|www.corpun.com : Archive : Up to 1975 : UK Schools Dec 1956|
Daily Express, London, 17 December 1956
William Hickey [society column]
He was the man that held the boy that got the birch
THE man who held down the young gentlemen of Eton while they were birched is dead. The news spread around the college yesterday.
George Wooldridge was Eton's "school messenger" for 30 years. And in that time he had helped in the tanning of scores of young aristocrats -- sons of dukes, Cabinet Ministers, generals, ambassadors.
The Eton College Chronicle, the school paper, announcing his death at 71, discreetly did not mention the birching job. It referred only to his other duty -- showing visitors round the school.
By Eton custom, Wooldridge had to bend over with the boy to be birched, and to hold him still across the 150-year-old birching block.
The charge ...
Wooldridge himself modified the earlier practice of sitting on the victim's head.
After each "swiping" (the Eton schoolboys' name for a flogging) Wooldridge had to enter the boy's name in a book. That ensured that the parents were charged at the end of term with 11s., the cost of the birch used. (Even the cost of a flogging has gone up -- parents once had to pay only 7s.)
An Eton boy said yesterday: "It's a jolly good thing the most common form of punishment at Eton is caning by the head of the house. At least that costs nothing.
"Only the head master and lower master (head of the junior boys) can 'swipe.' Six is the usual number of strokes.
"You usually get it for more serious things -- but it doesn't hurt as much as caning."
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