Britain has had some quirky and odd industries in the last century, but few were as typically strangely British as some factories mostly staffed by women who manufactured punishment canes for use in schools, prisons, reformatories or even for use at home by many British parents at one time. All through the nineteen hundreds, punishment canes were frequently used in schools, reformatories and even homes up until the 1960’s and 70’s when new education legislation began to view this very painful punishment as abusive rather than an effective teaching tool.
Some teachers in the UK are lamenting about the abolition of the use of corporal punishment in British schools because with this powerful deterrent to bad behavior gone, behavior in British schools has only grown much worse they now claim, where now 1/3 of all teachers report being punched or physically assaulted by their students, and students skipping class or bringing contraband to school such as weapons or drugs has only greatly increased. And while the late 70’s punk rock era in British music created some creative new music, it probably only promoted more lawless and violent behavior in the British school system after the deterrent of a stiff caning was outlawed by newer government legislation.
Some social polling sites such as Mister Poll have many polls, including some from those over in the UK who once received canings in British schools in the old days. They all remarked about the terrible pain created by this dreaded spanking instrument that seemed to be most uniquely British in use, although some nations like Singapore and in the Muslim Mideast the use of canes is still common. According to Wikipedia, near the end of school season in Singapore with final exams, many merchants still sell canes to parents who may later whip their high school aged children who do poorly on their final exams, providing a very powerful deterrent to not studying hard to get a good grade. According to one recent survey, 57 out of 100 parents in Singapore had punished their kids at least one time by caning. Compared to many U.S. kids getting grounded at worse for crummy school grades, that’s some tough love.
First in Scotland in 2003, and finally in the UK in general in 2011, new legislation came into play that made illegal to use any implement that would cause a mark on a child. That was sure contrary to why the cane was such a powerful deterrent to bad behavior. The instrument was designed to leave painful marks, or welts from the cane strokes that would throb or to be sore for days to remind a culprit of their wrongdoing. In British schools, the painful instrument could be used on most students of any age at one time. However, at home, many parents would use this instrument to punish their older teenagers, say a 18 or 19 year old boy or girl, who were too old for handspanking, but required some punishment that would significantly hurt them despite their older age and bring them to tears and repentance. Canes of different grades such as junior and senior and judicial ones once existed. The judicial model was used in prisons or reform schools, while the senior model was reserved for older students in the British school system since it could even penetrate through layers of clothes to cause great pain. The junior version was also popular in schools for younger students, but was once the choice of many parents for the home in the UK because most home punishments were often likely given on the bare skin as a form of extreme spanking for older children in their late teens. Generally 6-12 strokes was pretty common in either British schools or the British home, and seen as legally acceptable at one time.
Today, such instruments seem barbaric and medieval. But, mostly still have some use among those adults into the S&M scene who dig the kinky theatrics of these dreaded classic classroom discipline instruments. But, looking back, you had to wonder what was going through the minds of those women producing those painful canes in that old British factory. While the instruments might be doing some good for society by keeping order in schools, in reformatories or even at home, they weren’t going to do much good to some offender’s backside. They were one of the few consumer products that when used as intended would cause the consumer great pain.
Not much is known about when rattan first came into use as a discipline instrument, but women in the old British factories that made these instruments used to steam and bend part of the rattan to create a rounded end much like a walking cane handle. However, the extremely whippy nature of the rattan made these totally unsuitable for use as a walking cane, where these special type of canes had only one purpose, and that was to be used as a punishment instrument.
Strangely, canes actually came into use in Britain probably in the very late 1800’s or almost 1900’s when as a form of reform in corporal punishment in the school system. Birching, or the use of a handful of twigs or switches was most common in use before that, but would often cut the skin and cause some superficial bleeding on the bare skin, and the heavier cane could even be used effectively over some layers of clothes and cause sufficient punishment to wrongdoers. Canes were viewed as being more modest because bare skin wasn’t required to punish a student.
Students in the U.S. can be pretty glad that the American school system used a lot less physical discipline than the British counterpart. However, as a young student in Roman Catholic grade schools I still remember some bad students getting a yardstick whipping from the Mother Superior in the back of the classroom as a kid in the early 1960’s.
At any rate, this old photo spurred an interesting discussion between me and my friend from the UK who lectures widely on ending abuse as a medical professional. At one time the use of canes were very acceptable in the UK, but that’s not to say that a great many wrongs happened as a result of the use of these dreaded instruments. The use of such instruments sure seems draconian by today’s standards, and rightly so. Instruments like this have no rightful place in the schools. But among adults, the cane will probably remain popular as a form of S&M prop for many years to come. What consenting adults do is a whole different thing than what used to take place in the British school system.
Yet, somehow this old business of producing canes to hurt people seems like a literal pain in the ass. But, at one time cane producing companies in the UK probably made a lot of money, with plenty of schools, prisons, reformatories and even more than a few angry parents as customers. That was the bad old days.