Punishment at St Joseph’s Collge School Blackpool

This school closed so the memoirs are completely uncensored.  Below is a selection of stories from this school, augmented by information  gained at old boys reunions. While  of the contributors would  objected to being strapped for real offences, they object to being used made schoolwork.

Les Charles
Les Charles was an ex-pupil of the school and had attended when the use the strap would have been relentless.

“Les Charles was a teacher who many of us feared and hated. He once gave me ‘six of the best’ for spelling Louisbourg in the French way, rather than Louisburg which was the English spelling. He just announced arbitrarily that everyone who had made a spelling mistake would get a good hiding .It wasn’t planned, with Charles it never was. He just came in one morning and decided to dispense a little wrath. With him, it was a way of life.(Editorial Note. My memory from experience is that it was about two inches wide rather than the one and a quarter inches standard.  It came from a factory in Northern Ireland, was machine stitched and had a lead in the end which ensured maximum pain.) Six of the strap from Charles was something to fear. He used the long strap which was 24 inches long, three inches wide and rigid from layers of leather. The pain was excruciating and clung to your hands for 15 minutes. The pain of one blow to the hand was agony but ‘six of the strap’ was indescribable. The worst experience was in winter when you were strapped with numb hands. The pain defies description as the heat of the strapping stung against the freezing flesh.“

“Today, some politicians hark back to the good old days of the Grammar Schools but for many of us who went there lessons, especially in the lower school, consisted of “turn to page …. read it and do Exercise …” For Latin and History we unfortunately had Mr Charles. The history course consisted in creating this enormous scroll which was a timeline from William 1st until ….. I don’t think we actually finished it. We simply had to learn the dates and events along the line. However it was the experience of the Latin lessons that possibly warped the psyche of many pupils. Each lesson we were given thirty or so words to learn and some sentences to translate for homework. The following lesson we were tested on these words and if we failed to respond correctly we had to stand in the queue and eventually be strapped. The marked exercise books were then thrown to each pupil by Mr C. unless the mark was below six out of ten when it was thrown on the floor at the front of the class from where the unfortunate boy had to retrieve it and again wait in a line to be strapped. Mr C. was a well built man, well over six foot and a stroke of the strap from him certainly matched Joyce’s description above. He really enjoyed the process as you could see from the jocular way he did it but he put his all into each stroke as though it was some trial of strength on his part.”

Editorial note – These memories are all from the early nineteen sixties. I got to the school later in1965 and was taught be him for two terms.  Although the marked  exercise books were then thrown to each pupil by Mr Charles, no one was called to the front to be strapped any more.  I had wrote my first essay from him, which was a bit controversial, and sensing troublemaker in his midst called me up to the front desk, rather theatrically opened his briefcase and showed me the strap and said “two of the strap and get it over with now or two hundred lines!”.  I chose the lines, which I suspect he knew I would.

Alf Pope
Alf pope was an ex Lancashire team cricketer who taught sport. He left the school following reports that he slipper boys on the bare arse.

“Being told to hang from the top of the wall-bars, facing the wall with our legs, bent at the knees, out at right-angles. Anyone whose legs started to droop was picked off by one of those in Alf’s coterie of bullies, dragged over to the “horse” and beaten by Alf with his favourite cricket bat.”

“The horrors –  Alf Pope and his damnable cricket bat, especially if it was anyone’s birthday.”

Kevin Hickey
Kevin hickey was also an ex-pupil of the school and in his youth a champion boxer.  He ran the school boxing team and got good results.

“Those who had the pleasure of being taught by Bro. Shreenan, Corny to his mates, will remember that he ranked in the top two or three as being strap happy. Not only that, but as he walked up and down the class room aisles he would occasionally, whilst smiling sweetly, through a punch at some poor boy’s shoulder. One day he did it to Kevin Hickey, all England junior heavy weight boxing champion. Kevin gave it back to Corny with interest and a similar sweet smile!”

“The history teacher Hickey (orange hair) who was a sadist and also took PT. He used to wallop you with a gym shoe for no good reason. He had a particular hatred for a guy called Michael Bell. I saw Hickey being interviewed on TV some years ago when he turned up as the coach of the England Olympic boxing team. I wanted to throw something at the TV screen”.

“Personal Enemy Number One was the History/P.E. bod, Kevin Hickey. He was a thick-set, muscular, pink-faced and ginger-headed boxing coach and he and I took an instant dislike to each other. He started on me with a heavy, ominous one-on-one wigging simply for not writing in paragraphs. But if he thought that would galvanise me into action – well, it had the opposite effect. I didn’t see why I should attempt to learn from this brute and he made no attempt to engage with me, and so on twenty-six occasions – yes, I counted them – I would receive ‘four’ or ‘six’, depending on his mood, for non-existent homework. That’s around 130 ‘strappings’ off a single teacher in a single school year (1966-7) and this didn’t include P.E. where he would have me hanging off the climbing bars or bent over the gym ‘horse’ for more beatings with a plimsoll. I wasn’t alone; he always picked on the weak or less adept, deliberately mispronouncing their names or pretending to have let them off before suddenly rounding upon them with an unanswerable question. On the rugby pitch, his favourite ploy was to whack boys right between the shoulder blades for not putting their heads far enough down in the scrum. Then, when the scrum collapsed, he’d whack them again.”

“For me the good luck time finally expired on a day when I was about fourteen, I had been late getting ready for school, and hurrying to get the bus. In my error I had read the wrong day on my timetable, we were getting gym on the second last period of the day, and in my hurry I had read the next day, which meant I had left out my gym kit. It was only when we arrived at school and I saw the rest of the boys in class with their kits that I realised my mistake. I knew this was my day that I would finally experience what I had dreaded since the day I first arrived at Joe’s at the hands of Mr Hickey. He hated me because although I tried to do things I was no good at it. Anyway as the day drew on the time had come to make for the gym.

As usual you were asked at the start if everyone had their kit with them, and anyone not having theirs to step down to his table. I walked down with my heart trembling. “please sir” I said “I don’t have my kit.” “Why not?” he asked me. “I forgot to put it in my bag this morning as I was in a hurry to get the bus.” He said to me well you’re not supposed to forget are you,
Thomson.” “No sir” I said. “Well you know the rules for not having your kit, and I’m going to give you something that will help you remember in future.” He went into the drawer of his desk and brought out his strap. “Right hand up” he said. I raised my hand, and I remember I was trembling trying to keep my hand from shaking as I saw him bring his arm down three cracks followed as the three strokes hit my outstretched hand. I fought desperately to stop the tears welling in my eyes, so the boys wouldn’t see what a wimp I was crying but I just couldn’t. I put my hand down. “I’m not finished yet boy” Hickey said. “Get your other hand up” he shouted. “Please sir, I’m sorry. I wont do it again.” I told him through my tears. “Don’t keep me waiting. Get you hand up.” I put my other hand up and received another three strokes. I was now sobbing uncontrollably, my hands swollen and numb with pain. “Now come with me”. We went into the equipment cupboard where he got me a spare kit that was about three times to large for me and told to return it after the period. That was my first experience of being given the strap, and only one of the many I was to receive during my time at Joe’s.”

“If boys misbehaved in the Gym, Hickey would, as a first resort, slap them hard on the back, or punch then in the solar plexus.  I particularly remember my fellow boarder Ken Newton getting this treatment.  His other favourite was the pump on the backside. He gave Peter Skiba six of the best in this way just because he had decided to quit the boxing team.  I once saw him cane someone over the horse with a cricket stump.  (Apart from having to hang on the wall bars a few times, I got away scot-free.)”

Brother Brennan and Joss O’Leary

Latin was taught to us initially by Bro. Brennan (‘Ichabod’ or ‘Icky’). A deceptively mild-mannered man, he disdained the use of the Vatican-issue strap, and generally used a sawn-off billiard cue in lieu. His use of the strap was confined to the mass-executions in line, which followed the verbal examination of the previous evening’s allotted task of learning Latin vocabulary.
After Ichabod, Latin fell to Joss O’Leary, who was also our Form Master for a couple of years. He was a real character. He had a stoop and a double-curvature of the spine, and his moods could be unpredictable. From time to time, he would storm into the Latin class and announce, “I am having a blitz on this class. I shall give forty slaps this lesson.” Every minor peccadillo, every stumbling over a translation, was rewarded with a stroke of the strap. He made a tally on the blackboard, and frequently failed to achieve the magic figure, forty. No bother to him! Sitting together at the back of the class were Tony Boak and I, both tall for our age. Having tallied his total he would say, for example, “I have six slaps left. Ennis, Boak, the Two Colossi, you can have three each. Out you come!” When teaching the finer points of Latin style, he would write his perfect example on the board, and announce, “Me and Cicero would have put that!” Frequently, when leaving the class, he would remark, “My chariot awaits,” as he made for the door. Once we were being taught German by Bernard Howe in the Form IV Classroom; this was a large room on the 1st Floor of the old building, on the right of the entrance hall. It was divided into two classrooms by a concertina-type partition of wood and glass. Suddenly, there was an uproar from next door. The partition bulged as some heavy object was repeatedly pushed against it, accompanied by shouts and groans, and the sound of something or someone being struck by a blunt instrument, such as a crucifix. Howe stood, undecided, for a few seconds, then rushed to the connecting door between the two classes. As he entered, Joss O’Leary’s voice was heard, “It’s alright, Mister Howe; I’m just battering this boy!”

“The use of the strap for the most innocuous of reasons. With Latin at least 4 times a week (Joss), and my various other misdemeanours I reckon I must have had a dose of the strap at least twice a week.”

Brother O’Sullivan
“Brother O’Sullivan, Osul, taught me a lesson I will never forget. In either third or fourth year one day I had been kept in detention for some reason and I ended up waiting for my bus in the shelter on Newton Drive opposite the No 4 pub. Along with me were some older boys from a later year. They were larking about and a window in the shelter was smashed. Then we heard the booming voice from above “COME OUT YOU LOT”. We did and found Osul had been patrolling behind the school wall. He told us all to report to his office in the morning and we did, all of us. I told him I was not with the older boys and they agreed and one of them attempted to own up. Osul said we were going to get six of the best and we did. I still said it was not fair and he said to me “Life is not fair. You will find that out.” I did find out there and then and this has stayed with me all my life, a very valuable lesson but I did not think so at the time.”

Peter Lavin

Peter Lavin taught French and History.

“He gave you two strokes on the strap for every question you got wrong in history homework”

“He gave two pupils twelve strokes on each hand”

“He once lost the plot and kept on strapping a pupil.  One boy, with presence of mind, ran to another class to fetch a teacher to make him stop”.

Brother McGovern

“He gave me four of the strap when I went though Pythagoras Theorem on the black board because, although I got it completely right, I forgot to write QED at the bottom”.

“Brother McGovern, our maths teacher, would strap for no reason at all if he felt in the mood. I remember a boy called Mick Atkinson who was always getting fours and sixes and I felt very sorry for him. Sometimes to prolong the agony he would send Atkinson to the headmaster to borrow a strap from the headmaster. He would then return it. This whole spectacle would take up ten minutes of a forty-five minute period.

“There were three Beaumont brothers in the school. The largest, Mike was over six foot tall and not played for the fifth for, first fifteen but for local adult teams as well.  The youngest brother, Geoff was in the first form, when McGovern gave him six strokes on his wrists, which resulted in considerable visible physical injury.  Mike beat brother McGovern up after school, and as he was walking down the back drive to take his brother to be attended to at the hospital, the headmaster came after him, and sensing a potential scandal, said “Can we resolve this matter another way?” The upshot was Mike was not punished and Brother McGoverhn was ordered never to strap Geoff.”

Mr. Smailes

“Our form teacher in form 2A was Edward Smailes. 2A was classroom just outside the Headmaster’s office he chose to do demonstrate his power to control a class by ensuring that boys did not talk between lessons when there was no teacher present. He also possessed a particularly thick, wide and painful strap. This has multiple seams all down it which made it particularly rigid and it was the envy of other teachers in the school.

Accordingly, he had appointed a boy named Jonathan Toase, (top of the class and chief swot), as ‘talk monitor’.  He had bucked teeth which made him sound as if he had a lisp when he talked, and was a nasty piece of work. He used to sit at the desk in front of me in class and the lid of which had a hole in it. Once he stuck one arm of a compass though the hole and pushed my hand down on it, and skewered my hand. I am not a violent person but I should really have given him a slap, as we say in London.

To resume, Toase was supposed to write down in a register those who had talked between lessons and how many times they did so. However, he was selective in his entries – he wrote down the names of those boys who were least likely to harm him when he grassed them up. So on the ‘day of reckoning’ that took place every two weeks Mr. S. would look though the register and call out the names for those to be punished.
The usual list of suspects included Andrew Noblett, Tim Gibbon, Nick Clark and me.

One way or another Mr. Smailes ensured that every boy got the strap at least once a term.  He does wasn’t excessive, just one on the non-writing hand, but it stung for a good ten minutes.
His control technique worked.  He was our form master in form 3 A as well.  Once he had to leave, the class to addend to a call of nature.  He placed the strap on the desk and said “read you books till I come back and don’t talk”. 30 boys read and sat in complete silence for ten minutes or so. As far as I can remember he never used the strap in that year at all.”