The Lochgelly Tawse

Lochgelly Tawse ©

I started school in 1980. My P1 teacher’s name was Mrs T. I thought she was lovely. At the end of P1 I placed a penny in a tictac box to remember her.

I only remember 5 things about Primary 1.

1. I remember getting a gold star for the neatest colouring in of a circle.  It was the most perfectly coloured in circle in the history of that forgotten sport.

2. I was the only person to get an orange snow plough tractor when Santa visited. The rest of the boys got a bus but I was the only one to get a snow plough. Chosen one. Special.

3. Alistair B pooped his pants sitting next to me in class. It was nearly 3 o’ clock. Apparently he couldn’t hold it in and apparently neither did he wish to ask to go to the toilet. So he let it go. The stench and the expression on his face (a mixture of shame and relief) are vividly engraved on my memory to this day.

4. I missed my first ever school trip (to Arbroath to see the fire station) because I had the mumps. Wearing my medical balaclava I stood at the window and waved slowly to my classmates as the bus passed my house. Mrs T even started crying when she saw my sad wee face (or so the legend goes).

5. Mrs T had a Lochgelly tawse in her desk drawer. The tawse was the Scottish education system’s corporal punishment weapon of choice. The Lochgelly tawse is a leather belt with a twin fringed end. I thought it looked like an intimidating oversized bookmark. Lochgelly is the town in Fife where it was made.  And Mrs T had one in her drawer.

How do I know this? Well, whenever the class got too noisy or chatty she would resort to the one classroom management strategy that she knew worked. In the manner of a benevolent despot, she would slowly open the desk drawer, extract the tawse and place it supremely carefully across the edge of her desk. Then she would slam the desk drawer shut with a confident BAM! The class became acutely sensitive to this sharp awakening and we would turn around en masse on our seats to meet the sight of our leather nemesis staring us down from the front of her desk. I never received the belt and don’t actually remember Mrs T using it, but all throughout P1 I remained mortally terrified of that bloody tawse.

The belt was banned in all state schools in 1986, remaining legal in private schools until 1998. Next time you moan about the quality of ITE remind yourself that there was never a class dedicated to corporal punishment for teachers who wielded the tawse and other weapons of mass pupil destruction. Buying a tawse was something you did after graduation. Restorative evil.

You can still buy a tawse from the original leather manufacturer in Lochgelly. For the premium sum of £160. I wonder what it cost to buy in 1980?…

I wonder if Mrs T held on to her tawse when she retired? I lost the tictac box years a go.

Further reading:

Remembering the Lochgelly tawse:

The story of Grace Campbell, the Scottish mother who campaigned to end corporal punishment:

How the tawse left its mark on Scottish pupils:

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