“A sound whipping across the back.” This is the entry in a school punishment book of May 30 1910. Was this the way to control some wild teenagers in a rough area of a city? No, it was at the tiny village school in Somersham, Suffolk. The crime? “Continual mischievous behaviour and impudence” The victim was a small boy, Frederick Ling. It seems amazing now that this was considered normal around a century ago.
This extraordinary book is one of the many fascinating items recording the history of the Suffolk villages of Offton, Willisham, Nettlestead and Somersham, lovingly cared for by John and Leita Minns of Offton. Leita said with a smile “I am more the village horder than village recorder.”
Among the collection of photographs, maps, and letters is the School punishment book with entries from 1902 to 1962. In February 1911, John Plummer was given three “strokes on seat” for “writing indecent matter on slate”. Who knows what the schoolteachers would have made of modern graffiti!
In June 1929 Cyril Wyart was given “three strokes on the shoulder” for misbehaving while the teacher was out of the class. It does seem reading through that the punishment was a little less severe in the later years, with most of the caning restricted to “one stroke on the hand.”
In March 1950 Patricia Wood and Shirley Hogger were given “One stroke each” by B J Minter for “Going to the shop after arriving at school knowing quite well they would be late”
A generation ago a shout that the local “Bobby” was in the area, would see boys riding their bikes on the path or with a passenger, stop immediately. Swearing in the street would receive a few stern words from any passing adult.
The change in attitude to those in authority is illustrated in the memory of an incident recalled by ex Ipswich girl Susan Hernandez (nee Moss) who now lives in America. Susan said, “I am reminded of an event in my life, that at the time was very scary”. This all happened one morning while on my way to Copleston School, Ipswich. Sometimes I would ride my bike to school instead of taking the bus, which would pick pupils up on the corner of Selkirk Road. One day I started out like any other until I got half way down Colchester Road, on a side street that had a short cut through a lane. The big " don't ride your bike down the lane sign" was glaring at me, and I knew it was against the law to stay on the bike. So I got off the bike, and decided I should just scoot down the lane. As I approached the end of the lane, in a split second I saw it! The top of the bobby's helmet, and oh goodness my blood ran cold! Before I could get off he stepped out at the end of the lane, standing with his hands behind his back, as if at ease, glaring at me. I came to a screeching halt, and just stood there. I don't remember the policeman's name, but he was infamous in Ipswich, especially around our school.”
“He asked me if I did not see the sign telling me no bikes! I said yes, I saw it. `Then why did you not get off ? Was his next question. He said, “I am giving you a note to bring with you to the police station with your dad. Have you heard of Holloway prison for girls? We send them there for breaking the law”!
“When I got home I was so scarred, my dad told me it would be OK and not to worry, but he did not say too much, knowing there was a lesson here for me somewhere. We went to the police station on a Saturday morning, my dad kept saying, it's going to be all right. We went into the police station, walked up to the desk told them why we were there, they took me into a room with a desk and a plain clothed officer, who sternly but nicely told me off! I can honestly say THANK-YOU to that policeman, because I have been a good citizen wherever I have lived.”