Part 1 from Janus 14 by Richard Manton
In January 1841, James Miles made headlines for the first time in the Morning Chronicle. When charged with excessive use of birch and cane upon the bare bottoms of girls in his care, the justices laughed the case out of court at Rochester sessions. Mr Miles went on from strength to strength, supported by disciplinarians, press, and the justices — traditionally allowed to come and watch girls under the birch. As late as 1897, his colleague, the Rev Marshall Vine, supported such disciplinary zeal. It was still customary to give 36-stroke birchings in reformatory institutions, Vine insisted. ‘And I have done so,’ he added proudly in his evidence to the Parliamentary Committee.
In our own time there is a groundswell of opinion, in the polls and in parliament, which favours the return of judicial chastisement. What would it be like? How would the system work? Is it quite as edifying as its supporters suggest? Perhaps before we give it our resolute support we should go back in time and recreate a day in the life of James Miles...
Would you change jobs with James Miles? Mr Miles was a real man with a real problem, a dedicated upholder of law and order in the England of our great-grandfathers. Look on the bright side first of all. His job carried a reasonable salary of about £15,000 a year in modern terms. One of the perks was a fine house at Hoo near Rochester with servants and transport provided, not to mention a good kitchen and cellar.
Perhaps you might be put off by noticing that the pleasant house and grounds were surrounded by a high wall to keep snoopers out and to keep the delinquent young ladies inside. As the notice board by the porter’s lodge would inform you, this was a very old-fashioned reformatory and James Miles was the master. All his care and trouble was expended on the 50 or 60 pretty miscreants in his charge. Nowadays some of them would have graced the upper forms of a comprehensive school but there were others whose ages ranged (in the case of Phyllis Blake) up to 29!
Before you refuse outright to have anything to do with such a post, rest assured that you will be supported by a willing staff of burly matrons, more than enough to deal with any rebellion among the girls. Look more carefully at the conditions of employment and at the girls. On any given day there will be several of them who will wince and draw breath sharply as they sit gingerly on those hard reformatory chairs. Do you wonder why? Perhaps you notice in the conditions of employment that there is a weekly retainer paid to you for inflicting chastisement. The going rate in the 19th century was ten shillings, which 150 years later would be over £20. Also, as Ronald Pearsall shows in Night’s Black Angels, there was payment of half a crown — £6 or £7 in the 1980s — for many a whipping, birching, or caning given.
Are you worried at the cost of all the equipment needed in this new profession? Have no fear. As Mr Pearsall records, there were also ‘out of pocket expenses’ for such items as canes, birch-rods and whips which would get worn out by constant use.
Perhaps you might simply envy James Miles his prestige? His early achievements were reported in the Morning Chronicle and his powers of chastisement were the subject of an editorial in the Britannia newspaper. With lips pursed and birch raised over some recalcitrant reformatory beauty, he represented the might and majesty of the Law. His story found a place in fiction, as well as folklore, in Ron Rich’s The First Victorian. Only the French — whom every decent Englishman of the day despised — suggested that the disciplinarians were having the time of their lives. Small wonder that books like Etudes sur la Flagellation, which blew the gaff on Miles and his kind, were rigorously banned in England. ‘Le Vice Anglais’ was how they described it in Paris.
The truth is that if James Miles fails to send you rushing out to join STOPP, then STOPP will probably have to manage without you.
Perhaps you would want to spend a day as James Miles before committing yourself either way. The morning’s labours must begin after breakfast, for there are so many defaulters to be dealt with. You retire to your sunlit study overlooking the garden and await the first tap on the door.
Is it a coincidence that the first delinquent who comes in is also one of the most beautiful in your care? Why is it that the ugly ones never seem to incur so much retribution? In this case, Judith is quite a tall and graceful girl of 16. The light brown hair is worn in a sweep from her high crown to her shoulders framing the pale oval of her face with its clear fair-skinned features and hazel eyes.
You instruct her to lay her skirt on the chair and to present herself in stockings and tight cotton drawers. In this state you discover that she is not only quite tall but has long elegant legs which any glamour girl or beauty queen would envy. Pulling yourself together, you instruct her to lay her knickers on the same chair. Then Judith must face the chair and bend over it tightly with her hands on the seat.
Just before you attend to her there is some reformatory business to be done. You sit at your desk, quill pen in hand. Two or three feet in front of you is Judith’s rear view. The long light brown hair has been braided into a pair of plaits to prevent it spilling forward as she stoops. From the rear you view the long graceful legs and seat. The black stocking-tops at mid-thigh, the elastic suspender arch at her waist and the suspender straps down each flank conveniently frame the area of interest. Perhaps you permit yourself a quiet smile of anticipation as you sit forward and familiarise yourself with the target.
Predictably, though you sit at your desk for half an hour, like the dedicated public servant that you are, you do not somehow get round to the paperwork.
‘Bend over more tightly, Judith,’ you say from time to time. ‘Even more tightly still! No, don’t keep looking round at the cane!’
Judith may be a demure and well-spoken young lady, the stuff of which pupil-teachers and governesses are made. But she has broken the rules and this time it is she who is on the receiving end. You rise and touch the bamboo across the pale oval cheeks of Judith’s 16-year-old bottom. No smiles now, for your mouth is set firm and your eyes gleaming.
The sharp impacts of the cane ring out one after another across the nymph-cheeks of Judith’s arse. Such a ladylike young backside undergoing so undignified a punishment! The silken whisper of stockings rises as her graceful legs squirm together. One knee jams frantically into the back of the other. The elegant ovals of Judith’s bum-cheeks twist aside and there is a wild cry. Not surprising when you view the smarting willow-pattern of bamboo printed in fire on her behind. But you cannot permit such wriggling.
‘Want me to take you back to the beginning and start again, Judith? No? Then bend properly. Up on tiptoe, forehead on the chair seat. No need to blush about it...’
So the caning continues. You no doubt pause from time to time to survey your handiwork. Then comes the dread utterance.
‘Quite still, Judith! I’m not satisfied with your bottom yet!’
Naturally you are ready for your elevenses after such exertion. Fortified again, you turn to the problem of Sally or Sal. Here is a diminutive hooligan with a shock of henna-tinted hair, a high-boned impudent face with rouge on the cheeks, and dark defiant eyes. She and her two friends have been consigned to the reformatory for breaching the peace in no uncertain manner. Through the quiet middle-class street this pint-sized strumpet went bawling: ‘I went out on Saturday night! I got into a fucking fight!’ Sal was boasting, by the way, not complaining.
Do not imagine Sally in dress and petticoats. She was one for what Miles’s contemporary Arthur Munby called ‘working trousers’ and what we should probably call jeans. Picture her in a black singlet, let us say, and a pair of tight faded blue jeans which show her sturdy thighs and bulging bottom rolling as she walks. The justices knew at a glance there was only one place for her.
As you escort her ahead of you to the study, you may well stare open-mouthed in anticipation at the swagger of Sally’s fat young bottom in those tight jeans or ‘working trousers.’ In the study itself she has to undo the waist-belt and push her pants down below her knees.
‘Lie bottom-upwards over the sofa-cushions, Sally!’ you say humorously, exchanging a knowing look with her.
Clearly a fresh cane is called for, one with a vicious spring. And two more cushions under her belly to raise and swell the curve of Sal’s seat. As you stand over her, you issue a warning.
‘You’ll be coming here every morning, Sally, until the matrons are satisfied with your improved conduct.’ Then the bamboo whacks across the fat little cheeks of Sally’s bottom with a report like a ringmaster’s whip. You punish Sal with the cane across the crowns of her buttocks and curb her impudence by applying extremely hard strokes across her lower, softer rear-cheeks. Or so you think. When you dismiss her, she is hardly outside the door before you hear her mutter, ‘Fucking old creep!’
It is the work of a moment to open the door and summon her back. The matrons will aid the removal of Sally’s pants if required. Kneeling tightly forward over the chair-back this time. Now the banter is obviously on your side.
‘Morning and evening, Sally! Until we’re absolutely satisfied with you! We’re very hard to satisfy here!’
If you have a moment to spare from your labours, you may just catch the shrill sounds of your matrons being very strict indeed with Sal’s cronies — Tracey, Mandy and the rest of them — in the adjoining rooms.
What a busy morning it has been! Now there is a stern knock at the door. The chief constable! The magistrates! Ah, you thought it was too good to last! Your foul secret is revealed! You see visions of arrest, public disgrace, and a prison cell! Have no fear. These gentlemen are your very good friends and they have come to lunch.
Nowadays they might be eager to spend lunch discussing the latest right wing proposals for the restoration of birching in the grand manner. In default of this, why not entertain your guests, as James Miles, by showing them your scrapbook. First would come your conditions of appointment — all those extra perks for birching and bambooing recalcitrant young ladies — doing well by doing good.
Then you will want to show them the newspaper clippings of your trial. Your trial? Yes, alas, you were once tried before the justices of nearby Rochester. The courtroom was crowded by the national press. You were front-page news in the Morning Chronicle. A few sanctimonious busybodies decided that you were enjoying your public duties too much. They hauled you before the court for ‘cruelty’ and ‘indecency’ in your use of birch and bamboo. Can you imagine such absurdity?
To be quite honest, the case gave you a few nasty moments but you need not have worried. For example, Mr Elwes, the legal brain of the prosecution, condemned you for having teenage girls held down while you thrashed their bare bottoms. The judges dealt with this nonsense in no time at all. As one of the older women insisted, she had never known a girl ‘that did not struggle’ under the birch. ‘Then, gentlemen, I must apologise for introducing the suggestion upon this court,’ said Elwes the Legal Eagle in humbler tones. The Morning Chronicle of 7 January 1841 reported him without comment.
You see? You need not have worried after all. The court heard that you once caned the bare bottom of a young woman of 28 while she was lying on her bed. There were girls of more tender years whom you tanned in the Schoolroom. (Ironically the same word was used for the place where girls were whipped in brothels.) The court really did not care.
Rather nervously, the girls began to admit under cross-examination that you were a kindly master. Oh yes? Were they perhaps too scared of the retribution awaiting them if they sank out of tune? More probably they preferred regular meals and an occasional sore bottom to the prospect of starving in the streets. So it was that Sarah Barnes, Charlotte Burton and the rest sang your praises.
The prosecution struggled on gamely, doing its best. You had birched the bare bottoms of girls between the ages of 16 and 28! Yes, yes, thought the judges impatiently. Of course you had. That was what the government paid you to do. Some of the strokes, said the prosecutor solemnly, made the girl scream. Of course, they had, thought the justices. It wouldn’t have been a very effective punishment otherwise, would it? But, shrilled the prosecutor, the girls had been held down for their bare bottom discipline! Naturally they had, said the court. If you don’t hold them, they wriggle.
So the astonishing trial at Rochester continued with the entire country following the details eagerly over its toast and marmalade next day. How did it end? Well that was truly unforgettable — and you are going to have a lot of fun telling your cronies about it at lunch time. First there was an ill-concealed snirt-snirt! chortle-chortle! from one of the well-fed Pickwickian justices. Then the others began to join in. Soon the entire bench of them was rolling about, hooting and roaring till the tears ran down their cheeks. Funny? You bet it was funny!
It really was priceless, you see, to prosecute you for skinning a score of schoolgirl bottoms every week. In modern terms, it was like a tax inspector sending out a final demand and being prosecuted for demanding money with menaces.
So the portly justices laughed the case out of court. Birch the young sluts soundly, Mr Miles! Have the skin off their arses, sir! Go to it, by gad! Not that they uttered these sentiments. Instead they began to shout jokes to one another. The entire case foundered in great farting peals of mirth.
You were acquitted. But what did the country at large think about you? Did they condemn you? Were they indignant that you were being paid to have the time of your life while they slaved away in factory or counting-house? For the benefit of your guests you show them what the Britannia newspaper said about you after your trial. ‘Wholly up to him to decide what degree of punishment,’ said the Britannia in its editorial upon you. Archibald Sinclair in his 1857 Reminiscences, put more power to your elbow. ‘First rate disciplinarian,’ wrote Sinclair approvingly, ‘never gives less than three dozen.’
Three dozen? Small wonder that the witnesses at your trial and the other delinquent lasses. Charlotte Burton, Sarah Barnes, Elaine Cox, Lisa Screese, and the rest, have the reputation of being the best disciplined girls for miles around.
If any of your guests entertain lingering doubts as to the legality of such punishments — and supposing it is now 1904 and you are a spry 90-year-old — you pull down from the shelves the great legal authority of the day. It is the sixth edition of Sir James Stephen’s Digest of the Criminal Law, published that year. There on page eight, under the heading ‘Whipping’, you will find the ruling that ‘the number of strokes and the instrument used are at the discretion of the person by whom the whipping is inflicted.’
True, there are one or two subversive types around who make snide remarks about your conscientious performance of your duties. There is a young man called Havelock Ellis. The foul-minded little cad actually insinuates that you are getting secret sex fun by caning the bare bottoms of Jane, Sally, Susan, Maggie, Judith, Elaine, Jennifer, Helena, Ann, Noreen, Mandy, etc., etc. Have no fear, Ellis’s books are being prosecuted by the authorities who denounce him as ‘a thoroughly filthy fellow.’
Lunch has restored your energies and you decide on an inspection of the girls at work. How about a stroll down to the stables on this sunny afternoon? There you will find a girl of 19 polishing the display of harness and mopping over the tiles. Though she goes by the newly-fashionable name of Angela, she is known by the reformatory contraction of Ange.
For some time you have had doubts as to whether Ange is pulling her shapely weight. She is a girl with a plumpish figure, well shown off by her singlet and those pale faded blue working-trousers, best described as snug-fitting jeans. She has a soft face, though her nose is pert, blue eyes, and a short razor-trimmed crop of light brown hair.
As you arrive, she is on all fours, mopping over the tiled floor. Prudently she keeps her head lowered to her task, the brown fringe falling over her forehead. The soft outlines of her face, her ears and her smooth young neck are revealed by her short crop. In the warm afternoon the singlet clings to her pale back and breasts. From the waist down one must imagine her full thighs and plump hips sheathed by something like a pair of pale blue jeans. Nowadays, under the tightly strained jeans-seat you would see the elastic outline of Ange’s knickers — a pair of stretch-briefs arching up high and tight over each of her bum-cheeks. In those far-off times, they were not worn.
Therefore, you will want to take a long and careful rear view of her as she works on all fours. A few years more and Miss Angela is going to be a decidedly plump-hipped young lady! Just now she suits Victorian taste. A slight weightiness in her thighs draws your attention to her seat. Under the drumskin-tight jeans, Ange’s buttocks are robustly full and broad. You inspect the area closely as she toils away self-consciously under your feared gaze. The stout central seam of the jeans-set is drawn deep and taut between the lower fatness of Ange’s bottom-cheeks.
Is she really working to your satisfaction? As you study Ange’s broad young backside, you are not entirely convinced. Well out of earshot there is the ‘apple shed’ where windfalls are pressed for cider. The power is provided by a young woman bending over a barrel which stands on its side. She then runs like a sprinter on the spot, working the wooden treadle, under which lie the apples to be pulped. What better exercise for a 19-year-old idler like Ange?
She may not be easily persuaded, but you have your way. So you contemplate Ange, arse-upwards over the barrel. Her softly appealing face is lost from view over the wooden curve and you can scarcely see the razor-trimmed crop of her light brown hair. Yet Ange’s plump bottom-cheeks are straining those jeans dangerously tight, and they obsess you. You must not risk them splitting as she runs. The only alternative is to undo the waist and ease them down until they slip off over her ankles. Yes, of course, you will want to pause and study the bare bottom so tantalisingly offered.
The girl obeys you, as of course she must. Her trousers are now off. Then, at your second command, she begins her run, her plump young thighs working energetically. The slight extra sheen of pale flesh on Ange’s naked bum-cheeks quivers like smacked jelly as she runs on the spot.
Your own trousers feel uncomfortably tight as you remember the words of Sir James Stephen. Ange’s fate is entirely at your discretion. You will not, of course, be barbaric. Yet there lies the birch (three yard-long switches bound at the handle) which came from the Reverend Mr Vine’s prison-farm. As you watch Ange, those running thighs and fattened young bum-cheeks, you recall that she was due for a tanning anyway. How convenient! You are entitled to give Ange’s young backside the severest birching that even a boys’ prison-farm allows.
Ange, of course, twists her face round in blue-eyed alarm and her legs go like pistons.
‘A full prison birching across your bare bottom, Angela!’ you say, warning her to brace herself for it.
Her protests are gasped and breathless as you measure the birch across the rounding and writhing plumpness of Ange’s pale mobile seat-cheeks. Thrash! goes the triple-switched rod across her quivering backside. Thrash! ... Thrash! ... Thrash! ... Thrash! ... THRASH! ... THRASH! ... SWISHHH-THRASH!
What an afternoon this promises to be! Ange’s shrillness is making the rafters ring. Bottom upwards over the barrel she is going like a champion, legs pumping up and down at twice the speed. Ange’s soft pale buttocks are dancing cheek-to-cheek, and it is as well for her that she cannot twist over on her hip. Thrash! ... Thrash! ... ‘Push your behind right out now, Ange! Run faster!’ ... Thrash! ... Thrash! ... Thrash! ... Lash! ... Thrash!
Perhaps you feel that all this is too much for 19-year-old Angela. And yet it seems you are wrong. You turn away for a moment to lay down your coat, for you are feeling immensely hot. While your back is turned, Ange’s mouth delivers a loud and vulgar raspberry as she runs — surely a deliberate defiance of you? As you turn, she gives a cry as if suddenly terrified by her own brazenness.
‘Very well, Angela! You know the rules! We shall commence the discipline again! From the beginning!’
Let us draw a curtain of decorum, as the Victorians themselves might say, over the remaining events of the afternoon in that apple-shed. It will be some while before you emerge and, as for Ange, she may prefer to remain there a time and even shed a tear or two of repentance before she emerges to face the world again.
But you are forgetting something, are you not? All that energy put into birching Ange, as well as caning Judith and Sally, is not merely a disciplinary exercise. It also earns you money. In addition to your £15,000 a year and your £40 a week as chastiser, today’s three punishments have earned you some £21 at about £7 a time! It may not be as good as first prize on the premium bonds but it surely is more interesting.
Ah, you are wondering how the authorities know the amount due to you. After all, there are some dishonest fellows about who would claim to have birched half a dozen girls a day when they had done nothing of the sort. Naturally, you could be trusted to do your duty but there are some people, you know...
What could be easier than to tell whether the books are cooked or not? The justices’ clerk arrives to pay you the day’s dues. He does not need books at all. You call Ange, Sally and Judith.
‘Slip your knickers off, Ange, and bend over the back of the chair... Judith, lie bottom-upwards on the sofa... Bend over the desk, Sally! Push your jeans right down!’
The justices’ clerk, with eyes laughing and mouth rounded in admiration, can read the accounts exactly where you printed them with willow and bamboo. He cannot draw himself away. There is a favour he would ask. He has some apples for pressing. May be bring them? Is the shed free tomorrow afternoon? Might he borrow Ange? How can you refuse a man who is offering to do your job free?
A sceptical modern reader might begin to wonder about the motives of some Victorian upholders of law and order. The justices laughed prosecutions like that of Mr Miles out of court. But they did better than that. They actually supplied James Miles and his kind with the pretty girls whom he ‘reformed’ with such loving care. Indeed, the justices were eager to see chastisement enforced. They were even, it seems, prepared to bend the law so that a pretty girl with a shapely bottom might bare it regularly for the rod.
Impossible? Take a look at the tip of the iceberg in Richard Whitmire’s Victorian and Edwardian Crime and Punishment. Among the records of Huntingdon gaol, for example, are details of girls sent to the reformatory by justices, sometimes with specified birchings. Julia Ogolthorpe is a pretty dark-haired schoolgirl in the photograph on her record-sheet. For stealing a loaf at Grantham, they gave her five years in reformatory where, as they say, she might spend more time bending than sitting.
But surely these worthy gentlemen were only doing their job, weren’t they? Take another look at her record. It is made out, announcing her summary conviction, on 5 January 1871. It also gives the date of her trial — which did not take place until 27 January, more than three weeks later. Whoops! The greedy justices were thus able to choose girls for reformatory discipline for the next five years without waiting for such boring details as the trial, the evidence, and the possibility that Julia Ogolthorpe or Sarah Barnes or Sally Fenton might not be guilty. Of course, when the hearing took place, the justices were both judge and jury so there was no danger of getting the wrong verdict.
Before James Miles was born, Edward Ward in his periodical The London Spy had revealed the eagerness of justices and their cronies to see a good display of birching and whipping upon the bare rears of young women. Some of the girls were in their 20s, others in their early teens, according to Ward. The chairman of the justices sat in the ‘judgment seat’ with a hammer in his hand. ‘A woman was under the lash in the next room, where folding doors were opened so that the whole court might see the punishment inflicted.’ Ward watched for a while and then went about his business leaving his judicial friends ‘to flog on till the accusers had satisfied their revenge and the spectators their curiosity.’ In our own time there are many voices urging the return of such punishments. What did Ward think, after watching them? ‘I only conceive it makes many whores,’ he said, ‘but that it can in no measure reclaim them.’
Next time that the advocates of flogging in our own century hold forth, we might do well to remember Ward’s remarks. To strip a girl for whipping, he observed, was the first step in making her a whore. When it was over, she regarded herself as one.
As James Miles, of course, you will not wish to hear such arguments. Your day is too busy. As you may recall, you have already tanned Judith, Sal, and Ange, as well as entertaining the local magistracy to lunch. Now the justices’ clerk leaves, making Ange wince by an injudicious slap on her light jeans-cheek. You might almost think your day’s labours are at an end. Would it surprise you to know that, for a dedicated public servant like Mr Miles, they have hardly begun?
Continued in The Man with the Golden Rod - part 2