The Birching Tower


birching pantaloons BirchingTowerSometime ago I chanced upon a reference to a birching tower in a book. There was no more information, but the most likely explanation that it was used for storage; or so I thought. In the History of the Rod there is a mention of birching rooms in gaols and apparently women prisoners were often ‘taken to the tower for decency’s sake,’

The engraving above of is of one such 18th century birching tower, where recalcitrant women prisoners, were birched.

birching bridewell2In England women could also be birched up until the middle of the 19th century for other offences in lieu of incarceration. Maybe they were taken to such a ‘tower for decency’s sake.’

It is likely to a be a British, Dutch or perhaps French institution, as in Prussia and Bavaria (Germany) and Bohemia (Czechoslovakia) they had no such scruples about birching women on the bare and in public.

Birching BridewellNell in Bridewell had much to say on the subject, and although it must be remembered as fiction there is truth behind the inspiration for despite the official reasons, it may have been discretion for the witnesses that were uppermost in the gaolers mind. As for a fee the well-to-do were often admitted to bear witness to such punishments.

According to this account a “special whipping bench was placed in the centre of a large underground hall and this bench was equipped with stocks at either end. One held the girl’s neck and wrists; the other set of stocks clamped her ankles.”

“The condemned girl was brought in and stretched out along the bench, and her head and feet confined in the stocks. Her skirts were raised up to her shoulders, revealing her bare buttocks. Back then women did not wear drawers or bloomers, but shielded their modesty with heavy petticoats.”

By the Victoria era rods came in three basic sizes. The Nursery Birch, which was small and light, the Governess Birch, which was longer and heavier and used on ‘great girls,’ and the judicial birch for the one procedure described above.

Even noble ladies were not immune, but if they were lucky their modesty would be preserved by being punished in their own rooms to “receive the withes across their naughty bare bottoms.”

Perhaps in grander houses they might have a birching tower like the one above.birching

Writing in dotage before the Second World War, one Mary Louise Hammond has this to say in her memoirs.

“At approaching 20-years-of-age I deemed myself too old to be spanked, let alone soundly birched; this operation traditionally conducted upon my bared behind. So it was I refused correction from my old governess for some forgotten trifle. However, my dear Papa was not amused at my rebellion and I was soon paid out with high drama upon my hideously and shamefully exposed hindquarters until I quite begged quarter and forgiveness.

My governess was quite satisfied with my demeanour and treatment then, but added to my shame by setting me nose to the wall in the nursery for the remainder of the afternoon. You can be quite certain I did not think of resisting and all the while my mind dwelt upon what my justly angry Papa had seen during my chastisement. As amusing as it seems now, sometimes it shames me still.”birching on the bare


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