The Lochgelly tawse (“the belt”) in Scottish schools

I wonder if anyone like me is fascinated by the belt and the way it was used in Scottish schools. This fearful implement, the best of which were made in Lochgelly in Fife, was administered to the upturned palms of Scottish school pupils of both sexes, and it was in common use in classrooms until the mid 1980’s when CP was abolished. In Scottish Approved Schools (for young offenders) it was administered severely across the buttocks.


I’ve only ever heard of or read of the tawse being used on the heads in Scottish schools of any type. I have seen mention of the tawse by used in Walsall schools in the West Midlands. Walsall was known to be was the centre of the Midlands leather industry in the past so it was a local product. I remember reading of a brother and sister at the same school both receiving the tawse for a joint offence. The report said that the boy bent over and had it across his bottom whereas his sister received it on her hands.


Paddling rates have not gone down everywhere as precipitously as they have in Florida.

West Texas and the Deep South will have state college school trained education majors taught by teachers that have been spanked in their recent past.  It is even more entrenched than I imagined.  Fewer schools paddle but not all those that do are anytime soon be kept from being part of their discipline maintenance policy.

“Miss Langley then spoke of Ethel Milton,  who had had 12 strokes of the tawse on the seat.”  a Home Office internal memorandum dated 14 June 1923 regarding the use of corporal punishment at Kenilworth Training School for Girls. Further down in that document, we find the following:

“Miss Langley showed me the letters the girls had written to their parents, in which they expressed themselves as being very unhappy and as having never before had “their clothes turned up” and a whipping given them on the seat. All these letters were burnt and Miss Langley undertook to tell the girls that they must write to their parents and say that they were going to be good in future, instead of harping on what had happened. I then saw Gladys Corbett alone, an older girl, who was very bitter at first about the fact that Miss Langley whipped girls. She said that the bigger girls felt that though they had behaved well themselves they were not trusted and would get the tawse on the seat for the slightest thing. 


I’m a bit surprised at girls or boys complaining of getting the tawse across their bottoms back in the 1920s. Back then school corporal punishment in the UK was accepted as generally right and proper provided it was deserved and not used excessively.
Many parents also employed corporal punishment as a usual punishment in the home too. The majority of schools had some rules or at least guidelines how it should be administered. whereas there was little advice to parents as to how they should punish their children. I think to a great extent many parents did much as their own parents had done. Some of course did use it far less particularly if they’d been punished excessively themselves.
Nowadays of course parental CP is all but banned in UK homes. I grew up in the 1950s/60s when plenty of parents still used CP in the home. It varied greatly family to family. Implements varied too, some used a slipper or strap but many just gave a few sharp slaps with the hand.


There is a considerable difference between 12 strokes of the tawse on the knickers with skirt or dress folded back, the sort of punishment which was in use at Knowle Hill at the time of the 1923 difficulties, and the recommended changes to the rules after the events at Knowle Hill, a light cane or tawse to be used and punishment to be administered on the hands only, a maximum of three strokes on each hand.

This was apparently modified to include punishment on the seat in exceptional circumstances, but only after reference to, and the approval of, the Chief Inspector.   It is clear that the general sentiment of the Home Office and its inspectors was that punishments at Knowle Hill had been excessive, though in a period of some considerable difficulties arising from the change of Superintendent.

It was certainly the case that in reformatory-type institutions for young offenders, excesses were not unknown throughout the time corporal punishment was in use.  In the 1950s, as I’ve recounted here on various occasions, a young acquaintance was ‘sent away’ to an approved school for his exploits with a catapult.  I might have joined him had anyone checked on the ‘manufacturer’ of the specially cast lead slugs involved but happily, they didn’t so I wasn’t subjected to a regime where when administering the cane ‘over normal clothing’ was often locally interpreted as ‘on the bare’.

We may or may not be surprised at that sort of thing, and the excesses at Knowle Hill, happening.   But we certainly should not be surprised if the inmates subjected to them complained!