History of The Night of the Cane

Evidently this is Matilda Lester, who won the competition in 1946!  (see Picture Post below)


The Caning Competition - History



I’m trying to retain a degree of historical scepticism here, but a number of posts came up on IC in 2006 about there having been caning contests in England for rather longer than we thought:


Networm reported: I do voluntary work in an industrial history museum, and I discovered these two curious letters, apparently dating from 1875, buried at the bottom of a box of Victorian scientific and electrical equipment which was donated to us. Needless to say, I kept the matter from my curator...


The First Letter


Cranthorpe August 7th 1875


Dear Hawkins


Damn this rain.  Makes me see how dreary the inside of Cranthorpe is.  Solid deluge since Tuesday and Uncle Arthur's lot to stay: Young Tim has turned into the damnedest little snirp, and Bella is prosy dull as ever. Hope it’s better for you at Bill hirst. Confound it; wish we were back at Burbury, I’m counting the damn days.


Cousin Coll was here, one year my junior, and he’s a good enough fellow for boxing in the long room, and he had a pal along from Digby (who I did not entirely take to), so we had more than a few afternoons with the mauleys on, and I confess Coll has learned a dirty trick or two at Digby, and I had to knock those out of him.


Hs comrade, Baines, is a prefect at Digby, and thinks a deal too much of himself to the mind of your humble correspondent, and he and I had several pretty bruising set-tos I can tell you.  I can’t say I’m unhappy to see the back of him; only hope he thinks the same of me!


This is the worst of it:  One evening, after a good number of lumps exchanged that day, and a bloody nose apiece, he starts this infernal prose about the prefecture at Digby and their fearsome conduct with the cane, and Coll yessing and nodding like some damned lackey.


Shall I tell you, Hawkins?  This Baines was all set to show his style on poor Coll, but I forbade it, saying that as a Burbury chap, I wouldn’t have such shines as using the cane as sport. He challenged me for lacking pluck.


I was pretty stiff with him, and said that a Burbury hand could do as well with a cane as any of Radleigh, but he scoffed and desired that I prove it.


This caught me on the raw but I said that if he meant to prove his point, it might best serve that some convenient place be decided and six pairs of fellows should come from each side and so their offices in front of some to keep score. This diverted him well enough and we fell to cases of criteria and rules, which occupied our talk til bed, with no more talk of belabouring poor Coll.


I recount this (which I hope is all stuff) in part to forewarn you in your office as head Prefect from September.  If there comes any word out of Digby from Baines on this, my council is to send a scoffing nunquam. Certainly I want no part of it.


To put it all out of mind, I mean to spend the next day making a kite, and the one following flying it (if windy). I understand now why fellows speak of Digby as they do. Hurrah for Burbury!


Your friend and associate



The Second Letter


Lisson Grove

Mary le Bone



Mister Yelland, Sir (Captain Yelland, as was):


I hope this finds you well, Sir, and that schoolmastering proves the good thing as you did always reckon it.


It is Briggs writing, sir, if you recall me; I had the honour of being batman to you in the old 11th in China, and I bore your bags to Burbery in ’63, and made all as right as I could those few days, afore they could get a proper school servant on the job.


I has fallen right on my feet Sir, as I hope you will be pleased: I have these five years been engaged as waiter and other things at the Roundway Club, so I am in regular money, and fixed right up.


As you may recall, sir, with Briggs it is ‘mum’ on all matters irregler, and that is my rule at the Roundway as you may understand, but a matter has come to pass what I feel is best made known to you since foreknowing is, to my guess, just as important for a schoolmaster as it might be for an officer or even an humble waiter or barkeeper.


Last Saturday night it did come about that I was told by steward that the Douglas Room be reserved for a party of one Major Jones of the Sixteenth, and none bar his lot let in, and me to attend on ‘em along with young Willikins. This I done.


The company, Sir, was Major Jones, and two other officers, and a chairman, and one dozen boys from your school, Burbury, and one dozen of a school named Digby College.


I have never seen such, Sir; these twelve pairs of lads was announced respectively by the chairman, and the senior of each pair then displayed his skill upon the junior with a cane, Sir, and the three officers gave the points. In the end the higher score went to Burbury, and a bottle of port was given by the chairman as prize, whereat all parties shook hands and departed.


It is not at all my place to think right or wrong at what a gentlemen chose to do, Sir, not nohow, but I’ve never seen no manner of thing like this in all my puff, and if Burbury is part of it (as seems), I am doing you no service if I do keep ‘mum’.


Yours as ever I was


Geo Briggs

And this appended:


Woolwich Arsenal


Aug 19th 1886


To Captain Baines, 2nd Dragoons




I am concerned at certain developments regarding the Roundway Competition that we began eleven years ago, and has grown in scope by a damnable degree, so that now we have a dozen schools in it, and the rules altered to accommodate.


I must inform you that I have received letters from six men who head schools in our competition, and they mean to come and watch!


This is deep, Baines, Deep. We may easy find that these pedagogues mean to take our competition, born of boyish spirit, and make it their own: Our tradition taken as theirs!


I have taken time to talk to sir John Birch, our patron, and he thinks as I do: His council is that we must together sign articles, and apply for Crown Charter in our names under one name. Sir John’s suggestion, which I think apt, is ‘The Birching Block’.


If you reply ‘aye’, I shall direct my man to a notary, who will set wheels in motion to this end. If ‘nay’ I shall wait upon our meeting.


My own notion is that we must act fast, and set ourselves up properly, lest we unprepared are faced with a fete accompli by assorted beaks.


Ever your servant


Capt Charles Hickey


Royal Horse Artillery



This from Westgate Old School:


Bolton le Sands, September 8th 2006

Dear Martin,
I enclose a letter that was found recently by me while I was in the process of restoring a Chesterfield armchair: The letter, still in its envelope complete with stamp, had slipped inside the chair, where it had laid for goodness knows how long.  My father bought the chair at auction in the 70s, but I don’t know who had previously owned it.

What’s caught my interest is the circumstances both described and implied by the writer, Mr Brock: he seems to be very much the stern ‘Victorian Dad’, and obviously thinks that a school’s prowess with the cane far outweighs the merits of teaching, and has clearly consigned his boys to the hands of supposedly the cruellest pedagogue he can find.  What father could do more?  Now witness his outrage at finding himself mistaken!

But the most intriguing bit is the ‘yearly competition’; fifteen schools sending prefects to show off with the cane?  It almost beggars belief, but Doctor Harris is clearly using accounts of his schools prowess there in order to attract parents’ money – I bet those Blakeney prefects had a lot of explaining to do!  I wish I could see a copy of that prospectus!

One thing is for certain, the Caning Competition did not originate with Ishmael Skyes and The Firm in 1999.

Take Care,
Trevor Keyes.

Sittingbourne, Kent, November 6th 1898<

Dear Doctor Harris,
I am pained to inform you that I do not mean to allow my boys, Joseph and Samuel, to return to your establishment, Blakeney College.

As you were informed in my letter of March 95, my boys are spirited fellows, and in need of continual setting right.  Copies of the prospectus received in succeeding years 95-97 have made mention of outstanding vigour in such matters at Blakeney, and this was in no small part the reason for my choice.

Last night, however, I attended a certain contest at the Roundway Club, of which I am sure you are aware.  I there witnessed the expertise of prefects from some fifteen schools, out of which, I may say, those of Blakeney swaggered, dealt light blows, cried ‘Take that!’, while their subjects wailed and blubbered in a style most shameful – not the least to myself as a Blakeney parent.

My boys will continue their schooldays at Sandyford.

Augustus Brock

The following, found by asdf123:


I am the Head Master of the above Grammar School and the subject upon which I write is one that is dear to my heart as it is to your own. Namely, that I have heard that you host an annual competition in the art of caning at the club called the Roundway, at which selected Masters and boys from some of England's finest schools compete for the honour of being named champion. Although I would not presume to name my school one of the finest in England, I flatter myself that my staff can wield their canes and the boys of Newcastle Under Lyme Grammar School take their blows as well as any of their more prominent counterparts.

Your obedient servant, J Holdcroft MA.

You can see the original - in surprisingly good condition, probably due to where it was stored - as the only picture attached to my profile. http://www.informedconsent.co.uk/pictures/asdf123/60335.html

The reply was found with the above letter, and goes as follows:


You are obviously aware that the annual competition at Roundway Gentlemen's Club is confined to the boys and teaching Masters at the finest schools in England<. You are also aware that your Grammar School is not among that number. I am therefore astonished that you should presume to contact me and I return your letter with the recommendation that you confine your attention to matters more befitting your station.

Your most obedient servant (illegible signature).

The first letter is dated 16th September 1907, and the reply is dated 12th October of the same year.

This from ‘John’ of Peaches Spanking Club

We recently had the BBC filming here for a programme called ‘Estates Investigated’ presented by ‘Eagle Eyed’ Eric Soames. Due to go out next year, they say” “The deal is that the Eric gets 24 hours ferreting, and the programme is about what he discovers; all well and good, but what if he finds something you’d much rather keep under wraps? Well, you do what I did, and whip it quick”. “ This is a bit of a scoop, and much too good for the BBC!  It’s a letter written to my great grandfather that was folded up inside his old army bible.  I’d heard about it from Granddad, but never looked at it until just ahead of the Eric; bloody glad I did!

“Granddad’s thing was that it was written eleven days before the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month etc, and so very significant (and the writer John Hawthorne died a day after writing it – it was found in his pocket and delivered to Great Grandfather), but what gets me is that Hawthorne’s mind was obviously on spanking right to the end, and seems to have been something to do with a group called the Birching Block – early 20th Century spankers, or so it seems!  (Though they sound to have become pretty depleted by 1918) – and by the sound of it, Great Grandfather was one of them! As to the ‘Roundway Competition’ I’ve never heard of it, but it must be CP contest, and going on since at least 1913! There’s no mention of it on the Internet, unfortunately.  I think that I might have stumbled on a very well kept secret!


What Ho Dick

We were bombed again last night: I am dog tired, and can’t wait for next leave: some of the chaps say they can’t stand Blighty now, but not me – I think only of Little Suzie and her fair derriere.


Stupid I know, but what else can I think on to keep me bright? I woke up in my dugout last night to Fritz’s alarm clock to see a great fat rat gnawing the inside of my loaf, and I blew him across the trench with my revolver – greedy blighter.  The forty men I set out with are now twenty three, and we can see poor Anderson rotting on Jerry’s wire half a mile away (and smell him when the wind blows this way).  Tell the truth Dick, I think it’s all up with us.  Now I think of it, Joe the secretary bought it at Mons, and Tom the treasurer went upsides at Ypres in 16.  There’s been others too: Wells and Meakin aren’t coming back. Seems the boys of the old Birching Block are pretty much done.


If I do get through this, old friend, I’m going to do what I should have done when we were at Ladywell back in ’13: I’m going to tog little Suzie out as a boy and cane her in the Roundway Competition.  She and I will sweep the stake, and the little tart will have something to tell her grandchildren!


Keep safe back at the depot, Dick; we’ll be done here in a day or two, then back to base. Call on Jane if you’re back in Blighty before me.

Up the old BB


It certainly looks like the same competition is being referred to, but where was the Roundway Club?  My first thought was that the Great War killed it off, but the following (found by Madame Petra and in Academy Incorporated) say different.

Punch 1921

Welcome in Jemima!

Bless my soul; it's barely a twelvemonth since Algy Bingham was blackballed from the Roundway Club Caning Competition for trying to enter the lists with Master Bertie Locke – more often known as Bettie Locke, belle of the Hackney Empire – all tricked out in 'his' best bib and tucker for the required Six of the Best!

Ungentlemanly conduct!' was the cry from Roundway as three crusty old colonels all bit through their pipestems; all this and yells of 'Cad! Bounder! Bad Show!' And after all the practice Algy had put in (not to mention the distress of 'Master' Bertie!

But, stab me vitals, this year a volte-face from the pipe-smokers, and maybe a red face too! For who is to step up to the mark, but Mrs Florence Bracegirdle and Jemima!

Indeed, the ladies have not merely become mistress of the Bicycle, the vote and the factory floor, they have now won the right to compete over who best wields the rod. But why such perversity from the men at Roundway?

'Bingham was put up to make a farce of the whole thing' our man was told hotly, 'Mrs Bracegirdle is a lady of iron integrity and principle!'

Iron rod too, no doubt. Ah me; where will it end? In chaos in your humble hack's honest hopinion.


Lake Garda

December 14th



Dearest Bar’


Promised I’d tell you about my jaunt to the Roundway; here goes.


Dora and I hotelled in Victoria and went to R by cab.  I wore my spiffy evening suit and monocle, while Dora wore her littlest black dress and camis underneath.  I took along my very favourite cane.


There was a huge number and it was a copacetic job we had tickets as no-one could pay at the door. We drew many admiring and astonished glances from the boys, and ever so many catty looks from the Janes – of whom there were more than a few!


For the first time, the chairman explained, there was to be a competition for dolls and then one for chaps, with a cup for each, and we dames went first of course.


Wow!  What a show!  Some real skill and ferocity on display as each girl bent over the block and each Ma’am or Matron laid on six.  My gams were like jelly when Dora and I were called up, but it felt super-daring to pull up her hem, lower her camis and lay on with my favourite, and Dora marked up like the cat’s miaow.


Much applause, but some sour looks too, and one old bird especially – what a fire extinguisher she was!Then came prizes, and Dora and I pipped Mrs Grundy into third place – we were second! – and Tara Phipps first (of course – she canes like the prettiest schoolmarm ever).


Then it was the guys’ turn, and frankly a bit of a bore.  Dora and I cabbed back after the first three, and resumed her much merited swishing at the digs. Got to practice hard before next year, you see!


What a shriek! See you soon.




But Hils and Dora and their friends obviously raised hackles:


The Rectory, Moreton in the Marsh,

November 12th 1925

To the Chairman of The Birching Block The Roundway Club Baker Street London

Dear Sir

I was most disquieted, when I made my annual visit to your competition Saturday last, to observe that a wholly inappropriate and unwelcome aspect seems to have entered the proceedings.

To write plainly, it is that many competitors were visibly taken not by a love and devotion to discipline, but by beastly lust. I was quite ashamed to see the recipients of many sixes rise not with tears, but with smiles of gratitude and sinful intent, as if they would gladly receive more.

I need not tell you that the cane is not an instrument of pleasure and that those who derive such from its use are the basest of degenerates. I hope that you will take steps to cut out this wickedness, root and branch, with the utmost rigour.

Yours sincerely

J Siblington




Now this is interesting; it was published by Northern Spanking, and allegedly found during a periodic review of the archives of the HMS Mercer naval base, and previously the property of First Officer Alan Lester who went down with HMS Tresco, when it was torpedoed in 1942. 


In context with the rest of the stuff it assumes great significance; Tilly is clearly writing about the demise of the Roundway Club, courtesy of the Luftwaffe in 1941, and is clearly a good friend of Algy and Bettie Bingham (see the Punch article above – they seem to have tied the knot since 1921!).  Note also with greater wartime egalitarianism the end of separate competitions for gentlemen and ladies!



[Letter received by First Officer Alan Lester, HMS Tresco, Archangel; 20th April 1941]


Dearest Alan


How I miss you.  It seems ages since your last leave, and aeons til the next, and only the snap of you in those shiny riding boots to remind me, and ‘Tickler’ hanging on the bedroom door, of course!


For once, I’m not writing with a lot of dreary stuff about landgirls and evacuees; bad news though, I’m afraid.


The [censored] club has gone.  News came with Johnny last week; [censored] direct hit.  It’s burned to the ground.


I was in town Saturday, and took a bus to [censored] Street.  All cordoned off, and an empty shell, so I tooled round to see old Algy and Betty Bingham.  Algy is firewatching these days, and Betty sings for the boys on leave.  We drank tea and commiserated.


Not all bad though, because Algy is still full of beans and says he’s got a plan or two for somewhere we might use – ‘Hitler won’t stop us spanking’ says he – and Betty’s the perfect brick – she means to do a concert to get funds.  I offered to do my poor best on the ivories, and she cried ‘Bravo!’


So it’s ups and at ‘em still, and with luck we’ll keep the flag flying over our typically English pastime.  If we do, it’s going to be just one competition this year Ladies and Gents have been segregated far too long!  I do hope you have leave for it, my love, then we must spin a coin for who wields ‘Tickler’.  I do hope it’s me!


I enclose a few things that might be helpful.  The boys are doing well at school, and Tim is proud of his salvaging, they send love, and the picture (painted by Martin) of you on ‘your ship’.


Love you ever so much


Take care



Godalming April 15th 1941


Closely followed by this: What Tilly did next!  Including a picture (see above).  Stevenson Hall, Atlantic Road, Brixton – does anyone know where this is?


Picture Post: 9th November 1946


Hats off (or bottoms up, rather!) to Mrs Matilda Lester of Godalming, who won the annual Caning Competition at the Stevenson Hall, Atlantic Road, along with her fiancée, Mr John Hayes.


‘John always bears up splendidly’, she told our reporter.  ‘I can see he’s going to make me very happy.’


The occasion was also marked by a passionate oration by the new chairman, Mr Jeremy Ellis, lately demobbed from the Royal Engineers.


Taking the stand to present the cup, Mr Ellis said, ‘We come here every year to celebrate the practice of caning as a perfectly natural and harmless game that can be part of a loving tryst between any couple who enjoy it.  We have all seen how things go when spite and intolerance are used as the watchwords of a land, and our games are not those of the bully or the brute.  That is why I have invited Picture Post here to see this.


‘What happens to small boys in schools up and down the land’, he continued, ‘Is alien to everything we stand for, and I, for one, repudiate any implied connection.  We lovers of the English cane can and must hold our heads high and show ourselves proud and passionate about the things we hold so dear.’


He was received with a standing ovation.


More intriguing; this from childroland2006 – can this possibly be true?



A contact of mine in the PRO turned up something quite intriguing last week - I understand it was part of a file of governmental 'ephemera' recently declassified under the 30 year rule. While there is no way of determining the veracity of these documents, one cannot deny that they make interesting reading. The letter and accompanying 'commentary' are reproduced verbatim.

Charles II Street

November 22nd 1963

Dear Tom

Well, seems that's it. I've spoken to the man from MI5 and they will not, under any circs, kill the press story: Not only is the Caning Competition sunk, there is now very little chance for Labour next time round. We are in the unrelenting clutches of a most terminal fix.

MI5 really were a forlorn hope, but after the Mail were able to overturn the original injunction (on appeal), they were the last thing we had, however, the Idiot Brigade do not want Wilson as PM.

In a couple of days, the story will run and the pictures will reach the British breakfast table. The Tories and that sheep ADH therefore, have the next government in the bag, and the Little Man will go spare. I'd take a holiday now if I were you.

It says in Radio Times that some new rubbish is starting on TV about time travel: If I had such a time machine, I'd go back to the night of the 2nd and stop you and CK before you got into the building, let alone into the competition!

Dear God, Tom, you got us all into a hell of a mess.



The above letter, addressed to Tom Driberg's home address but never sent, was found with a note paperclipped to it 'FAO John Pearson', in an archive box owned by my late grandfather, Albert Bakewell, once a departmental head in a branch of the Civil Service.

Why it never reached Pearson, famous as the biographer of the Kray Twins, is easily guessed: Grandfather Albert was prone to flights of fancy that occasionally escalated into paranoia, and he was ultimately required to take early retirement as a result. His secretary presumably considered this letter to be just such a fiction.

But is it? Grandfather's grasp of the politics of 1963 seems to pass muster; the 'Idiot Brigade' (MI5) were dead against Wilson (the Little Man) and not about to help kill any potential scandal that might stop Labour overturning the government Alec Douglas Home.

What the scandal was, I can only guess at, but it seemed that Driberg entered a caning contest (the mind boggles) with one 'CK' – given the year, this could have been none other than Christine Keeler! The Mail had indeed got a scoop, linking a prominent Labour Politician with a notorious good time girl in the most sordid circumstances.

As to why the letter was never sent, and why the story never broke, we must look to the date of the letter. Grandfather notes a new programme on BBC television - this can only be Dr Who, first shown on Nov 23, famously just after the shooting of JFK. Doubtless the death of the US Premier, drove the scandal story from the pages of the Daily Mail.


Extremely hokey; Tom Driberg and Christine Keeler?  Even if the competition was still going on in 1963, even if it has been essentially the same competition going back pre-1898 (which it isn't), Tom Driberg would never have been at any such competition with Christine Keeler in 1963 - it was straight after Profumo, Keeler was just too hot to handle, and Driberg was gay!

Yes, Albert Bakewell was indeed having a flight of fancy!

This from Rubberroy

Motivation 1984

Hats off to Tim of The Rump, who has stepped in to save the Caning Competition at the 11th hour, by providing his own North London home as a setting. Motivation was represented by the very beautiful dominatrix, Serena, whose skill with a cane our male members will certainly confirm. Serena was pipped into third place however, by Sally, a ferocious pint sized blonde lady, and by Clare a most formidable lady from the North, who delivered the First Prize strokes. The Caning Competition is a highly exclusive evening, and those wishing to attend the next one should seriously consider attending the Maitresses Club on Falconberg Court first in order to get in the know. Thanks again, Tim; a great private party, and one we were glad to attend.

He adds “I seem to remember joining Motivation many years ago. It cost the vast sum of £45 and we got very little for our money! They done a few mags, and that was about it.

I think the Clare mentioned from the North may have been the Claire I got to know (of Clair and Brian) who used to go to der Putsch.”