I attended a co-educational boarding school in the early seventies. Corporal punishment was a regular event. Boys would receive the cane from the headmaster for serious offences and Girls the bath-brush from the senior mistress. Slipperings were handed out to both sexes officially by any teacher and unofficially by prefects generally for dormitory related offences. There was also one other unofficial dormitory punishment and that is the subject of this memory.
If the pupils in a dormitory felt that one of their number had acted in an unforgivable way they could raise the matter with a dormitory prefect. Stealing, borrowing without asking, getting the whole dormitory into trouble by your actions and not sharing (normally cakes/sweets) would cover most offences. The dormitory prefect would investigate and if the case ‘held water’, would rule that a dormitory punishment was due.
Every dormitory had a work table. The perpetrator would be made to stand in front of the short end and lay across it. If he objected he would be placed there forcibly with someone sitting on his back and two other lads holding his legs. Then every boy in the dormitory would queue up with their slippers and plant two swats across his bottom.
Except for year two there were two dormitories per year, most dormitories held between ten and twelve boys; year two had one dormitory with twenty two boys, so this was a fairly vicious punishment.
The two most common reasons for inflicting this punishment were:
1. The ‘borrowing’ of games kit.
Not having games kit would earn you a detention – ‘borrowing’ someone else’s might earn them a detention and you might be able to sling the borrowed kit under their bed before anyone found out.
2 Getting the whole dormitory into trouble by your actions.
One of the most unpopular group punishments handed out by masters was a dormitory silence. You had to be in your dorm one hour before lights out. If the dorm was under silence that meant no one was allowed to utter a word. Masters might order this for pillow fights, pupils shouting or fighting, etc.
Stealing was obviously the most serious and would always be reported to a master but to a master, the fact that someone had nicked your torch / pen-knife or some personal property was important and serious but if someone had pinched a packet of sweets or football socks it wasn’t worth bothering with.
It was unusual for a dormitory punishment to be awarded for not sharing – although it was probably the most commonly asked for reason amongst the first and second years – being impossible to prove unless the perpetrator admitted it.
Three instances of ‘dormitory punishment’ stand out in my mind.
In year one, a massive pillow fight took place and the whole dormitory was put on silence but two lads didn’t take part in the fight so they demanded a dormitory punishment which was granted. This gave rise to the odd and very funny situation of having ten boys queueing up to lay across the table whilst two boys gave them all two swats each.
In year two, two boys were shouting and swearing at each other and the dorm was put on silence. A dormitory punishment was requested for one of the boys and was refused, the prefect ruling that both boys were shouting, it didn’t matter why, and that either both or none should be punished. The dorm members discussed it and decided to punish both but agreed amongst themselves to not slipper one of the boys very hard. A dormitory punishment was asked for both boys and granted. The prefect ordered the ‘less deserving’ boy to take his place, picked three boys to hold him and organised the other seventeen lads to queue up with their slippers. The first boy approached and lightly swatted the bottom twice but the prefect wasn’t having that, took the slipper from the lad and planted two very solid whacks then told everyone to do it properly or else he would do it for them. The year two dormitory was the biggest holding twenty two boys – so each lad received forty whacks – of course thirteen year old boys cannot hit as hard as a full grown adult and many of the slippers were a bit soft. But even so each lad probably received about twelve really solid swats.
The final instance was in year four and all started as a bit of a joke – dormitory punishments were very rare in the upper half of the school. However it turned into a very painful experience.
I had arrived at the beginning of the term with a box of sweets and over the course of half a term, eaten them all and had thought nothing of it but the rest of the dormitory thought it would be a bit of a joke and very funny to ask for a dormitory punishment for not sharing.
The head boy looked after the fourth and fifth year dormitories. He was laughing but asked me if I had in fact not shared but eaten all the sweets myself which I confirmed. I thought it was all a bit of a lark really. The head boy granted the dormitory punishment.
There were only seven boys in our dormitory including me. Twelve swats was no big deal at all as only two boys had hard soled slippers and one of them was me. Also it was early in the evening so I was still fully clothed, I still thought it was quite funny.
The boys had other ideas though and to start with decided to share one hard soled slipper. Suddenly twelve swats might not be quite so funny. The first lad stepped up and planted a whack on each cheek which, through the jeans I was wearing, didn’t hurt at all and I just laughed. So he climbed on the table and sat between my shoulders thus pinning me in place. My trousers and pants then got yanked off and the next two lads planted their two swats each on my bare behind. Those four were pretty painful. Then they grabbed a leg each pinning them to the table legs – now I couldn’t wriggle or move, there was nothing I could do except take the punishment – I wasn’t laughing any more; my bottom was beginning to feel a bit ‘warm’ after those four swats and I knew there were three more boys (six swats) to go.
Then, as this was such an unusual event, the head-boy had his own bright idea. I heard him go next door and call the boys from the other larger fourth year dormitory to come and watch but when they came in they just joined the end of the queue! At that point it really wasn’t funny anymore. I received forty very solid whacks all with a hard soled slipper from twenty fifteen year old boys all of whom thought it was hilarious and planted both their swats with all the force they could muster, aiming for any, as yet, unmarked patch of skin they could see.
After about twelve swats it went from painful to agonising, and by the end of the first twenty my bottom was numb so I didn’t really feel the last twenty but my bottom was so bruised that, for a week, sitting down was an exercise to be undertaken with great care.