and Borstals – Chas, coming from a ‘good background’ escaped with a birching) he investigates.

Less corporal punishment in this book than the previous with only one brief description. I really only mention it because I’m following on from the previous book and because it’s a fairly interesting description talking about his friend Cem always reacting with near hysterical laughter whenever he is caned simply as a nervous reaction.


The Headmaster’s Son by Tom Holland.

Jack Cairn is the Headmaster’s son, but far from being proud of his son the headmaster regards him as a lazy, morose, dull boy and a huge disappointment. Jack is bullied at school and very unpopular. Things come to a head over a skirmish with another boy and both are caned in front of the whole school at assembly. The headmaster automatically thinks his useless son must have been the instigator and so gives the other lad a token two strokes on his hand, whilst Jack gets a severe thrashing across his bottom. Improbably this becomes the turning point and with the encouragement of his kindly form master, to whom he pours his heart out after the teacher finds him sobbing shortly after his caning, Jack turns his life around by becoming the best football player in the school, eventually earning the respect of his father.


The Offenders by RH Ward early 60s UK
The book is set in a boarding school and it has several canings in it. First one of note is where the main character a prefect gives a bully eight strokes. The bully is wearing pajamas and the scene describes the bully taking his dressing gown off before bending over.

The Housemaster then canes the prefect because he had been making love to the Headmaster’s niece, and the Housemaster thought that he had been making love to another boy. He orders the prefect to lower his trousers and underpants and to raise his shirt. To the Housemaster’s surprise the boy strips completely before bending over. This puts off the Housemaster so muh that he doesn’t realise how hard he is caning, and hits hard enough to break the skin.

By the way the prefect is demoted as well as gated for the remainder of his time at the school, (several weeks before the end of term before going to university).