Corporal Punishment at Sir Philip Magnus School, 1950s

Unfortunately, all schools throughout my childhood indulged in barbaric acts of sadistic punishment attempting to intimidate.  I’ve been subjected to some of these acts and I’ve witnessed all of them.

At various times as a young boy, I was accused of being, – – – stupid, worthless, lazy, feckless – – – I didn‘t even know what the words meant. Both I and many others in my classroom were subjected to this treatment and treated without dignity. Even some female teachers did this to me and were stamping their feet at the same time. In those days, throughout the 1950s and early 60s, the focus on teaching was “chalk and talk”. The teacher stood in front of the class, next to a blackboard and easel. They would teach the lesson, at the same time writing down the salient points on the board with chalk. Pupils were expected to copy the written work in their school books.  It wasn’t unusual to see some teachers throwing board rubbers or chalk at pupils, if they appeared to be inattentive or naughty.

When I was nine or ten I got a clip round the ear, and later a full slap round the face from my form teacher, for not being quick enough obeying a command. To have the back of your hand hit either with the flat face or the edge of a ruler was normal.*

The whole system seemed to be predicated on deliberately inflicting pain upon children. If the teacher felt there was unacceptable behaviour to try to stop that behaviour and deter others. In my view, it was needlessly barbaric. And, of course, we children had no say in the matter as parents, in general, agreed with the schools.

Different teachers, had their own techniques for inflicting pain and humiliation. I’ve seen some with steely eyed, thin lipped pleasure, wielding their power over quite timid children. Others appeared incandescent with feigned rage, eager to frighten or bully children.

The more extreme patterns of this behaviour were the use of the traditional cane (a slim flexible stick of willow, ash or bamboo) struck across the hands, or buttocks. There was of course the added humiliation, in ordering a child to bend over in front of the other class pupils whilst presenting their bottom. This was known as getting the stick. Punishment and the severity of each beating appeared arbitrary and purely at the whim and mood of the teacher at the time.

However some teachers preferred to use ‘the slipper’. What in those days the slipper was in fact a plimsoll, or the American’s would probably call a ‘sneaker’. This was almost always used on the buttocks two or three strikes normally used. Often the sound was more dramatic than the actual contact.

I think the very worst example I’ve seen was a young science teacher, when I was in my third year at Sir Philip Magnus. The lesson was new to us students being focused on the periodic table. A whole series of initials representing the elements was put up on the board.

“You will each learn this table by heart over the next week, when I will test each of you in a random question and answer session next week. Anyone who can’t answer or answers wrong will be strapped by me”.

He produced a two foot length of red Bunsen-burner hose.  I had never taken a homework assignment so seriously. But with a list of 114 initials relating to their respective elements, I was terrified all week. I genuinely feared that next science lesson. Looking at my class mates I’m sure they were all felt the same as myself. That morning, as we sat at our desks, the inquisition started.

Pointing at a boy,  “Lithium”

“Li, sir”

Next, “Plutonium”

“Pl sir” “Wrong – get out here” that boy’s hand was viciously whipped.

Eight or ten boys later, with two more being whipped, I just knew, I was in for it, as he pointed at me.


I was tempted to say (Le) as many of the elements start with their first two initials, but as I had newly started the plumbing course I replied confidently, “Pb, sir”. I hated that nasty vicious  teacher.

*This was at William Tyndale School


This entry was posted in Autobiography, education, School and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Corporal Punishment at Sir Philip Magnus School, 1950s

  1. odeboyz says:

    Hi Catana, you are of course right – bullying has been rife for years. As an ex-Chair of governors at two schools I often had to deal with appeals from parents not to expel their child. Would it be helpful, if your book were to identify the procedure, I and the other governor’s went through, in determining these cases.

    • Catana says:

      Well, my book is actually about the criminal justice system in the US, so that wouldn’t be relevant. Reading your post, I was just struck by the parallels. You can go back a century or two and see the same kind of resort to brutality in prisons and schools.

  2. Catana says:

    That kind of violence against pupils has been going on for centuries. It still goes on, but not as often, because if it’s reported the teacher is likely to be disciplined in some way. But the impulse is still there — to lord it over those without power and to do it as a source of pleasure. I’m working on a book about criminal justice, and the same pattern exists. It’s inherent in human nature, but we refuse to deal with it.

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