Crimes and punishments


Prefects Fives Bat

A school’s discipline records are amongst the most controversial and sensitive material kept in its Archives. An Archives email discussion group recently raised the question of how long such records should be kept locked under the Freedom of Information Act, and, if available, who should have access to them under the Data Protection Act. The general consensus was that most schools and County Record Offices which hold such material keep it locked for a minimum of 75 years, many, including Harrow School, recommended 100 years. Naturally, such material attracts the greatest interest whenever it is displayed.

Crimes and punishments reveal more about the culture of a school and the changing attitudes of society than any other aspect of its records. At Radley, the question of disciplinary procedures was raised even before the school was founded. The discussion between the founders, William Sewell and Robert Singleton, was recorded in the latter’s diary:

Sewell proposed to me this evening that [we should have] a black book, for those who have been seriously idle, or misbehaved, during the preceding term. This ought clearly to be a very grim, horrid-looking affair: a register of evil cannot be black enough. 30th April 1847

The Black Book features heavily in the letters of the earliest boys. John Godley came as a new boy on May 2nd 1857. His very first letter home shows the Black Book already looming large in his thoughts:

I hear the black book is much worse than I thought, for you have to fag out in the cold, and not ask leave to go anywhere, and not to go to your Tutor’s room for anything, & I very nearly got down in it today. May 7th 1857

He later described a typical Radley Sunday in a letter to his mother:

I will tell you the arrangement of work on Sundays: Get up an hour later than usual: at 7. 7½ – 8 learn and say Collect and Gospel. 8- 8½ breakfast. 9- 10½ Litany and Morning Prayer. 12-1, Sermon and Communion. 3½ – 4 say Catechism and questions upon the Catechism. 4 – 4½ wash hands, brush hair and change boots. 4½ – 5½ dinner. 6 -7 Evening Prayer, no Sermon. 7 – 7½ tea. 8 roll. 8 – 8½ if in the Black Book, sit and read in schoolroom, if not, go to Tutor’s room. 8½ bed. Sunday May 24th 1857

By June 3rd he reports that:

There were between 95 and 100 chaps in the black book last week!!

(at this time there were 130 boys in the school).

By June 8th he had joined the company of evil-doers:

I will tell you why I am in the black book. A chap here and I had a quarrel about another fellow; he said he was a cad; and I said he wasn’t. Well, I’m older than him, so he was afraid to cheek me, so at night while roll was calling, he dipped his gown in the inkstand, and shook it at me, while I was writing my copy. Well, I hit him gently on the fingers to make him shut up; for he had told me himself that there was a prize for writing and of course there was no hope for me if there were spots of ink on it. Well we were seen and both of us struck down. It was cowardly of him, wasn’t it? He’s down three times now, for not knowing his lessons, for he’s awfully idle. June 7th 1857

His fellow culprit now faced the next level of punishment. Three entries in the Black Book in one week resulted in a beating by the Warden. The ordinary minimum was six strokes with a birch cane, twelve strokes was fairly common and on occasion sixteen or eighteen. The Senior Prefect was also given the powers of beating junior boys, which he was supposed to exercise only after a kind of court-martial in the Prefects’ Study. The Dons were not permitted to beat boys whilst Sewell was Warden, but this was later relaxed. All form masters were allowed to administer ‘ordinary canings’ under Warden Martin in the 1870s. The Black Book finally passed away in 1871 with the departure of a Modern Languages master who for two years had filled most of its pages.

Entries in the Black Book for 1867 include:

June 10th Hawley Duncombe minor Making a noise in school time Kept in bounds
July 1st Smart Reading a novel during 1st lesson 200 lines
July 3rd Miller Sulkiness, with a strong twinge of impertinence, and this not for the first time Lines & kept in
July 3rd Wigan Briggs Late for roll Confined to bounds
Bed exercises
July 6th Monro Receiving illicit information in examination Caned (10)
July 9th Walton
Evans minor
Shirking out of school Flogged by the Warden
October 14th Forwood Injuring the trees Bounds
October 30th Forwood Having a lighted candle in his desk at 9.30am Caned
November 4th Gunning Persistent idleness & inattention Bounds
November 13th Young Smoking Leave stopped
Pipes confiscated
March 27th Randall minor Making Bayley sneeze 200 lines
June 2nd Brancker Coming to morning work in a semi-nude state


Beatings by prefects were allowed into the 1930s. These were administered not by a cane but by a fives bat. The names of the victims and the number of strokes were written on the blade of the bat. The bat itself was ritually broken when the prefect left the school so that no other could use it. Only two Radley prefect’s fives bats are known to exist: one is in the Archives and we do not know whose it was, the other is in the possession of the Rickards family who inherited it from AK Boyd, former prefect, Don and historian of the school.

21 names are recorded on the College’s fives bat. All arrived at the school between 1890 and 1892:batnames

  1. Heron. 3, 2, 2, 4
  2. Sparrow. 2, 3, 2, 3
  3. Woodward. 2, 3, 1
  4. Cotter minor. 1
  5. Batty. 3
  6. Stigand. 4, 3, 2, 2, 1, 1
  7. Corbet. 1
  8. Jeffreys. 3
  9. Rawlins. 3
  10. Knight. 2
  11. Holland. 2, 3
  12. Sealy. 1
  13. Fisher. 2
  14. Claughton. 3, 2, 3
  15. Gethin major. 2
  16. Huntley. 1
  17. Twist. 1
  18. Byng minor. 1
  19. Child. 1
  20. Sich minor. 1
  21. Thouron minor. 1

Corporal punishment remained a legal disciplinary measure into the 1980s. It is mentioned in the 1968 BBC series about Radley, and in many verbal and written reminiscences by ORs.