Corporal punishment at RHS
The tawse, the belt, the strap, wellied wi’ a Lochgelly
Many descriptive word and phrases to describe one thing – school-delivered corporal punishment. I received many thrashings and I do believe that I was the “most belted” boy at the Royal high School!!! (Primary and Secondary ) Proud of it? Definitely not. Ashamed of it? A little. Resentful of it? Very rarely, as I knew that I deserved some form of punishment and the belt was summary and recovery was usually quick.
At Primary School a miscreant pupil was normally sent to the Head Teacher, Mr. Boyd, who was the possessor of a Lochgelly Special XH which was kept curled in a drawer in his desk; the preamble to the punishment was intimidating. The belt was withdrawn slowly from its lair and carefully straightened and swished a couple of times to loosen the muscles in the executioner’s working arm. After a couple of visits to “see Mr. Boyd” I became phlegmatic about the whole exercise and I think that I cried only once – at a very early stage, probably aged 8.
At Secondary things were more dramatic – sometimes in extremis. My worst experience, in terms of pain, was in my first year aged 12, I received 6 of the best from the Head of History who positioned me at the end of his platform ( really old traditional rooms, coal fires etc) and went to “his end”. He then walked rapidly 6 times down the intervening gap and hammered me with an XH (extra hard) weapon. That was sore! Going home on the tram car I had to ask my pal to take my tram fare from my pocket as my hands and one wrist were badly swollen. Not a recommendation for corporal punishment!!!! The unlikely outcome of this rather traumatic experience was that I was taught one to one by the same teacher in Sixth Form and went on to study History at University. No hard feelings!
I never experienced another belting from a “runner” but I was told the story of a boy in my same year. He was made to wrap a scarf round both wrists and he had to suffer 6 charges from a deranged art master; his hands were really battered. Incidentally, the art teacher had reputedly been the model for Miss Brodie’s love liaison in “The Prime of Miss Brodie” – which took place at the Marcia Blaine school – really James Gillespies School in Edinburgh. The miscreant art teacher had been warned previously for damaging a boy’s wrists – hence the precaution of bandaging them in advance. Seriously, a real condemnation of corporal punishment!!
I was really angry/upset by apparent sadism and viciousness on a couple of occasions.
- In my first year at Secondary our class (top stream) were taught English in an Annexe in Regent Terrace. Our following class was music in the legendary School Hall. In our first music lesson, our teacher who had a reputation for brutality warned us that if we were late in arriving at his class we would all be belted. Just wee boys, we were afraid and begged our English master to let us out before the bell. No luck. The entire class ran to the Hall and most of us reached our destination just before the bell stopped ringing – but not ALL. We were lined up and given one of the belt each. Two of our class – a future Dux and a future School Captain- (and probably more) had never “had the belt” before and were trembling. When my turn came I looked at the teacher and scowled at him – He was over six feet in height but I imagined getting revenge – the hatred never left me and in my third year, I was able to exact real retribution –another story, but I will not tell it in case any reader might conclude that I was a REALLY bad boy.
- In my sixth year I was being taught by the Head of Classics in a class of 5 studying Latin for University Entrance Level Exams. One day, a Latin Master was absent and our teacher took his class along with ours. It was a class of first year boys and they were told to stand up individually and recite some lines from Cicero that they had been asked to memorize. The boys were terrified and one boy stuttered and stalled so badly that he was pulled to the front of the class and given two of the belt. I was ashamed that I did nothing to intervene as I could/should have. The class of wee boys were traumatized and the punishment was simply a show of sadistic power.
The Music Master at RHS was a famous organist called Bill Bowie; his reputation in the school was very mixed – hatred and fear on one side (he was a legendary belter) and respect on the other side because of his musical talents and because he was Master in Charge at the Scottish Schoolboys Club Camp held every year at West Linton. At the camp he was very relaxed and integrated, socialized and coached rugby. He was one of the reasons that I never attended the SSC camps; I could never forgive his brutality in belting the entire 1X class.
In my third year Mr. Bowie became the rugby team coach for the “Under 15 ½” team for which I was selected. We had a good team, losing only one game to Fettes, when Gordon Waddell of future Scottish and British Lions fame, dropped a goal in extra time.
At practices, Mr. Bowie was very authoritarian but we probably need that and he coached well. At the end of each practice he played in the backs and relished getting the ball and romping through the tentative tackles of hesitant 15 year olds. At the end of one of the practices I devised a plan with Ian Thomson, an excellent scrum half and a good mate. Ian, playing in the practice side against our team agreed to run wide off the next scrum and feed Bill Bowie in plenty of space so that he could go on one of his charges. I peeled off our scrum early and took a good line for a tackle. The tackle – it was a work of art if unorthodox. I took the risk of catching a heel as I went very low and ankle tackled the flying Bowie. From a height of over 6 feet he crashed to earth. He lost the ball, lost his whistle and nearly lost consciousness – he was certainly concussed. Our team were solicitous; we found his whistle, helped him up and re-directed him when he went in the wrong direction for the clubhouse.
A quiet celebration took place after our next Saturday match. I was bought 2 drinks by “the boys” – half pints of course- we were only 15! I rarely felt so much satisfaction at a very dubious action but I felt that the entire class (1X) had been avenged. To be fair to Bill Bowie he showed no umbrage but he stopped joining the practices at the end!
From Tom Peck
RHS 1943 – 1955
Dux in History and lectured at Napier and Dundee College