My name is S and I attended school in Glasgow in the 1960s and 1970s. As such it was a fairly common situation to find yourself on the end of the belt for the slightest of misdemeanours.
I have several recollections dating back to almost my first days at school but in this memory I would like to cover some events that happened while attending a residential school. I would be lying if I could remember the exact reason or purpose of the three weeks spent in this school on the Ayrshire coast but I suspect it had something to do with sounding out young catholic boys who might be rich pickings for the priesthood.
It certainly was not a punishment in its own right as most of my year, and subsequently other years, went on this adventure.
I remember it being in springtime but it was very cold. I believe it was 1970 as one of the clearest memories was pre-decimal currency so this would put the group at around 9 to 10 years old. There was one pre-requisite for attending, I later found out, and that was all attendees must not wet beds. I suppose a fairly straight forward and common sense rule.
Anyway scene set, we departed by coach for the journey which by today’s standards was fairly short, about 90 minutes’ drive. We arrived at the school to be greeted by some teachers whom of course we had never encountered before and by comparison to our relatively friendly bunch appeared quite strict.
On disembarking the bus we were marched to a common room area which could easily accommodate the 40 boys in attendance. We were told the following; we would be split into 6 groups of between 6 and 8 and assigned to dormitories, each dormitory had to appoint a captain and each morning both a prize and a punishment would be handed out to the best and worst dormitory respectively. There was no mention of what these would be but the decision was made by the one teacher who would stay in the school the previous night. I don’t remember a discussion on the criteria; just that this would happen every day for three weeks.
Once settled we set about the tasks set, generally no different to those we carried out on a daily basis at school. Nothing unusual, clearly we had been streamed as per our normal school with two classes split into four tables, smart down to daft being the best way to describe the split. All meals and some after school activities complete we were instructed that all were to be in bed and lights out by 8pm. Again all seemed fairly normal to me.
Normality lasted until around 7am the following morning when it seemed all hell was let loose. Each dormitory was awakened by the overnight live-in teacher and told to get to the appropriate shower area and ready themselves for breakfast. Quite quickly it became apparent that this was one of the ways to determine which dormitory won and which one lost.
On return to our dormitory, number 1, a large silver star was hanging on the door handle which indicated that we had been voted the best on night one. Good, I think; what’s in this for us.
Unfortunately for the adjoining dorm, number 2, a large red circle was attached to their door handle and further a black cross was positioned on the bedside table of Colin, one of the members of the dormitory. At this stage we could only guess that the red circle meant dormitory 2 had been voted the worst of the night.
Breakfast was served at 8am in the common dining room and three members of staff were in attendance. First, an older lady dressed in a typical grey checked jacket and skirt and two younger members of staff both in white blouses and black knee length skirts with heels. These were Miss Baines and Mrs Townsend. Both were short in stature, one with a short blonde bob, the other, Miss Baines, with long flowing jet black hair.
It became apparent that Miss Baines had decided the previous night’s ‘competition’ and began to speak. In a very abrupt coarse Scottish accent she announced that all 8 members of Dormitory 1 would receive a green star on a wall chart positioned in the common room and would be allowed three pence worth of sweets etc of their choice from the tuck shop at morning break. Excellent news.
However there was the matter of dormitory 2 and the red circle. Miss Baines declared the six members of dormitory 2 were to assemble outside the staff room after breakfast and each would receive 2 strokes of the belt. On top of this Colin, who had been awarded a black cross, would receive a further two strokes because counter to that one basic rule he had wet the bed.
This came as a bit of a shock to all as it was clear that over three weeks it would be very unlikely that any of us would escape this punishment.
Breakfast over, dormitory 2 were marched to the staff room and as promised each were given two strokes of the belt by Miss Baines. Poor Colin was last and got the extra two strokes promised. At break many of us were interested in the strappings. How hard was it, what type of belt? Even at a young age we were all aware there were differences.
My best friend David was one of those belted and told me that it was probably no different to what we had become accustomed to at regular school. I suppose this came as some kind of comfort as two of the belt was relatively common and not too painful.
The days went by as normal, most of us keeping out of trouble and if anything I would say the use of the belt was less than we were used to other than the morning ritual of each losing dorm member being strapped. Colin’s 4 strokes seemed to cure him of his bed wetting and it seemed to ensure others were not going to get caught in this trap.
On the morning of day 5, as we returned from the shower, both I and Gary noticed the red circle was on our door handle. I guess we had expected it eventually. It didn’t seem the previous night had been any different to any of the others so the award of worst dorm appeared almost random. Anyway, we all accepted that we were due a meeting with the strap. After breakfast we all made our way to the staff room where Mrs Townsend was waiting at the door. She told us to line up against the wall and disappeared through the staff room door clearly to get the object of our pain. I recall being fourth in line with Gary immediately before me and another close friend, Brian, next in line. The only other name I recall was that of the dorm captain, Jim, who opted to go to the end of the line.
The door re-opened and Miss Townsend appeared holding a brown two-tailed strap which to my small eyes looked somewhat different to those used at our school. The straps used in our school were black and almost always had three tails. They were also thinner than the belt being brandished by Miss Townsend. Miss Townsend was dressed very differently on this day, possibly because she had spent the previous night in the school. She was wearing a dark woollen jumper and black trousers. As she approached the first victim she rolled up her right sleeve while telling him to raise both hands one supported by the other. We all knew the routine, swap hands immediately and don’t pull away as this would lead to further retribution. The belt cracked down across first the right and then left palm with some ferocity. It was clear from the reaction that Miss Townsend was either very skilled in the execution of this punishment or that the belt was heavier and more stingy than we were used to. Victim 2 was dealt with in the same way and then she approached Gary. Gary presented his hands and took both strokes without flinching. My turn to find out what harm Miss Townsend could wield.
I raised my hands right supported by left and almost instantly she lashed the strap down. It struck the full length of my out stretched palm and I winced in pain. Immediately and without thinking I presented my left hand and this too was expertly leathered. As she moved along the line I recognised the pain from the two strokes was hugely greater than I had ever experienced and both my hands were red and very sore.
Miss Townsend completed her task and told us all to get to class immediately. My hands were aching. I had never been struck so hard or felt such pain after a belting, and thankfully it was only two.
I concluded many years later as my interest in corporal punishment grew that she must have been using a Lochgelly belt instead of a Glasgow strap and that it must have been much heavier than we were used to.
I will end the first chapter of the residential school experience on that first taste of the strap. I have several other recollections of the place, the teachers and the punishments, especially my belting for a dinner time transgression and a reaction to my shock at receiving a hand spanking by Miss Baines.