Blaker Family of Sussex - Reminiscences


Management of Children.

THERE has been, perhaps, no change in our social life and customs during the last half century more marked than in the management and bringing up of children. I can well recollect when very little regard was paid to children's wishes and inclinations, they were expected to conform to what was thought best for them and to do what they were told. Truthfulness, obedience and respect to their parents were the chief objects aimed at, and "Spare the rod and spoil the child" was the motto constantly in use and acted on. The instruments of punishment were the birch, cane and slipper, though sometimes a whip or leather strap was used. I well recollect being taken to a small dinner party at Pangdean where my uncle lived. In those days the dinner hour was usually about 3 p.m. Four ladies who had young families were present, one of them being the grandmother of one of our most distinguished Generals. After dinner, when the gentlemen had gone out, these ladies began talking about their children, and among other things they discussed was how, when and by whom they ought to be whipped. I was sitting terrified and almost forgotten under the table. In those days the birch was very freely used, and one was frequently to be seen resting on two hooks above the mantel-shelf in the nursery. It was generally administered by Mamma, though sometimes by Papa. It was the custom of some Mammas to keep a new rod in salt and water for some days before using it. In country places it was put into brine in the tubs containing the pickled pork, the twigs thus salted absorbed moisture from the atmosphere, which rendered them more flexible and caused them to sting more, and also prevented them becoming brittle and breaking off in dry weather. This probably gave rise to a common expression, "A rod in pickle."

A lie in those days was always considered a terrible offence in a child, and was almost always followed by a whipping. A lady who had a little boy about my own age lived about a mile from our house and our Mammas occasionally had tea together, and we children had a romp. One day my mother took me to tea as usual with this lady, but instead of being sent to play I was told to sit on a low seat, and there I remained. At last the lady said, "Little Willy has told a story and has been whipped and sent to bed, but you must just come and see him." We went into the room, accompanied by a female relative, who suddenly turned down the bedclothes to show me the marks of the whipping. In terrorem! It was quite effectual! Obedience was most strongly insisted on; any disobedience was severely punished, and children were very frequently made to assist in their own punishment. It was quite a common occurrence to make them fetch the rod or cane. A trained nurse, with whose family I am connected, told me that, when a child, she was sometimes told to go to a certain room and get ready to be whipped. This consisted of divesting herself of any impeding garments and getting the whip from a drawer and placing it on the table. When the lady who had charge of her arrived, she was made to put the whip into her hand and put herself into a proper position to receive the whipping which was always severe.

A distant relative of mine belonging to a generation preceding my own told me that, when a child, she was sent for a change from Brighton to Henfield, and stayed with her governess at the "George Hotel." One day she transgressed in some way and her governess made a high fool's cap with white paper and wrote on it in large letters: "This is a very naughty little girl," and made her walk up and down in front of the Hotel for a considerable time. When she related this incident to me, I told her I knew all about it, for a gentleman who saw her had told me of it years before.

My father related to me that, in former times, when reading and writing were rare accomplishments, and the boundaries of parishes had to be defined, that the officials of their own and the adjacent parish walked the bounds, taking with them some boys, probably parish boys, or boys brought up by the parish, and that at certain spots these boys were very severely whipped, to make them remember the exact position. Hence the present expression "Beating the Bounds."

A miscarriage of justice sometimes occurred. My cousin, Mr. Fredk. Blaker, was sent to the Steyning Grammar School some years after I had left. One evening when the boys were supposed to be in bed, there was a great noise in one of the rooms. The door suddenly opened and the master appeared, armed with the birch, which he used indiscriminately till all were in bed. He then walked to Fredk. Blaker's bed, and close to it he caught sight of the word "Blaker, " very legibly written on the wall among a long list of other names, and without waiting for any explanation, told him to kneel down and gave him a thorough birching. I was the culprit and had written the offending word before I left, eight or ten years before Fred Blaker came to the school.

In a few families with several children, it was the custom when the cloth was laid for dinner in the middle of the day, for the cane, which was kept over the mantel, generally behind the pier-glass, to be placed with the carving knife and steel on Papa's right hand, so that in any case of breach of good manners, a reminder could at be at once administered, and, as in those days children were thinly clad over the shoulders, those reminders were keenly felt. In one family at least a mistake occasionally occurred, and this stinging reproof was administered to the wrong child. The only answer to the exclamation "I didn't do anything, Papa," was "Never mind, it will do for the next time." It was considered a great joke when a lady's first baby arrived to send her a carefully packed parcel containing a small birch rod, with the label "To be used when required," or something of that sort. One was sent to my mother, which subsequently I had cause to remember:

" Down with his trousers and up with his shirt,
   And a dozen good strokes will do him no hurt"

was a doggerel rhyme, sometimes heard and acted up to in those days.

<< Previous - Music and Singing Contents


My Schools and Schoolmasters - Next >>