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Birching at Eton

June 24 2005 at 10:53 PM

I read with interest "karen's" post (24/6/2005) which, whether genuine or not, highlighted the shear indecency regarding the manner in which american schoolgirls are paddled in some schools in the south, and the obvious sexual nature of paddling.

Having had a long interest in the history of corporal punishment, I thought I would post some notes on the birching of schoolboys at Eton public school in the 18th and 19th centuries, on which I have recently conducted in
depth research, as this also highlights the indecency of corporal punishment of this type, and draws attention to the indecent exposure involved. This aspect is so often ignored, or swept under the carpet when the subject is written about.

During this period of history boys of the ages of 11 to 18 were regularly "flogged" (i.e.birched) at Eton for any and every offence. As in Karen's post, the most interesting aspect of these floggings is the actual manner in which the floggings were administered, and the position the boy was placed in for flogging.

Eton had several "flogging blocks", which were piecee of furniture upon which the boys were birched. This piece of furniture consisted of a block of wood about 2ft high, in the shape of two steps, the lower one being about 10" from the floor, and the upper one forming the top of the block. When a boy was to be birched, he had to completely remove his trousers and underpants, and mount the block. He did this by kneeling on the lower step, bending forward and resting his belly on the top of the block, and placing his hands flat on the floor on the far side of the block. Once in this position, younger boys would be strapped to hold them firmly in position, with two straps around his calves just below his knees, and another thicker strap around the small of his back, holding his belly firmly against the top of the block, to restrict movement of the boy's bottom during flogging. The knee straps would normally be placed about 18" apart, causing the knees to be spread apart. Older boys were expected to hold this position without being strapped.

Once in this position, the boy's bottom was fully exposed, with the buttocks parted, fully exposing his anal cleft, perineal region and scrotum.

Then the flogging would begin. The birches used at eton were really quite savage instruments. Five feet long (3 feet of handle and 2 feet of "bush")The "bush" end being about12" in diameter. They were well soaked in brine to make the twigs supple and strong before use. The strokes (of which up to five dozen could be given in a single flogging)were delivered with the master's full strenth.

With the victim in the position described above, each stroke of the birch would totally cover every square inch of the boy's bottom, with the lower part of the birch lashing the upper thighs and exposed perineal area on virtually every stroke, and stray twigs lashing into the anal cleft between the splayed buttocks. The perineal region is the area between the anus and scrotum, for those who don't know.

At the end of a severe flogging, the whole of the victim's bottom would be a raw and bloody mass of weals, from the small of his back down to his upper thighs, and every bit of flesh in between, including his anal, perineal and scrotal regions. The boy was being flogged "on his bottom", and I must presume that these areas were considered to part of his "bottom" and therefore fair game. Younger boys (say 11 - 14 year olds) invariably wet (and somtimes soiled) the flogging block at some point during the flogging.

So, there you have it. Birching at Eton as it really was, without the nastier aspects "hushed up" for the sake of decency.

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Birching at Eton

June 27 2005, 1:34 AM 

Interesting - See poem below by victorian etonian A.C Swinburne, in which he describes a typical birching at the school. Note the following verse about half way down:

"Where between his white thighs, something hairy, the body's division reveals - Falls the next stroke, and now Charlie Collingwood's bottom is all over weals" .

This is surely a reference to the birch twigs lashing the boy's exposed perineum and scrotum.

Seventeen years of age, with round limbs, and broad shoulders, tall, rosy and fair,
And all over his forehead and temples, a forest of curly red hair;
Good in the playing fields, good on the water, or in it, this lad:
But at sums, or at themes, or at verses, oh! ain't Charlie Collingwood bad?
Six days out of seven, or five at the least, he's sent up to be stripped;
But it's nuts for the lower boys always, to see Charlie Collingwood whipped;
For the marks of the birch on his bottom are more than the leaves on a tree,
And a bum that has worn so much birch out, as Charlie's, is jolly to see.
When his shirt is turned up, and his breeches, unbuttoned, hang down to his heels,
From the small of his back, to the thick of his thighs is one mass of red weals.
Ted Beauchamp last year began keeping a list of his floggings and he
Says, they come; in a year-and-a-half, to a hundred and sixty and three.
And you see how this morning, in front of the flogging block silent he stands,
And hitches his waistband up slightly, and feels his backside with his hands.
Then he lifts his blue eyes to the face of the Master, nor shrinks at his frown,
Nor at sight of the birch, nor at sound of the sentence of judgment, "Go down."
Not a word, Charlie Collingwood says, not a syllable, piteous or pert;
But goes down with his breeches unbuttoned, and Errington takes up his shirt.
And again we can see his great naked red bottom, round, fleshy, and plump.
And the bystanders look from the Master's red rod, to the schoolboy's red rump:
There are weals over weals, there are stripes upon stripes, there are cuts after cuts,
All across Charlie Collingwood's bottom, and isn't the sight of it nuts?
There, that cut on the fleshiest part of the buttocks, high up on the right,
He got that before supper last evening, oh! isn't his bottom a sight?
And that scar that's just healed, don't you see where the birch cut the flesh?
That's a token of Charlie's last flogging, the rod will soon stamp it afresh.
And this morning you saw he could hardly sit down, or be quiet in Church;
It's a pleasure to see Charlie's bottom, it looks just cut out for the birch.
Now, look out, Master Charlie, it's coming: you won't get off this time, by God!

For your Master's in, oh, such a wax! and he's picked you out, oh, such a rod!
Such a jolly good rod, with the buds on, so stout, and so supple and lithe,
You've been flogged till you're hardened to flogging, but won't the first cut make you
You've been birched till you say you don't care as you used for a birching! Indeed?
Wait a bit, Master Charlie, I'll bet the third cut or the fourth makes you bleed.
Though they say a boy's bottom grows harder with whipping, and times make it
Yet the sturdiest boy's bottom will wince if the Schoolmaster whips it enough.
Aye, the stoutest posteriors will redden, and flinch from the cuts as they come.
If they're flogged half as hard as the Master will flog Charlie Collingwood's bum.
We shall see a real jolly good swishing, as good as a fellow could wish;
Here's a stunning good rod, and a jolly big bottom just under it - Swish!
Oh, by Jove, he's drawn blood at the very first cut! in two places by God!
Aye, and Charlie's red bottom grows redder all over with marks of the rod.
And the pain of the cut makes his burning posteriors quiver and heave.
And he's hiding his face-yes, by Jove, and he's wiping his eyes on his sleeve!
Now; give it him well, Sir, lay into him well, till the pain makes him roar!
Flog him, then, till he stops, and then flog him again, till he bellows once more!
Ah, Charlie, my boy, you don't mind it, eh do you? it's nothing to bear.
Though a small boy may cry for a flogging, that's natural, but Charlie don't care.
That's right, Sir, don't spare him! that cut was a stinger, but Charlie don't mind;
All the rods in the kingdom would only be wasted on Charlie's behind,
At each cut, how the red flesh rises, the red weals tingle and swell!
How he blushes! I told you the Master would flog Charlie Collingwoodwell.
There are long red ridges and furrows, across his great, broad, nether cheeks,
And on both his plump, rosy, round buttocks, the blood stands in drops and in
Well hit, Sir! Well caught! how he drew in his bottom, and flinched from the cut!
At each touch of the birch on his bum, how the smart makes it open and shut!
Well struck, Sir, again, how it made the blood spin! there's a drop on the floor,
Each long, fleshy furrow grows ruddy, and Charlie can bear it no more.
Blood runs from each weal on his bottom, and all Charlie's bottom is wealed
'Twill be many a day ere the scars of this flogging are thoroughly healed.
Now just under the hollow of Charlie's bare back, where the flanks are aslope.
The rod catches and stings him, and now at the point where the downward ways ope;
Round his flanks, now like serpents, the birchen twigs twining bend round as they
And you see on his naked, white belly, red ridges, where all was so white.
Where between his white thighs, something hairy, the body's division reveals.
Falls the next cut, and now Charlie Collingwood's bottom is all over weals.
Not a twig on the rod, but has raised a red ridge on his flesh, not a bud,
But has drawn from his naked and writhing posteriors, a fresh drop of blood.
And the Schoolmaster warms to his work now, as harder and harder he hits,

And picks out the most sensitive places, as though he'd cut Charlie to bits.
"So you'll fidget and whisper in school-time, and make a disturbance in Church?
"Can't sit still, Master Charlie, eh, can't you? Well, what do you think of the birch?
"Oh, it hurts you so, does it, my boy, to sit down, since I flogged you last night?
"It was that made you fidget all church time? Indeed, you can't help it, please God-
"By the help of the birch, Master Charlie, I'll teach you to help it, please God-
"If you don't mend your manners in future, it shan't be for want of a rod.
"You're a big boy, no doubt, to be flogged; the more shame for you, Sir, at your age-
"But as long as you're here, I shall flog you," he lays on the cuts in a rage.
"Aye, and if you were older and bigger, you'd come to the flogging block still—
"Boys are never too big to be beaten!" he lays on the birch with a will,
"if a boy's not too old to go wrong, Sir, he can't be too old to be whipped;
"So take that!" and he lays on the rod, till the twigs all with crimson are tipped.
There are drops of the boy's blood visible now, on each tender young bud-
Blood has dropped on his trousers, and Charlie's bare bottom is covered with blood.
But I'd rather be shut up for days, in a hole you would scarce put a dog in.
And brought out once a day to be birched, than have missed Charlie Collingwood's
How each cut brings the blood to his forehead, and makes him bite half through his
How the birch cuts his bottom right over, and makes the blood spin from his hips!
How his brawny bare haunches, all bloody, and wealed, with red furrows like ruts,
Shrink quivering with pain at each stroke, that revives all the smart of past cuts!
How the Schoolmaster seems to hit harder, the birch to sting more at each blow!
Till at last Charlie Collingwood, writhing with agony, bellows out,"Oh!"
That was all; not a word of petition; a single short cry and no more;
And the younger boys laugh, that the birch should have made such a big fellow roar.
For a moment, the Master too pauses; but not for a truce or a parley:
Then the birch falls afresh, on the bloody wealed flesh, with "Take that, Master
All the small boys are breathless and hushed; but they hear not a syllable come,
They hear only the swish of the birch, as it meets Charlie Collingwood's bum.
And the Master's face flushes with anger; he signs to Fred Fane with a nod;
And Freddy reluctantly hands him another stout, supple birch rod.
And again as he flogs Charlie Collingwood's bottom, his face seems aflame;
At each cut he reminds him of this thing or that, and rebukes him by name.
Each cut makes the boy's haunches quiver, and scores them all over afresh;
You can trace where each separate birch twig has marked Charlie Collingwood's
Till the Master, tired out with hard work, and quite satiate with flogging for once.
With one last cut, that stings to the quick, bids him rise for an Obstinate Dunce.
From the block Charlie Collingwood rises, red faced, and with tumbled red hair.
And with crimson hued bottom, and tearful blue eyes, and a look of "Don't Care."

Then he draws up his breeches, and walks out of school with a crowd of boys
The heels of their hero, all proud to have seen Charlie Collingwood's flogging.


Birching at Eton

June 27 2005, 3:07 AM 

I have also read articles of the sexual nature of the birching of 11 - 18 year schoolboys at Eton particularly as it was done in the early 19th century.

Paul mentions that younger boys usually wetted during a flogging.

A more interesting physical effect of these birchings, however, was that frequently, at the end of the flogging, the victim had an erection. Whether this was caused by sexual arousal, or merely by the physical trauma and flow of blood to the area I don't know. Bearing in mind the shear savagery of the floggings at the school, and that a flogged boy was literally having every square inch of flesh on his buttocks and upper thighs, right up to his anal and perineal region, birched to a raw and bloody pulp, causing involuntary erection is really not surprising.

It's right that the true savagery and indecency of Eton's history should be brought to light.

Thanks for an interesting and enlightening post.



June 29 2005, 12:21 AM 

I have read accounts of birch twigs being embedded in the flesh. Presumably, boys depended on their chums to squeeze the twigs out. Little wonder those lads bonded for life i.e 'Old Boy Network' ...

Lotta Nonsense

Re: Re:

June 29 2005, 11:41 AM 

These posting may be interesting from a historical perspective but, if any reader is deriving the least bit of erotic pleasure from them, I urge him to seek therapy without delay.



July 4 2005, 4:36 PM 

This sounds like nonsense to me, as I know that great care was always taken to protect the genitals during birchings. Mostly legs were together for the spray birch, but special wooden protecters were used, and leather genital bags in some institutions. A lot of damage could have been done to the un-protected genitals and therefore this sounds like poetic nonsense.


Birching at Eton

September 18 2005, 3:10 AM 

A most interesting thread.

I have heard that in was common for some boys to be birched as frequently as once a week, mainly those who had what would be described today as "behavioural problems". This could add up to 40 birchings per year, and in a school career of from age 10 to 18, a total of 320 birchings. It is true that after an Eton type of birching, a boy's naked bottom would literally be a raw mass of blood, and he could have had this done to his bottom this many times throughout childhood and adolesence. It's not surprising that so many boys who were flogged frequently became hardened and indifferent to the whole ritual and experience of birching while mounted on the flogging block in the manner described.

Upon leaving the school at 18 or 19, most boys from aristocratic families in the 17th and 18th centuries would have gone straight into an arranged marriage, most probably to a girl who had also experienced regular birchings at an exclusive finishing school for young ladies.

Lotta Nonsense

Re: Birching at Eton

September 18 2005, 11:15 AM 

" . . . most probably to a girl who had also experienced regular birchings at an exclusive finishing school for young ladies."

The fantasy continues.

It never happened.


Re: Birching at Eton

September 18 2005, 1:59 PM 

We must take Miss Nonsense's word for this, folks. It's a little known fact that she personally monitored every Ladies Finishing school between 1750 and 1900.

Lotta Nonsense

Re: Birching at Eton

September 18 2005, 6:45 PM 

We'll find many references on the Internet to girls being whacked with a birch but the vast majority of such references are linked to porno websites where, of course, fantasy is not entirely unknown.

I have no wish to ruin readers' fantasies but if we're going to keep any sort of grip upon reality we'll have to accept that there's no evidence that any girl was ever birched on her bum at a British school.

The truth is that, if birched at all, a girl was birched relatively lightly on her neck and shoulders.

We read of such a birching in 'Jane Eyre' and, much to the chagrin of those who thought that Ms Bronte had used the word 'neck' as a euphemism for 'beautiful bare bottom', the nationally famous CP expert - our own dear Deep Pan - has confirmed that she herself was birched on her neck and shoulders at convent school in Ireland.

Like so many other things in the world of schoolgirl CP - birching on the bum NEVER HAPPENED.


Re: Birching at Eton

September 18 2005, 8:39 PM 

'Like so many other things in the world of schoolgirl CP - birching on the bum NEVER HAPPENED.'
End of story - another thread bites the dust!


Birching of girls

September 19 2005, 8:24 AM 

Of course birching of girls happened in the 19th century.

There are many references to this activity, and Gibson's famous book of the subject gives a number of instances.

In one sence "Lotta" IS correct - birching did NOT happen in "respectable" schools, so far as is known. However in workshouse type establishments and the infamous school at Clifton in bristol, it certainly happened.

There is the famous "Rochester WorkHouse" scandal where the man in charge [Was it James Milne?] was tried for birching young girls and, I believe, acquitted the first time round. The school at Clifton in bristol was run by a woman who specialised in birching girls - I do believe she, too, was taken to court and I think convicted.

So girls WERE birched at certain establishments which were set up for various reasons, not always of a "pure" nature.



Re: Birching of girls

September 19 2005, 8:31 AM 

53 Oakfield Road

November 1889

Mrs Heaton,


I have waited until later, because I thought I might get another letter from you. If your daughter is "feigning", we must certainly bring her to her senses. My reason for suggesting postponing the whipping for a little was simply that if she really was in bad health it might be wise to wait.

I will arrange to be quite free on Friday, and to give the punishment in the afternoon. I hope to have a quiet word with you prior to this, and the tawse will be in my pocket, to be produced when necessary.

You will oblige me by waiting in another room until I tap - when the girl is fastened. I wish to make her understand me alone, if possible. I prefer that she does not see you until after it is done. I propose to give Millicent about a dozen with the strap, and she will not forget that quickly. No injury will be done, and she will be sufficiently tender for a few days to remember it.

I hope that you may feel that your daughter has benefited by the whipping. I use the birch commonly; the tawse for serious punishment. Ten strokes of that will be severe for a girl. When I punish, I do it *thoroughly*, but not cruelly.

I am sure the punishment will cure the temper, and I hope to have the pleasure of showing you your daughter much improved.


[Extracted from a letter about four times as long published in "Truth", 21 November 1889.

Mrs Walter made it clear in a pamphlet she provided to parents thinking of bringing a daughter to her that, when she punished, it was on the bare buttocks, the recipient being required to bend over "a strong, narrow table" to which if necessary she could be secured.]


Re: Birching of girls

September 19 2005, 8:34 AM 

Ian Gibson, "The English Vice", 1978, p. 81.

'The report of the Schools Inquiry Commission ...

The Royal Patriotic Asylum ... was a girls' institution opened at Wandsworth in 1869 for the education of the children of victims of the Crimean War. When conditions at the school came to the notice of the House of Commons in 1863 it was found "among other things, that a girl who was within two months of having completed her fifteenth year had been flogged with a birch rod by the lady superindendant under the epxress direction of the chaplain.' ...

Then there were the girls' Reformatory and Industrial schools, details of which may be obtained from the 1868 Report. Here, as in the boys' schools of the same category, birch, cane and tawse were in frequent use. ...

[Mrs Cameron, superintendant of the Maryhill School, Glasgow:]

'Have you any corporal punishment? - Yes, we have.

How often? - The average I should think is two or three girls in a month.

Are they caned on the hand or on the back? - On the back; and not with the cane.

With a birch? - with a leathern tawse.

Of course it is done in private? - Yes.

How many strokes do you give? - I have given as many as five for a very serious offence.

Do you give that yoursel? - I give that myself. I keep the weapons locked up.'

[Mrs C. Hunter, superintendant East Chapelton Reformatory for Girls:]

'Will you tell me what a whipping consists of ? - All strokes with the tawse.

And on what part of the body? - On the hand, mostly.

Any otherwise? - Yes.

What, on the shoulders? - No, we put them to bed.'

The Chairman was not to be silenced by such a bizarre reply, and his further questioning of Miss Hunter revealed that, before a culprit was 'put to bed', she was 'stripped and whipped'."

Lotta Nonsense

Re: Birching of girls

September 19 2005, 10:42 AM 

It may be that the documents referred to above are entirely genuine - although one has to say that a publication called 'Truth' is no more likely to contain truth than a plane with 'Virgin' on the outside is likely to have one on the INside.

However, even if we allow the documents, with the best will in the world we have also to allow that such institutions are not 'schools' in the sense in which we understand the word on this forum.

Where a person is essentially a prisoner, who knows what might or might not befall him or her?


Re: Birching of girls

September 19 2005, 11:30 AM 

I really envy people like Lotta who are so certain that they, and only they, have all the facts the whole time.

She asks 'Where a person is essentially a prisoner, who knows what might or might not befall him or her?'. Quite correct but schools in the old days were very similar to prisons, in as much the 'inmates' had little chance of escape and, if they did manage it, they were usually dragged back and punished extremely severely.
It was stated that an Eton birching would leave the boy's backside a 'raw and bloody mess'. Further on it says that some boy's received 40 birchings a year - that's one every week and a half throughout his seven or eight year career there! If it was so horrific, how come the boys didn't abscond? It was that they were virtual prisoners, Lotta, so why do you think the girls weren't?

As far as having all the details of what went on in every school, boy or girl, there were hardly any ways that information could get out to the outside world. Perhaps the 'easy' ones were willing to publish their enlightened ways but I doubt if the 'hard' ones were!
The girls came out of such schools highly disciplined, I wonder how that was achieved? They certainly were better behaved and had better manners than most of today's youth and I don't think that came about by handling them with kid gloves.

You may be right, Lotta, it may never ever have happened but, unlike you, I wouldn't put my shirt on it.

Lotta Nonsense

Re: Birching of girls

September 19 2005, 11:56 AM 

Some people choose to believe in God. Others believe in ghosts while others believe girls were birched at 'normal' British schools.

If someone will produce evidence that any of the above beliefs are well-founded, I'll be pleased to consider it.

In the meantime, I remain sceptical.


Re: Birching of girls

September 19 2005, 3:42 PM 

It is quite correct that reformatories of various sorts, were not regular schools - but seeing this topic has come up, a little evidence for the fact that birching of girls did occur in such institutions.

The following is from The *Times* of November 9, 1900 - page 12.

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Re: Birching of girls

September 19 2005, 9:14 PM 

Anonymous contributions are not permitted.


Re: Birching of girls

September 19 2005, 9:37 PM 

Dean refrains from stating the obvious, namely that Miss Honnor Morten's strong objection to the birching of girls in their teens is a strong objection to birching girls on those parts of their bodies that at that stage of life develop as the 'secondary sexual characteristics', i.e. on the bum.

'Truth' is on microfilm in large libraries and anyone who can be bothered cane read it for themselves. It is scarcely less respectably stodgy than the Times extract quoted here.


Bob T

Re: Birching of girls

September 20 2005, 1:14 AM 

Seems to me that I remember Mrs. Knee Tremblers web site had several references to punishment books from the late 1800s that included many girls being birched.


birching at Eton

September 23 2005, 10:04 PM 

Paul, who tells us he has conducted in-depth research, writes:
[quote]... Once in this position, younger boys would be strapped to hold them firmly in position, with two straps around his calves just below his knees, and another thicker strap around the small of his back, holding his belly firmly against the top of the block, to restrict movement of the boy's bottom during flogging. The knee straps would normally be placed about 18" apart, causing the knees to be spread apart. Older boys were expected to hold this position without being strapped. Once in this position, the boy's bottom was fully exposed, with the buttocks parted, fully exposing his anal cleft, perineal region and scrotum. ...[/quote]

Although I have read a great deal on these matters over the decades -- and there are more first-person and eye-witness accounts of the Eton procedure in print than probably for any other school anywhere, given the special nature of the place -- I don't remember ever seeing these details before. As far as I am aware, the boy was simply held over the block by the praepostors using their hands. The business about fixing the knees apart with a strap sounds suspiciously like an S&M fantasy to me. From pictures of the block that are widely available, it doesn't appear to me that there would be any physical way of attaching such straps. Even Ian Gibson, who tries in his book to put the worst possible spin on every aspect of CP and is especially obsessed with what he perceives to be the iniquities of Eton, doesn't mention anything about this. Could Paul tell us the source for his in-depth research?


Taking it philosophically

September 24 2005, 8:08 AM 

A J Ayer, 'Part of my Life':

'The preparatory school to which I was sent was in Eastbourne and was called Ascham St Vincent's. ... The discipline was fairly strict. Only the headmaster caned but the matron could administer spankings. I received one or two spankings and one caning in my last year there for ragging in the dormitory. I do not remember there being many canings, though when they were given they were quite severe. The victims used to hold court in the lavatories afterwards, displaying the marks on their bottoms which the cane had made. ...

[He attends Eton] The usual penalty for shirking exercise was to be beaten by the house captain of games. ... The members of Pop also enjoyed special rights in this respect, and indeed made use of a special knotted cane. The procedurein College was for the victim to be summoned by a fag who went along the passages crying out that so-and-so was wanted. The wanted boy then went down to the room where the sixth-formers had their supper. If he saw a chair put out in the middle of the room he knew that he was for it. Having been told, unnecessarily, that he was going to be beaten, he took off his gown, knelt over the chair and received seven hard strokes, whatever the offence. ... The beatings, especially when they were performed by hefty athletes, were very painful but one was expected to bear them without crying out or flinching, and to say good-night, when one had resumed one's gown, without a quiver in one's voice.

One of the boys who beat me was Quentin Hogg [later Lord Hailsham, the Master of the Rolls], who displayed what seemed to me more than judicial severity in the performance of the exercise. ... Beatings by the headmaster were ceremonious affairs. They were witnessed by two sixth-formers, called the praepostors. The culprit was brought in with his trousers lowered and held down over the flogging-block by a porter, who seemed to be specially employed for this purpose. The headmaster then plied the birch, usually administering not less than six strokes. I witnessed one such birching and was glad that I never had to suffer it."



September 24 2005, 10:18 PM 

Well there you are, A J Ayer's account is one of many dozens by famous men who went to Eton. Note that nothing in that account bears out the assertions about strapping the knees apart etc. made by Paul from his alleged "in-depth research".


Birching at Eton

July 26 2006, 2:54 AM 

I have recently read the book “The English Vice” by Ian Gibson, which contains a lot of information about the birching of boys in England’s historic public schools. (For USA readers, “public”, ironically means “private”) I was most interested to find this thread.

I was fascinated by the Swinburne poem “Charlie Collingwood’s Flogging” in Robert’s post, which is also contained in the appendix to the aforementioned book.

The line from the Swinburne poem “Where between his white thighs, something hairy, the body's division reveals”. Can only be a reference to exposed genitalia. The immediate next line is “Falls the next cut, and now Charlie Collingwood's bottom is all over weals”.
These lines which he drew attention to are most definitely a reference to the birched boy’s genitalia being exposed to view from behind, whilst he was kneeling and bent over the flogging block having his bare bottom and upper thighs birched. In order for the genitalia to be exposed, his thighs must have been at least slightly parted, caused by his knees being apart and not together on the “kneeling step” of the flogging block. In the Gibson book there is a depiction of a boy being birched, taken from and ancient woodcut drawing. This historic drawing also clearly shows the victim’s genitals, fully exposed. The boy is in the kneeling and bent position, which is the position boys had to assume when mounted on the Eton flogging block. The view is from the rear, and the boy’s privates are fully visible between his moderately (not widely) parted thighs. The Author’s caption for the woodcut drawing is “Birching at Eton as it was in the good old days. Note the exposed genitals of the victim”.

When we consider the birching of boys on the naked buttocks and upper thighs, as it was practiced in England’s historic public schools, the full or even partial, exposure and vulnerability of the genital and perineal sphere must surely be a consideration. Even if strokes were not deliberately aimed to strike the genital/perineal sphere, a mis-directed stroke, or even a normally directed one with a particularly large birch (which the Eton one was) could easily result in some of the twigs striking the exposed more intimate areas. In fact, the schoolmaster wielding the birch would need to be extremely skilled in order to avoid any such happening.

Here is a picture of an Eton birch, to give you an idea of it’s size, and of the area of flesh on a boy’s, (especially a small boy’s) bottom and thighs it would cover, if the boy was in a kneeling and bent position over the flogging block, with his genitalia either fully, or even only partially exposed.



Re: Birching at Eton

July 26 2006, 8:46 AM 

As birching went on for several centuries at Eton, I should imagine the many headmasters and under masters who birched boys there used different methods and with varying severity. I have a book called 'Etom Memories' written around the 1870's where the author describes his one and only birching as "stinging at first but nowhere near as bad as a normal caning'. But many hundreds, if not thousands, of boys were birched there in it's history so who can say how bad it could have been at times? I very much doubt though that boys were ever strapped down ... quite ungentlemanly!


Notta Lotta

July 26 2006, 9:32 PM 

This is quite well done for doggerel .... I very much doubt if it was the work of Algernon Charles Swinburne ... if you look at his work

"... the lilies and languors of virtue
the roses and raptures of vice..."

etc., you will feel the seductive sensuality of his brilliance (and his addiction to pain)

this is not to imply that the contributor is not acting in good faith ... no doubt someone has presented it as Swinburne knowing that he was obsessed with the topic, and it has passed into established wisdom as his. But Swinburne was very much better and much more subtle than this.


Judicial Birching

May 9 2007, 4:27 AM 

"Birching (Judicial)
The prisoner is strapped to a triangle or an easel. His feet are spread and bound to the front two legs. He bends over the connecting horizontal padded bar, and his wrists are bound to the back, third leg of the triangle. (Or, he straddles a vaulting horse with his legs and wrists bound to the legs, leaving the buttocks perfectly spread and positioned for flogging.) The birch is soaked in water to make it supple. It is 40 inches long for boys and 48 inches long for adults. After two or three strokes the birch draws blood and it can break up after only a few (three to six) strokes, so a fresh birch is needed. Sometimes up to four birches can be used to give 18 to 24 strokes. The birch is given across the bare buttocks at a rate of several strokes a minute in front of the prison Governor and medical officer. The medical officer should be able to see the prisoner's face at all times, and he may stop the punishment at any time. Maximum strokes: 24."

From this description, (found on the net) it would seem that a man or boy undergoing a judicial birching would have his most sensitive parts - (anus/perineum/scrotum) at best partially, or at worst fully, exposed, and therefore vulnerable to a stray twig or two!!!


Basic anatomy

May 9 2007, 7:02 AM 

Spreading the legs does not spread the cheeks or expose the anus.



May 9 2007, 11:18 AM 

Hmmm.Dont like to piss on your flogging block but I do feel 5 dozen lashes full force by a strong 6'adult male on a small boys butt to be a bit exagerated considering the target area to be the size only of a small saucer 9"across.?
I doubt such a backside could take more than about 12 at the most?
Without knowing the exact anatomical details common sense would dictate that
even after the first few the skin would disintergrate to such an extent
that not only would there be bits of skin and even bone flying all over the place
but the boys butt would be practically stripped of all flesh being flayed alive
in this manner to say nothing of possible complications from "shock".
It would resemble a gooey mass of muscle tissue and bone and would take months
if not years to re -grow that is if the boy did not catch gangrene or some infection
first.They would be unable to sit down for months!
I suppose they would look rather like a skinned chicken,?
I cannot imagine beatings of this severity actually were carried out as
it would interefere with lessons the boy would be unable to attend for months or sit on the hard benches.The loss of blood alone could cause problems if rear arteries were slashed and the anus must have been practically dangling out as a tube according to what you describe?
The more sedate accounts of mere reddened and unbroken skin being gently picked clear of twig parts is more realistic surely?


Re: Birching at Eton

May 9 2007, 1:15 PM 

As in all things there were exceptionally bad cases, no doubt, but by most accounts of the actual schoolboys at the time a birching was painful but less so than a caning. I believe your version is nearer the truth than others. That said, the whole of society was very much more violent in those days - 9 year old boys being hanged for stealing a loaf of bread, for instance. Schools were harder and schoolboys were rougher - used to far greater degrees of pain than more recent generations.


Re: Birching at Eton

May 10 2007, 8:55 PM 

oh for goodness sake when were nine year old boys hanged for stealing...the 1600s?

a Lurker

Info. for beanokid

May 10 2007, 10:28 PM 

"oh for goodness sake when were nine year old boys hanged for stealing...the 1600s?"

Shall we try 1707?

"Possibly the youngest children ever executed in Britain were Michael Hammond and his sister, Ann, whose ages were given as 7 and 11 respectively in a book published in 1907. Previously, no claims as to their precise ages had been made, although they were referred to as being “under age,” without specifying what this term actually meant, and as “the Boy and the Girl” as they were both small. They were reportedly hanged at (Kings) Lynn on Wednesday, the 28th of September 1708 for theft. The local press did not, however, consider the executions of two children newsworthy! A painting of the two being taken in the cart to the gallows appears in Paul Richard’s book ”King’s Lynn”. It was reported that there was violent thunder and lightning after the execution and that their hangman, Anthony Smyth, died within a fortnight of it."

From "The history of judicial hanging in Britain."



Re: Birching at Eton

May 11 2007, 7:52 AM 

And Eton Headmasters were birching boys long before, as well as long after, that date.


Re: Birching at Eton

May 12 2007, 10:08 AM 

The idea of children being hanged for stealing a loaf of bread in Victorian England is ridiculous. The law relating to the birching of boys was brought in to avoid custodial or more severe sentences. The Castle Museum at York used to display manacles used to hold a 12 year-old girl who was hanged at York for murder, circa 1750 I think. Girls could be married at 13 in those days. The KIng's Lynn case needs to be looked into. Some of these early local histories were semi-legendary and not reliable. As for birching, I remember reading the the remenicences of a former Public Schoolboy who stateted that "you could play cricket after a birching".


Re: Birching at Eton

May 12 2007, 10:26 AM 

It's really strange how people are quite happy to believe one account but not another. There is plenty of evidence of children being hanged for quite petty 'crimes' all around the country, not just in Kings Lynne.
The cricketer you mention is obviously 19th C or later and confirms my quote of a Victorian pupil that it was less painful than a caning in his experience. Also, at Eton - which is what we were referring to in this thread - boys were birched for such things as missing chapel and going to fairs, not for crimes as we know them.
You must have your head in the clouds if you think children then had the protection they have now.
You're not Lotta in disguise, are you?


Re: Birching at Eton

May 12 2007, 11:38 AM 

I think that the birch was originally -- to put it like that -- a spanking weapon: you were given a large number of fairly light whacks, which made your bottom extremely sore, but which wore off quite quickly after the punishment was finished. Swinburn must be exaggerating when he talks about boys getting hundreds and even thousands of strokes, but more sober people have talked about lands getting several dozen. The cane on the other hand is a "whipping" instrument: it's laid on hard, and even one stroke hurts very badly. I think that, when the birch was going out of fashion, headmasters might have used it as a glorified cane, and tried to give six hard whacks over the clothed bottom. That probably would have hurt less than a caning.

Whether 36 light whacks on the bare bum with a bundle of twigs is better or worse than 6 hard whacks on the clothed bum with a bamboo stick is probably a judgement call!

The Isle of Man birch was a different thing, though -- more like half a dozen light canes tied together.


Eton birchings.

February 8 2008, 5:50 PM 

Having been birched at 16, I must refute that rods were soaked in brine. Birchings were indeed painful, but there is a distinction between pain and sadism.

adam penn house

Research Assistant 2

re: Eton birchings

February 8 2008, 6:47 PM 

Thank you for this, adam. Could you tell us the year in which your birching took place? We understand that this type of punishment was abolished at Eton sometime during the nineteen-sixties.



June 4 2008, 12:28 AM 

My grandfather and great grandfather were both birched at school, AND ...over the very same block! I always thought this funky, particularly as 29 years seperated their school years.
Both of them gave accounts in their memoirs and there were similarities...
From what I gather we can dismiss the soil tray and the knee, etc straps stories - ther's no mention of them. There is mention, however, of erections. It seems that life would have been a lot easier and more comfortable if TWO blocks had been in operation... one for seniors and one for juniors; Yes, the anus, pereneal area and scrotum DID come under fire, but caused mainly by poor contact with the block... As a consequence, the friction alone may have been responsible - or partly responsible - for 'heightened awareness' in the nether regions.
...Something else that I hadn't realised until reading these memoirs... that the severity of these birchings seemed to vary according to the time of year... It seems that a birching during the month of March was to be avoided... hard, bulbous buds but with plenty of life in the stems as the rising sap was active.
Neither my grandfather nor my great grandfather seemed to have any regrets or negative feelings towards a punishment that was then an accepted way of life. As my grandfather noted, the birch had way of 'focusing the mind' and, while the results may have appeared gruesome, the skin healed inside three weeks and 'some other boy' would soon assume all attention



June 5 2008, 2:16 AM 

There is a Wikipedia article (spankingart section) with a detailed section on corporal punishment at Eton, which certainly seems to accord with many of the descriptions on this thread.



Re: Eton

June 5 2008, 3:48 PM 

With all due respect to Disciplinarian who has made some splendid contributions to this esteemed forum, it should be remembered that any site with 'wiki' in the URL is about as reliable a source of information as graffiti on your local subway walls!

Wiki sites can be, and are, amended by all and sundry, frequently in accordance with a particular agenda. A recent 'Alex' cartoon in the Business section of the Daily Telegraph showed an A-level candidate amending a wiki site to reflect the rubbish he'd written in his exam script in the hope that the examiner would consult the same site when marking. That just about sums up the situation with regard to wiki sites as currently constituted!

Jamie McCullough

Birching at Eton

July 16 2010, 1:53 AM 

This is an old thread now, but was started with such a melodramatic and inaccurate account of flogging at Eton that I feel I have to correct its worse excesses.

Flogging at Eton (by which I mean the application of a birch rod to the bare buttocks) was the primary means of punishment by the Headmaster and Lower Master until the 1960s, though by that time it had become extremely rare, and was replaced for around 20 years thereafter by caning (on the clothed buttocks). In the twentieth century caning as the form of punishment within houses (either by the housemaster or by senior boys) had become a common feature of Eton life, but as far as the headmaster and lower master were concerned, the birch retained its pride of place.

The use of flogging famously reached its apogee in the first half of the nineteenth century in the person of John Keate, the famous flogging headmaster, but flogging with the birch remained prevalent for over a hundred years afterwards. The question of its severity is difficult to answer definitively, but there are enough personal accounts in memories and histories of Eton to be able to make some reasonably confident generalisations.

First of all, it is important to correct some hysterical exaggerations in the post that began this thread. At no time were boys restrained on the block by leather straps. Nor were their genitals or inner reaches of their bottoms exposed to the birch. Finally, accounts of buttocks being regularly reduced to a raw mass of bleeding weals must be considered a gross exaggeration (though see below about the limits of severity).

The following generalisations can however be asserted confidently:

Boys put 'in the bill' (i.e. sent to see the headmaster or lower master on disciplinary grounds) would for the large part of the nineteenth and the early twentieth century have faced the very likely possibilty of undergoing corporal punishment. This punishment would have taken the form of a beating (usually referred to as a flogging or 'swishing') administered on the bare buttocks with a sizeable bundle or birch rods tied together. A boy required to undergo this punishment was ordered to 'go down' over a wooden flogging block. This had a step to kneel upon and a higher surface to bend over, with the boy supporting himself with his forearms resting on the upper surface. His bottom was therefore raised prominently in the optimum position for chastisement.

Before 'going down', the boy was expected to take down his trousers and underpants (or breeches) to expose his own buttocks. One or two senior boys (called praepostors) were always on hand as 'holders-down': they were responsible for handing fresh birch rods to the headmaster, and for ensuring that the victim remained in position over the block for the duration of his punishment.

Boys in the Upper School (approximately age 16 and over) were punished in private in the Headmaster's own school room (adjoining Upper School).
However, boys in the Lower School, were (until some time in the early twentieth century) punished in public in Lower School, an ancient school room. In other words, other boys were entirely free to act as spectators at the floggings of their peers.

So how severe was an Etonian flogging?

The accurate answer is that it varied hugely. For a start, boys facing their first flogging were allowed to plead 'first offence' or 'first fault', and were more often than not let off without corporal punishment.
Moreover, even in the time of Keate, boys who received a token flogging of six light strokes found it an entirely bearable punishment, and not to be feared. The particular nature of the birch rod, is such that (despite the invariable application to bare buttocks) its severity depends to a very great extent on the vigour with which the strokes are applied, as well as the number of strokes administered (universally described as 'cuts' at Eton). Thus a light birching of six strokes could indeed cause some discomfort but little more. But by all accounts the effect of the birch lay in its cumulative effect: the unpleasant burning sensation caused by the birch twigs on the chastised skin of the bare buttocks became very rapidly more heightened as more strokes landed, and a succession of strokes laid on with greater force very quickly caused a rapid crescendo of pain.

The token application of six light strokes was thus only one end of an extremely variable scale of punishment. At the top end of the scale (leaving aside cases of extreme severity which undoubtedly took place over the years, but represent very rare anomalies) were floggings requiring two fresh birch rods. Birch twigs break up and lose their buds after only a few hard strokes, so for a more severe punishment, a fresh rod was required to complete the punishment. Judging from the available literature, a total of between 14 and 24 'cuts' was the usual range for a severe 'two-birch' flogging. Such punishments appear relatively frequently in the literature, even in twentieth-century accounts, but usually singled out by the authors as being of notable severity.

Such a flogging would undoubtedly have represented a genuine ordeal for the boy in question. The use of holders-down, particularly for younger boys in the Lower School, seems to have been not just a ceremonial one, but genuinely necessary when a thrashing of this kind was being administered. It does not require much imagination to visualise the deeply unpleasant experience as an adolescent boy of kneeling on a wooden block, buttocks bared, and undergoing 14 or more strokes on the bare flesh with a large bundle of birch twigs. The skin would usually have been broken by the buds sooner or later, causing small beads of blood to appear. A flogging administered with harder strokes than normal was described as a 'tighter' flogging. To imagine this ordeal being undergone in full view of a rapt crowd of one's peers seems all the more extraordinary.

Nevertheless, the context of these floggings should be remembered. The approval of physical chastisement in all walks of life (for adults as well as children) was at a height in the early nineteenth century, and it was seen as almost a source of pride at English public schools, and Eton in particular, that boys should submit manfully to vigorous corporal punishment as morally strengthening and character-building. Flogging seems to have been taken for granted by boys as an unpleasant but necessary evil to endure, and the overwhelming sense from the literature is almost of wry humour about the rituals of the block and the small triumphs of having undergone floggings and living to tell the tale.

A two-birch flogging as described above was in any case the upper end of the scale. Judging by the anecdotal accounts, most boys put in the bill could expect to receive a sound flogging of around six to ten 'cuts', an ordeal of perhaps 20-40 seconds of mounting pain. An inexperienced 13-year-old facing his first flogging would have undoubtedly suffered extreme trepidation at the propspect, and indeed there are several accounts of the anguished cries of distress uttered by Lower School boys undergoing their first severe swishing in public. One can however equally imagine an older boy hauling down his breeches and kneeling down for the fifth or sixth time, stoically resigned to the unpleasantness of the ordeal, and sucking air through his teeth as the pain of each cut lit up his butocks.

We should probably not underestimate the effect that drama and ritual played in boys' experience of such punishments. Boys put in the bill knew for some time beforehand that they faced a painful appointment with the headmaster; on arrival they would have been waiting outside a room from which the sounds of floggings would have been clearly audible. Flogging was called 'swishing' for a good reason: a birch rod 'swishes' noisily through the air before making a distinctive splashing sound as it meets its target. On reaching the front of the queue, a boy entering the Headmaster's schoolroom would have been met with the sight of the flogging block in the middle of the room, and a row of fresh birches in a rack against the wall, not to mention the stern figure of the headmaster flankd by the two praepostors. Even for a generation of modern adults who still received parental spankings on the bare bottom (as I did), it seems extraordinary to our modern conception that a boy of 13 or 14 years old should have faced the prospect of then kneeling on a block and voluntarily presenting his bared buttocks to his headmaster for corporal punishment with such an embarrassing kind.

It is worth remembering that for large parts of Eton's history, birch flogging was only one kind of punishment faced by younger boys in particular. In the later nineteenth and early twentieth century, the rise of caning as a punishment led to the situation described by one 1930s memoir in which a boy could be subject to a whole range of corporal punishment: beatings (genuine, painful canings) by his own housemaster (in rare cases such as Ian Fleming's house on the bare buttocks); equally severe beatings by the senior boys in the 'library' of his house; 'Pop-tanning' (a particularly prolonged and excruciating caning by the self-elected prefects of the school); and flogging on the bare buttocks by the Lower Master or Head Master.

To summarise, Eton did indeed have a prevalent culture of vigorous corporal punishment, which died out relatively late in twentieth-century history, but it is important to keep a sense of proportion and context in assessing the severity. Unpleasant, embarrassing, and painful to a large range of degrees - yes: but grossly abusive and cruel - no.



July 18 2010, 9:56 AM 

I concur with pretty well all of the above, from my own reading. I think I already said a long time ago that some of the descriptions at the beginning of this thread were exaggerated.

Just one correction: When Anthony Chenevix-Trench took over as head in 1964 he abolished the birch but for canings he administered himself, there is evidence that he did still require trousers and underwear to be lowered, though I presume that this was done privately in his office and not the semi-public performance of earlier headmaster's birchings. (It may be that it was this insistence on bare-bottom caning that was really Chenevix-Trench's undoing.) At all events, it was not until he was replaced by Michael McCrum in 1970 that the trousers-down requirement was abolished, though McCrum continued with caning over the seat of the trousers, and by some accounts did it with some enthusiasm.

Scotty the Occasional Poster

Paul Foot on Anthony Chenevix-Trench

July 18 2010, 5:05 PM 


Suggests this might be the explanation if he behaved like this elsewhere?


American Way


September 12 2010, 8:58 PM 

1913 British school CP surprises US students.


American Way

Re: Birching at Eton

September 12 2010, 10:21 PM 

More culture shock for USA in Great Britain. When did birching go out of style? Was it more likely to be administered on the bare than other instruments of correction? Is this an extension of artistic imagination? Have those astronomically high numbers hyperbole? Have they been referenced elsewhere?




November 6 2010, 6:01 PM 

I was told some time ago that the birch was used to good effect on schoolboys for sexual misdemeanours. I should imagine that a swish or two on the back of a boy's scrotum would be agony but also that it might straighten his act. It does seem severe though. Any views? Or, better still, has anyone experience?

American Way

Professional Girl Flogging

March 17 2011, 11:27 PM 

Timaru Herald 1890 carried this story about the "Truth". I agree with Lotta Nonsense that it is a lot of nonsense. Why a reputable newspaper would publish this story FIRST CLICK is beyond me. Papers Past doesn't sound like yellow journalism but this is an example IMHO. The artist fantasy is the second click with its usual caveat about its nature.


Professional Girl Flogging

American Way


March 17 2011, 11:40 PM 

I meant to put this link under this thread. I need some time away from the computer. Too much multi-tasking. happy.gifhappy.gifhappy.gif

Sorry. Please forgive me.



Birching at Eton

August 10 2011, 1:53 PM 

Ian Fleming (who, as most peole know, wrote "Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang" and the "James Bond" novels, once received six strokes of the birch from the Head Master at Eton.
He then hurried to the famous Playing Fields (from whence all wars were won) and took part in a (I believe 400 yards) race -- which he won.

American Way

Remedy for Suffragettes

November 10 2012, 12:03 AM 

Birch for Suffragettes.


Birch them in installments. If for some reason Google Books don't work for you I will try accommodate.


Spanking a Suffragette.


American Way

Re: Birching at Eton

December 3 2012, 4:25 PM 

School Birch Dimensions and Costs story. 1888. That this story is reported in New Jersey (USA) is remarkable.



Re: Birching at Eton

March 26 2013, 5:32 PM 

I agree with Jamie McCullough's post, and I agree that the earlier post was "melodramatic" and "inaccurate". It is a known fact that caning and flogging did take place, and it was seen as a "natural" consequence of children's, specifically boys', bad behaviour. However, the earlier account appears to be sadistic abuse, which no other records have proven (as far as I know).

I have seen the flogging block, and I agree that it wasn't made to accommodate any "straps". I am not sure how the knee straps would have worked too to spread the knees 18" apart, unless the straps were held from outside. From various accounts, no straps were held from outside. The boy was to take down his own trousers and underpants to expose his buttocks. Some accounts say that the trousers and underpants were left at the ankles. Other accounts say that the trousers and underpants were hung up or handed over to the headmaster.

After that, the boy had to kneel on the lower step of the flogging block and bend over. His stomach would be resting on the upper block, where his hands touched the floor on the other side. As mentioned in other accounts, this position raised the boy's bottom prominently in the optimum position for his punishment. One or two older boys will hold the boy down during the caning. This was usually done with the younger boys, who had a tendency to fidget.

The school did not shy away from public punishment. Floggings were commonly carried out in front of other boys, perhaps as a warning to the other boys or to embarrass the boy being caned. Or possibly, floggings were carried out immediately upon an offence (on-the-spot). The humiliation and embarrassment faced having to take down his trousers and underpants to expose his buttocks in public is excessively harsh in modern society. Also, the boy had to assume a kneeling position, which appears to be a symbol of subservience to authority (the headmaster). And submissively bending over the block to "aid" the headmaster in getting an optimal position for his own caning must have been salt on the wounds. This would be completely unacceptable today.

I have also seen the birch, and it is several times worse than a typical cane because of its sharp surface. The intention to cut through the buttock flesh is inhumane is every respect. Although I do not reject the notion of using a cane, the birch does seem too much to bear for 1 13-year old. After all, what offence could a 13-year old commit to warrant such a punishment?


Re: Birching at Eton

March 27 2013, 8:54 PM 

I must also add that the flogging block has a low height. The boy kneels on a step just slightly above the ground. You could also imagine that the boy would be of a small built as a 13-year old. Based on these two facts, even though the boy's bottom was raised prominently and in the most optimum position possible (probably the highest point of his whole body), the boy would not have been at the headmaster's arm level. This suggests that:

1. A standing up and bending over position may have been the optimal height instead, but a kneeling position was required also as a form of chastisement.

2. Since the boy may not even have been at the headmaster's arm level, there may not have been proper aiming by the headmaster. The angle is probably similar to a situation where an adult sweeps the floor. I believe there is a possibility that the headmaster ended up flogging any area on the bottom and around the bottom, especially if he did it at high speeds.

I also observed that the Eton school uniform consists of a long coat tail. Does anyone have information how the headmaster prevented it from obstructing the bottom? Did the boy have to remove his coat as well?

American Way

Birching for Trespassing Teacher

October 25 2013, 4:09 AM 

Pretty Teachers Birched 1898.


American Way


January 9 2014, 6:03 PM 

Spanked suffragettes. Down with the birch up with the paddle.


From a letter to the editor of the New York Times. 1913. Punishing To Prevent Crime First Column.



Re: Birching at Eton

January 9 2014, 11:15 PM 

Hi American Way

From a letter to the editor of the New York Times. 1913. Punishing To Prevent Crime First Column.


Whilst I disagree with the writer's views on the matter of human rights for women1 he is, at least, a man of principle. He had an ally in Queen Victoria too.

I find it somewhat amusing that many men who complain that changes are made for the benefit of girls and women, at the expense of men and boys; that, in effect, women have taking over, are the same men who advocate sitting back and allowing us to do so.

There is something of a parallel with the National Union of School Students (NUSS) and 1972 School Riots, mentioned on other threads by Prof. N et al. At the time, some headteachers would have been more than willing to (attempt to) crush any, even peaceful, protest by boys with a rod of iron rattan. At the same time, they would sit back and allow their female students to run riot with almost complete impunity. Afterwards, they could hardly complain if the girls took over. wink.gif

1. I don't agree with the idea of "women's rights" as it implies men and women should have different rights. I believe in equal rights for both sexes.

American Way

Re: Birching at Eton

January 10 2014, 1:06 AM 

It would be unheard of for girls to be exempted from being paddled or should I say rarely heard? It was not well received by this columnists. Not surprisingly a woman.



What was the position one the block?

January 10 2014, 4:16 PM 

I have been trying to figure out what the position of a boy on the Eton birching block was.

The block itself was about 60cm (2 feet) high, the kneeling step was about 25cm (10 inch) to 30cm (12 inch) high. This has been mentioned before in this thread, and after examining and analysing old photographs these figures seem to be correct.

The first message in this thread states that:
"He did this by kneeling on the lower step, bending forward and resting his belly on the top of the block, and placing his hands flat on the floor on the far side of the block."

Resting his belly on the top of the block is not possible, unless for very young boys. Adolescent boys are much taller, and there would be at least 10 to 15cm (4 to 6 inch) space between the boys belly and the top of the block. "Placing his hands flat on the floor" however is very well possible.

(I have some very detailed photographs of a birching block, and there are no provisions for leather belts to strap a boy to the block. That story must be fantasy.)

Jamie McCullough states in his message that the block:
"Had a step to kneel upon and a higher surface to bend over, with the boy supporting himself with his forearms resting on the upper surface."

Supporting himself with his forearms resting on the upper surface is also a bit unlikely. The only way you can do that is in a somewhat upright position with the body in a kind of Z shape. The other problem with this position is that the boy can put up quite some resistance because he has his arms on the block.

So in my view the general position mentioned in the first message is the most likely, a kind of on all fours position, with the knees raised on the lower step. In this position he is quite powerless to struggle, so it is easy to hold him down if required.

And now to the question if the genitals were visible. The place where the genitals are attached to the torso is just in front of the legs assuming a upright position. When the torso has a 90 degree angle with the legs, for instance in a upright sitting position, or the standard on all fours position, then this attachment point will be more between the legs. With the knees together, the genitals will be squeezed against the legs, but it is still possible to have the knees together. However when the body is in the on all fours position with the knees raised on the first step of the block, then the attachment point of the genitals moves even more to a position between the legs. Squeezing the knees together now becomes very uncomfortable.

My conclusion is that the boy was in a on all fours position on the block, with his knees slightly apart from each other on the lower step. His bottom would be high up in the air, and his genitals in full view.


Re: Birching at Eton

January 10 2014, 4:47 PM 

Hi American Way

By presuming that differential treatment was necessarily unfair to boys, Bethia Caffery (the columist) made a common mistake.

If, for a given offence, a boy were paddled when (all else being equal) a girl were given an ostensibly lesser punishment or let off completely, prima facie she would appear to be right. If, instead, the girl were given a harsher punishment, again prima facie, she would appear to be wrong.

The issue isn't as simple as that however.

The differential treatment was clearly unfair, which appears to have been the intention. Those who have claimed that, when only boys received CP, girls received an equivalent punishment have been unable to say what that equivalent is. If there were a true equivalent, it could be used for both sexes.

Consider the school I mentioned here. Girls were de facto permitted to smoke in school; boys were not. One might say that was unfair to boys but, considering the long term effects of smoking, one could say that allowing them to smoke was unfair to girls. If fact, the school might even have been encouraging girls to smoke. Some of those, who wouldn't otherwise have taken up the habit, might have done so to demonstrate their superiority over boys; showing that they were able to do something (with impunity) that boys could not.


Re: Birching at Eton

January 10 2014, 6:37 PM 

Hi Jenny , American Way,

I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that with all the doubts around corporal punishment if it WERE to be used anywhere , then several conditions must apply including witnessed administration in private etc. However I can't see it being possible to sustain the practice WITHOUT the option for parents to opt out or in, and in addition I think that automatically means it always stands as an alternate punishment . Basically the child HAS to choose it, and therefore an alternate option must be available - as I can'r ever see otherwise it being appropriately enforced.

If it requires the parents and students permission , one might question entirely its utility in the scheme of things, except where a community is strongly wedded to the principle.

In such a situation it comes nowhere near the criteria to make it an effective 'ultimate' deterrent.

American Way

Re: Birching at Eton

January 10 2014, 10:07 PM 

We are getting far afield from Birching at Eton but I started it with Spankhurst. happy.gif

The secondary school school oft stated goal is career or college. It is absolutely unfair that a short term decision of not being paddled for the same offense be cause for a preserved record on a disciplinary record. It's choice between a passing black and blue (excuse me I meant pink, yeah right) or not recorded at all can lead to an indelible black mark. It matters with military academies that are often the only way a child can get a good education who can't afford one otherwise. FBI prospective employees have asked for those records for decades before the present controversies.

A child who could care less about the future could care less if they miss school work but the child who does may choose to be hit just for that reason. A child who takes part in school activities or takes a part time job would also find it more advantageous to take the swats. Too many extraneous reasons for a child to feel he or she is being blackmailed into a choice that they may not prefer. The older you get the more likely these factors play into the decision to be swatted or not to be swatted.

A figure like this is not that hard to believe.

The East Chambers school district, which serves 1,315 students, received 25 no-paddle requests this year, according to superintendent Scott Campbell."A lot of our high school students actually prefer to be paddled," Campbell said. "To them, they'd rather take a few swats than come up here for a Saturday detention."


You have no clue what East Chambers high school paddle policies are, unless I missed something, are in writing. That's comforting if you're a parent or student. Why should it not surprise me that they would turn in any data to the OCR.

With monster size paddles and paddles hanging from door of the principal's office, some in the classroom in full view, it's hard to believe that the paddle is being wielded as judiciously as some claim.


American Way

Re: Birching at Eton

June 23 2014, 8:12 PM 

An ex-attache view of school birching.

The Washington Herald June 28, 1908


American perspective of British curious customs at Eton. October 19, 1913


Flogging Keate. Scranton Tribune. April 17, 1897.

Confirmation class not spared.



Still not sure, what was the position on the block?

June 26 2014, 5:28 PM 

I'm still not sure about the position of a boy on the Eton flogging block. The size of the block is undisputed as far as I know. The height was appr. two feet (60 cm), and the lower step was about 25 to 30cm high.

These are the positions that are suggested:

1). Kneeling on the block and "resting the belly on the upper part". This is impossible, the block is simply to low.

2). Kneeling on the block, and the hands on the floor. This is possible, the anal cleft will be wide open, the scrotum will be between the legs, and it is not possible to keep the legs together. Scrotum and anus can be vulnerable, twigs of the birch rod may hit them.

3). Kneeling on the block, the forearms resting on the upper part (forearms horizontal). Possible, but a very awkward position. The scrotum will be extremely vulnerable to the birch rod, it will be completely exposed. So an unlikely position.

4). Kneeling on the block, the hands on the upper part supporting the torso. The boy will slightly lean over the block, his bottom will stick out. No danger for scrotum or anus.

Only position 2) and 4) are possible positions in my view, but position 2) is not without danger for scrotum and anus.

Chapter XII of the book "Recollections of Eton" contains the description of a flogging. On page 136 it says that two collegers held up the tails of the shirt during the flogging. That is not necessary in the case of position 2), it is enough to pull the shirt away, it will stay in in place. Only with position 4) it is necessary to hold up the shirt tails during the flogging. At the moment I would say that position 4) is the most likely position.

Any comments?


Position on Flogging Block

June 28 2014, 5:29 PM 

A very interesting analysis, Bircan.

I have a book entitled the Wordsworth Dictionary of British Social History, which has the following entry under the title ‘Flogging Block'.

Flogging Block

‘A wooden piece of furniture, usually in the shape of a couple of steps, upon which boys were whipped in schools. When a boy was to be punished, he had to kneel on the lower step, place his head and shoulders on the flat upper step, and his hands on the floor on the far side of the block, being prepared for the birch either by himself, or by a boy known as the ‘Untrusser’.

I presume the ‘preparation’ or ‘untrussing’ refers to the adjustment/removal of clothing prior to birching. This book entry relates to early schools in general, and not specifically to Eton. It seems that the ‘twin stepped’ flogging block, of which the Eton model is best known, was common to most schools generally throughout medieval to Victorian times.

Of the possible positions you have listed, the one in the Wordsworth Dictionary is closest to position 2. The only difference is that the ‘head and shoulders’ rather than the belly, are resting on the upper step. However, in order to be able to reach down to the floor on the far side with his hands, a boy’s head and shoulders would have to be further forward, and overhanging the top of the upper step, so that his chest area would in fact be resting on the upper step.

I therefore tend to think that position 2 is most likely, but with more of the chest area rather than the belly resting on the top step of the block. However, depending on the height distance between the two steps, and the size of the boy, it may have been possible in some instances for the belly/torso area to be resting on the upper step.

However, I take your point re the shirt tails – the necessity of ‘holding them up’ implies a much more upright kneeling position. Maybe Eton used the flogging block in a much less indecent way than some of the lesser schools – and made sure that a boy’s more sensitive parts were not exposed to danger!


Re: Birching at Eton

July 1 2014, 10:17 PM 

The position described in Wordsworth is impossible. It would resemble postion 3), but with the torso even further down. With postion 2) no part of the body touches the horizontal top of the block, the thighs are placed against the vertical plank of the upper part, and the body is arched over the upper part with the hands on the floor.

I saw a video of Harrow public school, and they showed their birching 'block'. It is a kind of wooden beam about 30 cm from the floor. It has not resemblence with the Eton block. There is a wild variety in birching furniture (judicial and otherwise), from simple beam constructions to luxurious leather upholstered soft benches (I'm not talking about BDSM toys!). Having to present a pair of boys buttocks for a good birching brought out the best in furniture design you might say.

In Eton floggings were celebrated. Other public schools also had notorious flogging headmasters, and stories about their floggings have survived, but Eton's floggings were very different. An Eton flogging was a kind of religious ceremony, certainly in the Upper School. This is from the book Recollections of Eton (1870):

Besides the Doctor, there was in the room the Sixth Form prepostor and the two junior collegers of the Fifth Form, who were to act as satellites, or assistant torturers, in the work that was to come. The room itself I was already well acquainted with ; the round table in the centre, with the raised arm-chair at one end of it, backed in its turn by the bust of the Duke of Newcastle, and the gilt names of the successful competitors for the scholarship which he had founded, were all tolerably familiar objects. The block itself I had seen before, but never in such prominence as it was today, drawn out towards the centre of the room, and waiting almost in expectancy for its victims. No one who saw it in its present position, and with the ministers of justice around it, could mistake what those two wooden steps were meant for. A vision must almost involuntarily have arisen of kneeling criminals presenting their backs to the smiters, which would decidedly condemn the erroneous opinions of those visitors who before now have imagined it to be an article of bedside utility. The door closed after we had come in, and all three of us stood waiting for what was to come next. "Robinson," said the Doctor, in a monotonous and sleepy, yet withal distinct tone of voice ; "have you anything to say for yourself ?" "No, sir." "Then—" go down, I dare say he would have said, but all that we could make out was that he pointed towards the block with his hand. The victim did as he was told ; his trousers were turned down, and the two collegers held up his shirt, each by one corner, really making a very effective tableau. The birch then descended, and after six successive cuts, the performance as far as regarded Robinson was at an end.

I would call this ceremony an almost religious celebration of administering punishment in the shape of a flogging.

Position 4) also resembles the praying position in Catholic churches.

So this is what happened:

The boy would kneel down on the block, grabbing the upper plank (he could grab the plank on the back side). He would push his bottom out, the collegers would lift his shirt tails unveiling the bare buttocks. Then the headmaster would solemnly flog the boy. The collegers would drop the shirt tails again, covering up the boy's buttocks, and the boy rises from the block.

Now isn't that a magnificent ceremony? In my view that is why the Eton floggings were very different from the floggings in other public schools, and that is why they became so famous.

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