If you go down to the woods, birching in days of yore

30Aug09
Consequences for Emily

Consequences for Emily

Here is an account from a few years back of a real life Victorian birching ritual.

Annie B grew up on a Norfolk estate during the 19th century. This is an account of the punishment she received as published during the 1950s. Although the memoir could date back to the 1930s or even 1920s, so unfortunately we do not know the exact time frame of the events described.

“I grew up in Norfolk, near the village of S_, my mother was a maid for a great house and as a consequence I grew up being treated not quite as a servant, but not quite as part of the family. I never knew my father and for years I used to dream that the Master was my real father, although mother always denied it. In later years I was told that my father was a distant relative or friend of the Master and he had taken responsibility for the situation by not turning my mother and I out. Anyway that was all in the past and everyone who knows is long dead.

As a small child I always thought it odd that during the day I was with the other children and at night with mother. I used to have lessons in the nursery with the others and any punishment was handed out by Nana, as we called her, the servant who looked after the children. In those days it was just a few slaps on the behind.

As we got older we were taken onto Nana’s lap and bared for the slipper or the flat side of a brush. This hurt a great deal and as we got to be big girls it was very embarrassing as we had to stand in the corner in the nursery for a long time.

Then one day when I was about 15, Emily the Master’s daughter, who was a year or two older than me, was called into see her father. After all these years I do not remember all the details, but I seem to remember that she had been seen with a boy in the village.

Anyway when she returned to the nursery she was crying something fierce and told Nana that she was to stand in the corner and that Nana was to go and see the Master.

I could not get a word out of Emily, as all she could do was cry, but she did keep kneading her bottom through her dress as she stood in the corner.

When Nana returned, she informed us that all the big girls, I was the youngest of these, would be punished by the master from then on. Then she lifted up the back of Emily’s dress and all her petticoats and let down her draws. Although we were sometimes left bare for the corner after Nana had spanked us it was still very shocking. Even more so when Nana said it was done on the orders of the Master.

When this happened Emily took on some thing fierce, this was because of the other children were there to see, but she dare not rebel. In those days all the big boys were away at school, I think there were only two small boys and about five of us girls between 12 and 17.

What we saw when Emily’s bottom was bare were a lot of red lines that stood up in ridges across her skin. Nana said that Emily had been caned by the Master on the bare. This was horrifying to us girls, the very idea of being punished like that.

Nana told us that in future we could also expect the birch from the housekeeper, if the Master ordered it, which was worse but more fitting for a girl she said.

Nothing happened after this for a long time. I think Emily and I got spanked once or twice, but nothing was said to the Master. Then one day, during the following summer I think, us three big girls went for a walk in the woods. It was so hot and the lands were very remote in those days that we decided to go for a swim. Of course that meant getting naked, which was very shameful, but it was hot and we were easily led by Mary the oldest, who was always a bit of a daredevil.

Some of our clothes fell in and I lost my draws in the stream and Emily lost her hat. Mary waded in half dressed to recover them, but she could not do it.

So we arrived home in a very dishevelled state. Worse still one of the estate workers had returned some ladies clothing that had been found in the stream.

We were summoned to the Master of course. He was very angry. He shouted more than I had ever seen before, especially so when addressing Mary, who to her credit tried to take the blame.

When he was finished scolding us, by then of course we were all crying, he said we would be birched and that Nana and the housekeeper make the arrangements.

Nothing more was said and we were put to bed without supper even though it was barely the evening.

In the morning we were roused from our beds and ordered to wash but not to dress. This was very strange and frightening as it was very early.

We were then were taken out of the house, dressed only in our nightgowns by Nana and the housekeeper. Mary protested but was told she could see the Master instead or do as she was told.

So we all traipsed out half-dressed with Nana carrying a big basket. After we had gone a short way into the woods the housekeeper cut some twigs form a birch tree. As she showed as the type we needed we were given cutters form the basket and set to collecting a lot of long twigs.

When we had enough we returned to the kitchen. This was very embarrassing as there were servants, including my mother, there to see us and we were very red in the face dressed as we were in just our night things with no bed coats.

The housekeeper and another one of the maids showed us how to tie them at one end into bundles of six so that the wands were all the same length. Two buckets of salt water was placed on the table and the bundles of birch rods were put into them so that tied ends were sticking up.

Mother said she hoped that they would not all be used, as there were a great many bundles, more than three each.

Afterwards the buckets were placed in the library where we were taken, still in our night things, and made to stand and face the wall in a row with our hands on top of our heads. We spent the rest of the morning like that. I remember the house was as quite as the grave all that morning.

Not having had breakfast or supper, we were taken to the kitchen for luncheon, although none of us girls had much appetite.

Afterwards we were taken back to library and made again to face the wall. About the middle of the afternoon the Master came and told us again why we were to be punished, although he was not angry now. He said if we were good and took our punishment well he would leave us to the housekeeper and Nana.

After he was gone no time was wasted. I as the youngest went first. I was made to bend over the back of a padded chair while Nana held my arms. The back of my nightgown was pinned up to my back so as to leave my bottom bare. Then the housekeeper took one of the rods from the bucket. I was scared and shamed, I remember being splashed as she shook the rod free of water and I could smell brine.

The first stroke stung, but was not as bad as the brush. But there were a lot of strokes given quite slowly and the sting got worse and became like fire. In the end I was crying something fierce and was taking on like one of the little ones.

When it was over I danced around the room and only the threat of more made me pull myself together. I was made to stand and face the wall with my nightgown still pinned up, although I did not care, as the pain was very bad.

I know nothing about Emily’s punishment as I still hurt too much. Mary made as much fuss as I did and worse still for her, she got and extra dose with a new rod. She begged off so much that Nana said she would fetch the Master. So of course she became calm, thereby proving, the housekeeper said that it was not so bad.

Afterwards we were made to stand with our bare behinds on show, although no one dared come in to the library I think and later still we had a meal with the other children in the nursery, which was very shaming for Mary and Emily. I usually had a meal with my mother anyway.

That was not the last time I was birched.  I was birched many times until I was married at 24. It was always a great shame for me because the Master used to do it unless one of his daughters was to be birched with me.

 I could not say that I miss the experience very much, but it did me no harm.



2 Responses to “If you go down to the woods, birching in days of yore”

  1. I have always believed that the master of the household should birch his erring females on their bare bottoms, because humilation should always play apart in any corporal punishment that is given to naughty women.

  2. 2 Richard

    a woman’s bottom should have the piquant, spicy odor and should be
    plied open to be sniffed lightly, like a fine bouquet of wine.


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