Part 2 from Janus 15 by Richard Manton
Writer Richard Manton (the pseudonym of a well-known novelist) continues his recreation of just one day in the life of James Miles, the factual Master of the Hoo Union Workhouse at Rochester, Kent during the 19th century. This compelling, obsessive yet authentic account, closely based on records of the time, takes one deep into the world of workhouse discipline for girls and raises many topical questions relating to right-wing moves to get corporal punishment put back on the statute books. Part one of The Man With The Golden Rod appeared in Janus 14.
When, as James Miles, you were acquitted at your trial, the justices were clearly on your side. Off you go, they said. Birch those young reformatory trollops long, hard, and often. Did you suspect that the justices had a vested interest in the verdict? No? What a trusting sort of chap you are.
The French revealed the truth in such Edwardian hooks as Etudes sur la Flagellation. England’s rulers endeavoured to ban such books by prosecution and persecution. Not surprisingly, since the truth revealed applied to those rulers themselves.
Mr Miles was acquitted, we learn, so that the justices might continue to enjoy the sight of girls birched or caned on the so-called ‘justices’ nights’. Under a veil of Victorian prudery it was possible to attend an evening of tannings which combined striptease, moral self-righteousness, and sex as a blood-sport.
Nowadays, if the polls are to be believed, a substantial majority in the country would support judicial thrashings. Press reports in the Sun and the Liverpool Daily Post on 13 February 1976 revealed Tory MPs proposal to have girl delinquents judicially whipped ‘with a birch, cane or strap’. On 10 November 1977 the Daily Telegraph reported how girls in care in Nottinghamshire were to be dealt with until the age of 17. Misconduct was to be punished by bamboo. ‘Canings should be on the bottom,’ read the instructions, ‘always in front of witnesses.’
Papers like the Telegraph are rightly quick to report such stories prominently, thus warning us of the severities which a return to old-fashioned ‘discipline’ might involve. Yet, for all their enlightened and humane attitude which this careful concern for the subject doubtless shows, they can scarcely conjure up the scenes which a return to ‘the good old days’ would involve.
As James Miles you would welcome your guests to an excellent dinner, food and wine on expenses. Afterwards you would all retire to the punishment room — the Red Room as they called it at Hoo — prudently out of earshot of the rest of the buildings.
Picture a long stone-flagged room, gaslight glaring harshly on white-washed walls. The windows are high up and barred. At the centre of the floor stands the fixed square block over which each culprit kneels. Several feet to the rear are leather chairs for the witnesses. They take their places, Mr Miles removes his jacket and rolls up his sleeves. He tests a slender three-foot bamboo. It has a rapier’s spring. Like a golfer practising his swing, he cuts the air a few times with a trial swish.
The first delinquent is led in. She is just the rebellious tomboy to make a disciplinarian’s fingers itch. Elaine is best described as a shouting, striding youngster. Lank fair hair combed from a central parting lies loose upon her shoulders. Narrow eyes and thin mouth give the broad oval of her face a look of snub-nosed insolence. This sturdy young rebel boasts robust young hips and thighs.
The witnesses catch her defiant gaze with quiet smiles of anticipation, their eyes taking in her strong young legs, grey pleated skirt and white blouse. In modern terms it would be the kind of grey pleated uniform skirt worn short enough to bare Elaine’s sturdy young thighs.
Her crime, it seems, was breaking the finger of one of your matrons. Just the offence for which the Tory proposal of 1976 advocates birching or caning girls ‘guilty of inflicting bodily harm’. Yet Elaine returns the gaze of the portly middle-aged justices with a look of contempt.
It seems she cares nothing for the impending punishment. Hardly waiting for the order, she sheds her skirt and kneels on all fours over the block. The tight white cotton web of Elaine’s knickers show her to be ‘quite a big-bottomed girl in this posture’.
Despite more lurid suggestions of Mr Miles’s involvement, it will probably be a matron who stoops over the block. Elaine’s knickers are pushed down, and then she is positioned with meticulous exactitude. The pro-flogging brigade of our own day — MPs and public — would surely approve of such exhaustive precautions. It is, of course, left to you as James Miles to tuck up the tail of her blouse, well clear of the full pale cheeks of Elaine’s bottom. Are you startled as she tosses back her fair hair, cranes round, and treats you to a burst of snub-nosed defiance?
Such girls as this were a puzzle to men like the author of Etudes sur la Flagellation — Jean de Villot. Elaine was facing — or perhaps about-facing — a full judicial thrashing with all the trimmings. Yet by her continued defiance and insolence she seemed determined to do everything in her power to make it worse. Later on we shall have to consider why — but put out of your head any mischievous old-wives’ tales about the youngster ‘enjoying it’. Next day she would scarcely walk without some discomfort or sit without a wince and a sharp intake of breath. What is so enjoyable about that? A blister on the foot could be more fun.
As James Miles, however, you introduce one more refinement. Elaine must call out the number of each stroke before receiving it. Would our present-day advocates of the birch approve the idea? If the girl fails or refuses to do so, she will get the stroke anyway. But it will not count towards the total of her punishment. By defiance she will merely earn herself more lashes of the cane.
So, as James Miles, you must now take the bamboo in your hand. You announce her sentence formally to the girl and the justices, assuring her in the manner of a bawdy sergeant-major that it will be with the bamboo across bare bum-checks. Then you order her to call out the number of the first stroke.
Now comes the biggest shock of all. The rebellious youngster, in a burst of foul-mouthed, four-lettered defiance, refuses to call out the numbers of the strokes. In case you have not got the message, she yells to the world that you are a bastard, and an effing bastard at that.
Tossing back her fair hair, Elaine cranes round at the witnesses. The broad oval of her snub-nosed face is still suffused with defiance in her narrow eyes and thin mouth. How she curses the well-fed justices. In the privacy of the punishment-room they smile back at her knowingly, showing her their amusement and delight in her predicament. They let her see them sitting forward in their chairs for a close-up of the subject. Mouths pursed and eyes bright, they survey the sturdily broadened cheeks of Elaine’s backside in its present posture. Whatever the explanation of her vulgar impudence, she must have known better than to hope for a reprieve later on. When the justices have such a bare-bottomed tomboy over the block, all leniency is forbidden.
So Mr Miles gently and almost teasingly measures the bamboo across the full pale checks of Elaine’s young bottom. For all her defiance, the youngster is gnawing at her lower lip apprehensively. Her hands are clenched desperately and her fifth-former’s buttocks are tensing and shifting under the menace of the bamboo touch.
With all the time in the world, Mr Miles takes aim. Then, raising the cane, he brings it down with ‘an ear-splitting smack’ across the full pale cheeks of Elaine’s bottom. She gasps at the smart and her bum-cheeks begin to arch and squirm. Mr Miles knows from long experience that the initial smarting impact of the bamboo across Elaine’s adolescent behind will swell in intensity to a savage climax several seconds later. Expert that he is, he aims each stroke to coincide with that climax of its predecessor.
Naturally there is an electric tension in the room as the smack! ... whip-smack! of two more uncounted strokes rings out across Elaine’s rear cheeks. This is accompanied by a gasping, a wrestling, and the strained creaking of the punishment bench. Surely the rebellious youngster must know as well as the witnesses that she will yell at the top of her voice for the first counted stroke, sooner or later. Only then will the official discipline begin. Incredible though it seems, she is actually trying to add to her punishment while she can still bear to.
To be fair to those who now advocate the return of the birch, they do not suggest flagellations on the Victorian scale. The Tory proposal favours 12 strokes, though the figure 18 has also been mentioned. The danger, of course, is where the punishment routine provides for an increase in the number as a reprisal for misconduct while the tanning itself is actually being given. Elaine’s five years in the reformatory, under the old-fashioned law, would probably extend from adolescence to 18. One can well imagine the sort of discipline which the present law-and-order brigade might well want to administer to the bare cheeks of Elaine’s strapping young tomboy bottom during such a period of detention.
Back to Mr Miles in the reformatory punishment-room; back to the details which the pro-birchers would prefer you not to know....
After a number of uncounted strokes, the inevitable happens. A sizzling lash of the bamboo causes Elaine’s sturdy young buttocks to clench frantically. As the impact swells, she tosses back her fair hair, cranes round at the witnesses in consternation, and yells out, ‘One!’
The well-fed justices smile knowingly at this triumph of their power over her adolescent rebellion. The eventual submission of the victim is inevitable, but they prefer it when they have to wait. Mr Miles’s mouth is set tight. The bamboo thrashes down with a pistol-crack report across the red cane-prints already branching across Elaine’s backside. The sequel is predictable and easily imagined.
‘Two! ... Three! ... Fo-o-o-ur! .... FI-I-I-VE! .... SIX! .... Please, not across there again! No! N-O-O-O! .... O-O-O-W! .... My BOTTOM! Oh, please count that one! Ple-e-e-e-ase! .... O-O-W-HOO-HOO-HOOO! .... SEVEN! .... E-E-E-Y-OW! .... OH, NO! NOT THERE AGAIN! .... AHH! .... EIGHT! .... NINE! .... No-o! Not there again! It isn’t fair! .... Y-O-O-W! .... TEN!’
Does this sound-track show the unacceptable face of law-and-order? Remember, if the present proposal becomes law, much worse than this will be heard many times a day throughout the land. One can well believe that by this stage of the discipline, the fiery spread of Elaine’s bottom-cheeks ‘resembled a girl made to sit all day on a cruel thorn-bush infested by angry wasps!’ However, those in parliament and the courts who support such proposals have considered all this and have decided that the type of punishment inflicted on Elaine and her kind is OK by them.
The rest of us, however, may wonder about the so-called ‘healthy’ effect of such reformatory discipline. By this stage of the tanning, Mr Miles is finding the front of his trousers uncomfortably tight. Small wonder that the French suggested he was having ‘punishment fun’ with Elaine. One can well believe that the lads from the adjoining boys’ department would have risked their necks to reach the high barred windows on the outside. The master and justices were perhaps too busy to notice. Yet Elaine, as she craned round with eyes brimming and mouth howling, may have glimpsed the faces at the windows — wide-eyed and open mouthed, the lads’ legs squirming to hold themselves high up as they peeped in on the scene. Healthy? Well, it beats jogging on the hard-shoulder.
So before we all go out and vote for the return of the good old system, let us consider some of the things it actually involves. Those who advocate it — without ever having seen it — give the impression that a reformatory tanning would he a clean, decent, thoroughly British occupation. Rather like a game of cricket with birch and rump — six strokes to the over. Stiff upper lip? If anything was stiff in the punishment-room it is not an upper lip.
Victorian books and magazines thrived on whippings, sport and imperialism. For instance, Miles was quite entitled to cane a girl like Elaine or Ange after breakfast, and then call her back for a second bambooing across her bare bottom after lunch. Were our ancestors shocked by this? Not a bit, it seems. The Captain, ‘A Magazine for Boys and Old Boys’, assured its readers that a second tanning an hour or two after the first was merely ‘a second innings on a sticky wicket’. How England’s upper crust chortled over the joke. One imagines the humour may have been lost on Elaine or Ange or Sal.
To begin with, the language in such chastisements as Elaine’s is not at all the sort approved by the Viewers and Listeners Association for family entertainment. A vulgar young tomboy like Elaine, when stung beyond endurance, is apt to use terms you would not find in Jane Austen. After more than a dozen counted swipes of the cane across her bare bottom, even a sturdy youngster like Elaine is frantic from the lingering smart. Then there comes a wickedly-aimed stroke across the tender willow-pattern of bamboo already striping her backside. In a fury of anguish, Elaine twists her face round again, yelling, ‘My arse! Oh, you bastards! You bastards!’
We can look forward to a good deal of this, if the new proposals become law. The supporters of official corporal punishment, like those supporting the capital variety, are apt to assure us that their method is quick and clean. That’s great, as long as you’re not the one who has to clean up afterwards.
The last phases of such a punishment are likely to be extremely undignified. A sturdy impudent adolescent girl, kneeling so tightly forward over the block, is not particularly well-placed to exercise psychological self-control under the cane. After a stroke wicked enough to raise goose-pimples, Elaine’s tomboy bottom thrashes in a paroxysm of wild agony, and her lips scream profanities. The snub-nosed rebel turns the broad oval of her face to the witnesses, her mouth forming an ‘Ooo!’ of dismay at what she has so pitiably shrieked. She knows that such impudence qualifies for extra chastisement. Worse still, as her expression indicates to the judicial amusement of the witnesses, Elaine knows that in her present state the next smarting stroke may very well cause a repetition of her ‘insolence’, for which vengeance will be duly executed.
Supporters of the rod, of course, are quick to suggest that it would be ‘different’ nowadays. It’s hard to see how. Certainly as one correspondent in the Daily Telegraph (‘Caning of girls’, 26 January 1976) pointed out, the female bottom would continue to be the target zone. ‘After all, decorum has nothing to do with it, since the punishment is to be dished out by mistresses.’
That sounds fine until you read another report in the same newspaper on 25 May 1978, ‘Home Office turns blind eye to lesbian warders’. And not just lesbian, in this account, but ladies with a taste for sexual violence. In one of its best exposés ever, the paper revealed how Anita Sasin, aged 22, alleged that she had been the victim of lesbian rape at Styal prison in Cheshire. The Home Office dismissed the allegation with customary smug imperturbability as ‘Bizarre and untrue’. Unfortunately for the Home Office, Mrs Wynne Egerton, a senior officer at Styal, had the courage to disclose the true state of affairs in some female prisons. The Prison Department, she announced, ‘turns a blind eye and retains in the service, staff who are known to be active lesbians, and even corrupt married women.’
So much for the soothing assurance that reformatory canings would be ‘all right now’ because girls like Elaine would be tanned by female officers. Just imagine two or three ladies of this ilk standing over the culprit as James Miles did, eager to let off some disciplinary steam. It will all be behind closed doors — and no questions asked afterwards. Even if the questions are asked, the Home Office will be able to tell us that the allegations are bizarre and untrue. Picture the scene, the culprit over the block and a good selection of canes in the rack. Can you imagine what would happen to the strapping young cheeks of Elaine’s fifth-form bottom in the next half hour?
For the moment, though, you are still James Miles back in the last century. To Elaine’s shrill and frantic protests that she can bear no more, you need only reply that she will be made to bear it anyway. No need to concern herself over that.
During the rest of the evening you ply the cane with the virtuoso skill of a concert pianist before your guests. Every 20 minutes or so, the door of the Red Room opens. One pretty miscreant leaves, rubbing her behind cheeks tearfully, and another is summoned. Sarah Barnes and Charlotte Burton may have praised your virtues at your trial, but that only makes you the more keen to instil a little virtue into them now. Perhaps you progress all the way up the age-range in your disciplinary zeal, all the way to flighty young women of 27 and 28.
Your guests depart, leaving you weary of arm and damp of brow. Time for a nightcap in your study and a quick count-up of the day’s earnings. But, devoted public servant that you are, you cannot rest while duty remains undone. Surely when your time comes there will be a statue to your memory: ‘James Miles, erected by the girls of Hoo reformatory’.
You have just recalled a sluttishness of behaviour by an impudent young woman of 25. You summon Jacqueline to your study. Under the short bell of blonde hair and fringe, Jackie has a pale sullen face, blue eyed and heavy jawed. As ordered, she is in white singlet and working-trousers of tight smooth denim. Long legs with trim thighs. The softness of breasts and hips suggests one furtive pregnancy.
You employ her in various casual chores first of all, which involve her in a good deal of bending over with her seat towards you. You decide her fate while pondering, in their skin-tight denim, the fattish cheeks of blonde Jackie’s arse. All her sly attempts to seduce you from your duty fail. You are proof against such things.
Trousers and pants off, Jackie. Kneel on the sofa! Now kneel tightly forward over the padded back. Put your palms on the floor to take your weight. Such a pale plump pair of bottom-cheeks, Jackie! Why, you have escaped discipline far too long. I promise you, miss, my trusty bamboo shall soon alter that sad state of affairs! I shall send the matron in charge of your work a message to inform her that you will not be returning there tonight. In a moment, Jackie, the reformatory cane! Did you not guess it would be that when you were sent for? I do not believe I have ever had the opportunity to acquaint myself so well with your bottom before, Jackie! What a sluttish arrogance you must have showed as a shopgirl. Still, I can well understand why the customers were always asking for trinkets which obliged you to turn your back to the counter and bend to rummage in the lowest shelves! Keep that fat young backside of yours quite still, Jackie! No, don’t tighten your seat-cheeks as I measure the bamboo across them. Disobedience will prolong the caning!’
A devoted public servant, it seems, knows no rest. And yet, if the French account is to be believed, there is a curious sequel to your busy day.
One morning, not too long afterwards, a party of girls in singlets and trousers is tending the garden outside your study window. Your desk at which you are working stands in the bay of the window, giving you an excellent view. Elaine is there, tightly clad in white singlet and working-trousers of smooth lavender-blue material which are very, very tight-fitting. The cause of this is partly the broad leather waist-belt drawing them in so narrowly. Also the trousers are really too small for her sturdy hips and seat. Indeed, from the rear, the outline of Elaine’s well-filled seat is an almost perfect circle — across the back of her waist, out round the flanks of her hips, and under her buttocks.
As you work at your papers, Elaine takes her place at the flower-bed a few feet beyond the glass. She turns her back to you to begin her allotted task of weeding. You are bound to glance up from your correspondence occasionally at her sturdy adolescent buttocks straining the tight smooth trouser-cloth. Once, at least, she stares back at you over her shoulder, the lank fair hair from its central parting framing the broad oval of her face, the snub nose, narrow eyes, and thin defiant mouth.
Then she bends over to weed. By now you are having real trouble with your correspondence. You look up and there, three feet away, you are confronted by the sturdy thighs, the broadened young cheeks of Elaine Cox’s fifth-form bottom once more. No one can truly blame you for leaning forward on your elbows and staring with lips tightly pursed at the view beyond the glass! The impudent tomboy is bending right over and, it seems, deliberately thrusting the spread-cheeked seat of her lavender-blue tight trousers in your face!
Understandably, you do not get round to your correspondence. Your lips are rounded with a sharp intake of breath and your eyes gleam at the smooth seat-cloth drawn splittingly tight as the youngster bends. Vulgarly filled and fattened by this posture are the strapping young cheeks of Elaine’s bottom. You hold the paperweight in one hand and polish it vigorously but absent-mindedly. From time to time, the insolent youngster tosses back her fair hair and cranes round at you. She shifts a little but deliberately stays bending to confront you with her broadened young bum-cheeks, all morning long. Under the straining trouser-seat, Elaine’s arse-cheeks are wantonly and suggestively parted by her posture.
Yet Elaine is deliberately idling, showing you that she has not pulled up a weed all morning. There can only be one outcome to this. At the end of the session, you summon her for a study-tanning.
‘You’re really in trouble this time, Elaine,’ you say smilingly as you escort her in. The other girls stare aghast at her boldness.
Elaine on the sofa this time, kneeling tightly forward over the scroll at the end. Once again those trousers are beautifully tight over the cheeks of her sturdy young backside. Down come the trousers to her knees with Elaine’s pants inside them. The afternoon lies ahead of you, the doors are locked, and no tales will be told afterwards.
Why did Elaine invite such retribution? She certainly did not enjoy the strokes. Mr Miles was the only man in her life, of course, and perhaps this form of undressing was the nearest thing to sex she could get? Perhaps his mind would turn to other things? Alas, there is no evidence that he even thought of it! Perhaps Elaine was angry on another girl’s behalf. That might account for one incident but not her general conduct.
The likely truth is so obvious one overlooks it. Elaine was bully of the reformatory — like a gangland boss among humble cons. Instead of constant fights which she would one day lose, she held her authority by taking public discipline which other girls quailed at. Hence the incurring of extra strokes while she could still bear them — in order to display a more battered bottom! Hence the deliberate defiance of the master during the garden detail where other girls could see. She was one of those who, as the Telegraph put it on 15 October 1979, ‘bare their weals with pride.’ Like another problem pupil described by the same paper on 15 January 1976, Elaine ‘enjoyed being caned and went back for more.’ Like Mr Miles’s fifth-form tomboy, this pupil too ‘attacked teachers... disrupted classes, defied all rules.’ What seems like incredible behaviour by a reformatory girl was all too credible!
Last of all, let us concede that there may well be a case for the return of judicial caning and birching. But certain questions must first be answered which are carefully not discussed in the press advocating it. In a democracy punishments cannot be restricted to one group. Therefore in a modern Miles reformatory there will, basically, be two types of offender. One is the defiant adolescent tomboy of Elaine’s sort. The other — for the law in this area always extends to sexual immorality in the end — will be the promiscuous older woman in her middle or late twenties. For such a female, well-established in her waywardness, no other remedy could be appropriate. My story Lesley: Behind Closed Doors in Janus 13, described the case of one such girl.
If reformatories like James Miles’ flourish again, readers of Janus may well be among the applicants to become master! There will be many more girls than Elaine and Lesley. Yet the questions which will have to be answered apply very much to their types.
1. Should offenders be sent to the reformatory for a set period and a set number of birchings or strokes? Or should their stay and punishments be decided by the staff there? The old law would require Elaine’s presence until the age of 18. Would 6 or 12 months be sufficient for a promiscuous young wife like Lesley?
2. Should tannings be with or without witnesses? Elaine’s strapping young fifth-form bottom will naturally get private study canings as well as in front of staff or other girls. Lesley, a liberated young woman, will suffer some humiliation if caned bare-bottomed before witnesses. To avoid this she must bend her urchin-crop and present her firm pale buttocks to her chastiser alone. A real disciplinarian will want to deal very strictly indeed with a trendy young libber who has ditched her marital responsibilities in order to sleep around. Is the risk of extra chastisement justified by saving Lesley a more public shame?
3. Should buttocks be clothed during tanning? Translucent tights over Lesley’s bottom-cheeks will be torn by birch or cane. Lesley’s black stretch-briefs — like Elaine’s white ones — may impede the thrashing and conceal its effects from the person who gives it, which could be dangerous.
4. What punishment posture? Traditionally, Elaine would kneel over a block or lie on the sofa. Lesley’s firm pale bottom-moons would be shown while she bent over a tall stool. Should this change?
5. What instrument should be used? Traditionally a birch for a tomboy, a cane or even whipcord on the bottom for an adulterous young wife like Lesley. Few angry husbands have a birch in the house!
6. Should the strokes be set before punishment? What incidents during chastisement require one to reduce — or increase — the number? Should a more absolute obedience be expected from Lesley under correction than from a youngster like Elaine?
7. Should tannings also be awarded and given by subordinate staff? If so, would Lesley or Elaine bend for the master’s inspection and the tanning take place later? This guards against unsupervised discipline and ensures fitness for the ordeal. Yet it also ensures 24 hours of ‘butterflies in the tummy’ and a sleepless night for the young lady in question.
8. With up to a dozen years between age-groups, should severity of punishment differ? Do we accept that Lesley’s experience of lovers, marriage, childbearing, makes her more maturely able, physically and emotionally, to endure severe discipline than even a robust tomboy?
Should her greater feeling of humiliation be taken into account?
9. Would you find work in a reformatory for Elaine and the tomboys or work in one for Lesley and the libbers more rewarding? Try a simple test. You are offered one of two jobs. The way to one lies through a room to the left, the other by a room to the right.
To the left, young Elaine kneels over the block, stretch-briefs down, blouse tail pulled up. Tossing back her lank fair hair she cranes round at you with that snub-nosed insolence which has put her where she is just now. The full pale cheeks of her tomboy bottom are broadly presented. Cane and triple-switched birch lie close by.
To the right, 28-year-old Lesley bends tightly forward over a tall stool, with an air of peevish resentment. The straight fair hair, urchin-cropped, is shaped close to her head from the high crown to the jawline. Her blue eyes are dismissive, her fair-skinned features firmly disdainful, her mouth and chin sulky as a spoilt little girl. The short white singlet ends at her waist. Lesley’s stretch-briefs and tights lie on the tiled floor. Her long legs, trim from cycling and other exercises, lead up to the proud firming out of the pale moons of Lesley’s bottom.
Desertion of marital duties is no longer approved of as ‘a woman’s right’. Birch and cane lie waiting, together with a short woven pony-lash. Parliament has reinstated Sir James Stephens’s ruling. The number of strokes, the instrument used, the frequency of whippings, the removal of panties, will be entirely at the discretion of Lesley’s chastiser. A year or two will reform her ways.
Do you turn right or left? The questions are academic. What matters is the answers — and the answers must be yours, aided perhaps by the example of James Miles, the Man with the Golden Rod.