The Prescotian Webzine

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This is a subject which I suspect is close to the hearts (and perhaps to other, less well protected parts) of many ex-Prescotians.   During my period at PGS (1966 – 1972) most of the teachers took solemnly their duty to punish, inflicting pain upon us errant pupils, rather subjectively, in proportion to our crimes. There was a range of available weapons in the teachers’ arsenal, from the award of ‘lines’ or detention, raps on the hands or knuckles, to the embarrassing spectacle of having one’s backside whacked or beaten in front of the class.  One master inflicted summary justice by means of a blackboard duster knotted into the sleeve of his gown. As a surprise visited upon the back of your head, this had the effect of transforming a secretive whisper to your next-door neighbour into a very public shriek to the whole class.  Some masters had their very own, idiosyncratic, methods of punishment, to which they adhered and for which they were famous or notorious, according to position of the witness.

Non-Corporal Punishment

There were those teachers at PGS who simply did not resort to corporal punishment.  At least, I don’t remember them doing so.Alan Stoddart, “Lucky Bag” Richardson, “Charlie” Middlehurst, Roy Taylor, Mr Chaudhri, and most of the younger teachers never gave anybody a ‘whacking’.   They relied upon lines, detention or sending you to the Head.

Charlie Middlehurst’s punishments consisted in the main of awarding lines.  His refusal to accept derivatives of the word ‘get’ as legitimate English words meant that boys using them in written work were punished by having to write out 35 times the sentence, “I must not use ‘get’, ‘got’ or ‘getting’.  I suppose this was rather like the father who, on catching his son smoking, made him smoke a pack of cigars until he was ill.  Other ‘get-unrelated’ crimes were rewarded with “50 verbs”.  The recipient of this had to conjugate 50 different verbs, making sure, of course, that “to get” was NOT one of them!  A boy’s failure to produce his lines on time would land him in detention.

Detention took place in a free classroom after lessons; sometimes presided over by a teacher, sometimes by a prefect (often called “a perfect”).   If a boy was inclined, he could take advantage of this quiet period of an hour to do some homework; if not he could read a book.  The key rule was “silence”.  Failure to adhere to this could mean further detention.  Prefects, in addition to teachers, were able to award detentions as punishment.  Those to be detained had their names posted on the notice-board outside the prefects’ room.  This was originally the room situated first on the left, coming in by the staff entrance.  (Eventually this room was given up by prefects and was used as a classroom.) 

In some schools, prefects were distinguished from mere mortals by a shield-shaped badge; in PGS they all wore a variation of the black & blue school tie.  Theirs had an extra stripe of gold. (Purer Mettle? – sorry about the pun!) Eventually, this became adopted by all sixth-formers, who, by simply being in the sixth form, became prefects. I remember one occasion when Gordon Stirling and a crowd of us were smoking behind the bike sheds adjoining the sixth form block at first break. We were spotted by a zealous prefect, newly arrived at the school, who asked us for our names.  We trotted them out to him meekly but, when Gordon’s turn came, he had the presence of mind to concoct the name “Robson”, managing to keep a perfectly straight face whilst saying it!  The punishment for all of us was detention.  Ha! - We, unimaginative ones, sat for an hour that evening whilst “Robson” had his name called out repeatedly.  The next day “Robson”, had he existed, might have noticed that his detention had been doubled!  There followed several enquiries about “Robson” but Gordon Stirling successfully managed to keep a low profile until all the fuss died down.

Corporal Punishment

Scott

Many of the staff seemed to accept corporal punishment as a necessary and normal corrective device.  Scott was a very tall, powerfully-built man with a shock of white hair.  His elephantine ears sprouted long wiry hairs and so did his flaring nostrils.  A pair of huge bushy eyebrows overlooked his features (his “physog” as he called his face one day, using public-school slang for physiognomy).  Those eyebrows were guaranteed, on their own, to intimidate all but the brave (or foolhardy) among us.  I can honestly say that I never dared to “forget” homework for Scotty; I witnessed what happened to those who did!  Weapon of choice:     The blackboard duster – chalky side down.  This looked painful and no doubt was.  Scotty had a strong arm which he swung effectively.  Victims walked around all day with two oblong-shaped chalk marks on their trouser backsides, and no doubt, pink replicas below.

Frank “Twank” Webster

Webster taught physics.  He was known to take assembly from time to time and, I believe, was also a lay preacher.  Generally fair, as I recall, he wasn’t one to let fairness be mistaken for weakness.  His favoured method of punishment explicitly linked Theoretical Physics to Applied Physics.  Transgressors would be given a physics lesson they wouldn’t easily forget.

Weapon of choice: The Metre Rule.  Webster followed the same pattern on each occasion, it went like this:-

“Bend over, boy.  I shall now demonstrate the difference between high pressure and low pressure. . . . . First the low pressure”

“WHACK!”The victim’s backside was struck with the flat of the metre rule, the end beginning its travel about six feet away, distance closing rapidly.

“Now, boy, the high pressure”.

“NICK!”  This time the metre rule was brought down, edge-first, from two feet above the unfortunate bottom. “WAAAAH!!” - By this stage, the point about pressure had been quite clearly grasped by the lad.

“Silence, boy.  You have experienced at first hand the difference between high and low pressure. Sit down.” 

Edward Fielding Kirk, “Joe”

Ted Kirk is now a composer of music, which he publishes on the Internet.  When I knew him at school, he taught Music. He played Piano, Saxophones (Alto & Baritone), Flute and probably others.    He had a tough job transforming callow youths into players competent enough to perform in front of an audience.  He was also single-minded, rather austere or ascetic and ‘a bit highly-strung’.  I recall, during an evening performance before an audience of parents, the school orchestra had got off to a bad start on a piece of music. “Stop, Stop, Stop”, he shrieked, after a few minutes, dashing his baton to the floor and storming out of the hall!  The audience looked about in stunned disbelief.  Sitting in the front row in his evening suit, the Head was dumbfounded, too.  Moments later, Ted strode back in.  He didn’t even look at the audience or apologise but barked out instructions to the orchestra to restart, “ . . .and this time . . . etc. etc.!”

I can claim to have been the first lad in my year to have been whacked by “Joe” and I can still remember why.  It was my first Music lesson of my first year.  The class had asked too many questions of him and had wound him up. Ted was ‘losing it’.  “Right, the next boy to put up his hand gets a whack!”  Five minutes later, guess who put up his hand?!  I had what I thought was a legitimate question to ask, no matter – it was answered with a pair of whacks.

Strangely enough, this sort of punishment was meted out so frequently by Ted Kirk, that I don’t think anyone ‘batted an eyelid’ about it.  It was unremarkable and several boys in any single lesson might have suffered the same fate.

Weapon of choice: The sole from an old plimsoll, carried in a briefcase.  It must have been easy to grip and wield.  It stung sharply but after the first blow there was little sensation.  ‘Whacks’ were sometimes offered instead of lines.  I was once given the choice between doing six hundred lines and taking six whacks, for skipping Games.  I chose the whacks – less time-consuming.

Tony Hardwicke

Hardwicke taught English.  He played piano and was involved in a ‘band’ outside school.  I think his sport was Rugby.  Often given to a scream or two if lads misbehaved, he rarely lost his rag.  When he did, it was not pleasant to observe.   

Weapon of choice: a small wooden plank

Only on one occasion did I witness Hardwicke administering ‘physical chastisement’.  It was quite frightening and I felt sorry for the victim, although I can’t remember who it was.  (Was it ‘Azzer’ Astbury, perhaps?).    Whatever the transgression, it must have been ‘serious’. 

 Hardwicke’s face glowed hideously purple, he was beside himself with rage.  Barely controlling himself, with his mouth spitting and screaming only inches away from the boy’s face, he shook the lad violently, and threw him against the table at the front of the class. “BEND OVER, BOY!”, he roared.  Then, from his briefcase, he pulled a short plank of wood.  This looked like it may have been part of an old school-desk.  We all watched with horrified interest.  He grabbed a chalk from the blackboard and marked an ‘X’ on one end of the plank.  Gripping the other end in his right hand, he screamed out, “X marks the spot!”, and launched the weapon ferociously at the lad’s left cheek . . . .then his right.

The boy was in severe pain and was shaking.  The class was silent.


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