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 1 – Memories:
If you’re my age or older then the memory of the Tawse probably makes you wince and fills you with indignant feelings about the unfairness of this punishment, for with large class sizes teachers seldom had time to listen far less understand their pupils actions. Things were far worse in my father’s time, at least we were only belted when we disobeyed the rules. They were beaten for not understanding the lesson, how excruciating pain to the palm of your hands could possibly help the brain absorb information is beyond me. You’ll have guessed by now that I think the belt has well and truly had it’s day, for humankind to develop we must stop beating each other and I look forward to that day. However great interest still exists in this subject and no other websites have it quite right, so here’s the true history of the Lochgelly Tawse.
The Scottish poet Alexander Smart (died 1866) describes the day he fell foul of his dominie, Mr Norval, when writing of his schooldays in Montrose. “Sixty lashes with the leather thongs on my right hand, inflicted with all the severity of a tyrant’s wrath, made me scream in agony of desperation. My pitiless tormentor, unmoved by the sight of my hand sorely lacerated and swollen to twice its natural size, threatened to cut my tongue if I continued to complain and, so saying, laid hold on a pair of scissors and inflicted a deep wound on my lip.”
With sadistic beatings of this kind occurring in Scottish schools, it’s not surprising that parents complained. Sir Walter Scott, wrote in his journal December 13, 1826, of how he attended a meeting of Edinburgh Academy directors to discuss flogging. “I am an enemy to corporal punishment, but there are many boys who will not attend without it. It is an instant and irresistible motive and I love boys’ heads too much to spoil them at the expense of their opposite extremity. Then when children feel an emancipation on this point, we may justly fear they loose the bonds of discipline altogether. I was indifferently well beaten at school, but I am now quite certain that twice as much discipline would have been well bestowed.”
The Education (Scotland) Act of 1872 made education available to all children from 5 to 13 years. No longer was education the preserve of a select few, mainly boys. A vast school building programme began and over the next few decades large numbers of schools were built and teachers trained. The result was large class sizes learning by rote. Silence, obedience and hard work were expected and often enforced by the liberal use of corporal punishment.
The ‘ tawse’ the name is derived from the method used to cure the hide known as ‘Tawing.’ The Chambers Scots dictionary definition is as follows: “Tawse, Taws, a leather strap cut into thongs at one end, for the use of schoolmasters to punish with, to whip, scourge, belabour. Tawse-swasher, one who uses the Tawse. Tawse-taes, the thongs at the end of a Tawse. Tawrds, a schoolmaster’s Tawse”.
Over the next hundred years or so it would be called many things (often unprintable!): Toosh, tag, tash, scudge, scud, the leather, the belt, the strap and of course after 1884 The Lochgelly.