The true history of the Lochgelly Tawse
(AKA School Belt or The Strap)
(By Margaret J Dick (daughter of John J Dick & granddaughter of George W Dick)
Part 5 – John Johnston Dick
My father, John Johnston Dick (1927-2005) went straight from school to the yard. He had already spent a great deal of time in the saddlers workshop, as a child he suffered from polio and kidney problems and the best place to leave ‘The Bairn’ when off school poorly was the saddlers workshop, which always had a pot bellied stove going and was nice and warm Inevitably he was given wee jobs to do and another generation of saddlers was begun.
By the time he started his apprenticeship around 1941 there were 2 master saddlers, one other apprentice and approximately 30 employees at the yard in total. The Co-operative in Lochgelly alone had about 30 working horses so there was plenty of work for James Heggie trading as R Philp & Son and G.W. Dick & Sons even without the infamous Lochgelly Tawse.
My father served a very different apprenticeship from his father. Going into a family business has it’s advantages, not having to pay for your training for one, and it’s disadvantages, having to fill in when and where required in the other departments. However, growing up in a family business is a bit like that anyway, with many hands (small and large) to the breach when required. Over all I think my father enjoyed growing up at the yard, it certainly left him with expertise in all the associated trades, even taking over shoeing my pony when our farrier died suddenly. No doubt he spent time watching and probably helping the renowned blacksmith John Simpson back in the day.
By 1950 my grandfather George Dick was in poor health so my father John raised the money, even selling his beloved MG sports car to buy out granddad’s share of the Main street shop. He and his brothers Alexander Dick (1915-1975), George Dick (1916-1966) and Robert Shand Dick (1922-2001) weren’t long in modernising the yard, turning it into a popular working garage with fuel pumps. The manufacture of The Lochgelly Tawse continued with a new stamp:
~JOHN.J.DICK MAKER LOCHGELLY~
In 1951 John Johnstone Dick married Diana Gun-Sutherland Fraser (1931-) from Edinburgh. For the next 5 decades they worked hand in glove through many changes and made a formidable husband and wife team each bringing their own strengths and talents to the business.
The Main Street shop diversified supplying garden equipment and toys as well as the Ironmongery and Saddlery. My father also made some changes to the belt. By 1958 it came in two lengths, 21 and 24 inch, 2 and 3 tail and 4 weights Light (L), Medium (M), Heavy (H) and Extra Heavy (XH)
~Two Tail Tail Tawse – Three Tail Tawse – Weight Stamps~
The belt was used by some parents to punish their children at home but my parents never knowingly supplied the ‘domestic market’. They were mild mannered folk who never lifted their hand far less a belt to their children. They feared that in the home environment out with the controls of school a parent may go much further than ‘six of the best’ on the hand.
Around this time my father started producing a miniature tawse. It was approximately half the size and weight of a regular belt and started out as a wee joke present for a regular customer who was buying a play school desk and chair set as a present for her child but it was added to the price list and sold in small quantities to primary school teachers.