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United Kingdom

Knowle Hill (Kenilworth, Warwickshire) Training School for Girls. 1917-1932.

National Archives/PRO: HO 45/14545.

1. Internal Home Office memorandum by Dr. A.W. Norris, 30 May 1923


On May 8th I received a telephone message from the new Superintendent of the school, Miss Langley, to the effect that most of the girls were defying the staff, smashing windows and doors, refusing to obey orders and declining to do any work.

  One girl, Florence Loch, had threatened to attack the staff with a knife and refused to go to bed at 2 in the morning, and was doing such material damage to the school and inciting the others to riot to an extent which made the Superintendent call in the assistance of the police.

  A police inspector and sergeant came out and, in a moment of surprise, this girl of 18 caught the Inspector by the throat, got him on the ground and sat on his head. On the sergeant coming to the rescue she bit him in the arm, the teeth penetrating the flesh to the bone.

  I advised Miss Langley to charge the girl under Section II of the Prevention of Crime Act with committing a breach of the rules of the school and with absconding, and this was done the following day. A very foolish magistrate, however, refused to send the girl to Borstal and sent her back to the school. Trouble at once recurred and the Superintendent communicated by telephone to the office in my absence and Miss Wall arranged with Mr. Crapper for the immediate transfer of the girl to Stafford Reformatory where I understand she has settled down.

  It was assumed here that things were quiet at Kenilworth and I heard nothing more until the afternoon of the 16th when Mrs. Rotherham, a manager, called here and informed me that the school for some days had been in an almost continuous state of riot. Girls had been out half the night, some of them had even spent the night on motor lorries, two having visited London. The police had attempted to secure the absconders. Windows and doors had been broken; the staff isolated, and all the girls, with the exception of about eight, were disobeying orders.

  I went straight down to the school arriving at 9.30 p.m. and although the girls were going to bed there was still a disgraceful noise and I heard a window smash as I entered the school. I stayed till 11 p.m. when matters had quietened down and then left the school after having arranged to be called if there was any trouble. At 7 a.m. I received a telephone message to the effect that there was further trouble and I went straight to the school where I found three girls under 16 had barricaded themselves in one of the dormitories and refused to open the door and were then smashing windows and the panel of the door. They refused to open at first but ultimately did so.

  I found one girl of 15 (Dora Help) had been the ringleader for some days amongst the juniors and I advised the Superintendent to inflict corporal punishment which she did forthwith.

  After breakfast two of the worst offenders amongst the older girls (Hannah Turner and Violet Bateman) who were then under arrest were brought before the Leamington Petty Session at Milverton, and after much pressure on my part the Magistrate decided to hold a special court and ultimately sent these two girls to Borstal. I regretted to send the younger one aged 16 but it was absolutely essential to make an example to stop the riot.

  I then proceeded to the school and addressed all the girls expressing pleasure at the conduct of the eight seniors and informed the others that severe and drastic steps would be taken to establish discipline in the school, that any senior girl continuing any insubordination would be forthwith charged before the Magistrates and sent to Borstal and that any of the younger girls would be corporally punished and I informed them of the extent to which this could be carried out. I further informed them that the amount of money available for the school was limited and that it would be necessary to use the money provided for camp, recreation etc. to repair the damage done by them.

  I stayed at the school all night and when I left in the afternoon of the 18th order seemed to be restored I telephoned to the school on Saturday and Sunday and found all going well but visited again on Tuesday morning.

  In the meantime, the youngest girl in the school (Ethel Milton), evidently a ringleader amongst the others and who had been absolutely defiant for some days, had behaved very badly, had refused to work and had used very foul language to the staff. The Superintendent there had given her severe corporal punishment -- perhaps rather too severe though justified under the special circumstances.

  Before leaving the school on the 22nd I had a conference with some of the Managers and saw the girls at work and am of the opinion that the trouble has practically ceased. The Managers throughout had been helpful and grateful for my assistance and I think on the whole the Superintendent has acted sensibly and has been supported by her staff. I believe that the whole trouble was a conspiracy on the part of the girls to get rid of the new Superintendent, having realised that the absolute want of discipline and lazy habits allowed by the late Superintendent were about to end. I have discussed the matter fully with Miss Wall who will keep an eye on the school.

2. Letter from Home Office (Miss Wall) to Miss Langley, Superintendent, Kenilworth Training School, 6 June 1923

[...] I think you are to be congratulated on having restored the normal routine of the school in spite of great difficulties.

  I was sorry at my last visit to find that you had found it necessary to inflict corporal punishment on the seat in three more cases, but I hope you will now be able to discontinue the use of this form of punishment. I know that in times of disturbance, when the discipline of the school is in danger, it may be necessary to take exceptional measures and that Dr. Norris gave you to understand that in such circumstances he would support your action; but now that discipline has been restored and the life of the school is more normal, I feel that you ought not to have recourse to this exceptional method of punishment, and I hope to be able to tell Dr. Norris when he returns next week that you have been able to abandon it. [...]

3. Home Office internal memorandum, 14 June 1923

KENILWORTH. (Notes by Miss Wall)

On 29.5.23 I visited the school [...]

  I did not go round the school as I feared the girls might again become unsettled if they thought an inspection was taking place. Miss Langley discussed some of her difficulties with me [...]

  Miss Langley then spoke of Ethel Milton, 13-5/12, who had had 12 strokes of the tawse on the seat. She said that a few days after this Ethel started bouncing a ball in the passage and knocking it against the office door on purpose. She did not feel that Ethel had sufficiently recovered from corporal punishment on the seat for her to administer another whipping, so she said she was to have one tablespoonful of castor oil. This she refused, so she was given two, which she took.

  I asked Miss Langley to discontinue giving castor oil as a punishment [...] I also asked Miss Langley to consider whether, now that the school was in better order, she would be able to administer corporal punishment on the hands instead of on the seat. She demurred about this and said the girls had been told they would get it on the seat, and she did not think they would pay attention to any milder form of corporal punishment. She also said that she understood it could be administered on the seat to a girl of any age, under or over 16, and said she felt entitled to give it to a girl of 18 if the case necessitated it. (Marginal note: The rules permit of this but I advised Managers & Superintendent against this form of punishment for older girls. A.W.N.) [...]

  On 1.6.23 I returned to the Home Office [...] Later the same day I received a letter from Miss Langley saying that she had given Ethel Milton 3 strokes on each hand for disobedience and the girl had gone out after it and had kicked a hole in the asbestos wall of the staff hut. Miss Langley asked for her to be transferred [...] (The girl went to Exeter on 6.6.23)

  On 4.6.23 I went to the Competitions Meeting in Birmingham and met Mrs. Kirby and Mrs. Rotherham, Managers of Kenilworth. [...] As regards corporal punishment, both Mrs. Kirby and Mrs. Rotherham said that they had understood it was only sanctioned for girls under 16 to have it on the seat.

  I slept that evening at a Kenilworth hotel, where Miss Langley rang me up and asked me to prepare to speak to some of the older girls who were being disloyal. [...] She further stated that the girls had written letters to their parents describing the punishments at Kenilworth. I told her that these letters should not be posted, but I would talk it over with her the next morning.

  On 5.6.23 I visited the school and saw Mrs. Miller and Mrs. Rotherham there. The latter left early, but Mrs. Miller stayed on and told me that she thought corporal punishment on the seat had been sanctioned for girls of any age and she thought it was better for an older girl than for her to be sent to Borstal.

  Miss Langley showed me the letters the girls had written to their parents, in which they expressed themselves as being very unhappy and as having never before had "their clothes turned up" and a whipping given them on the seat. All these letters were burnt and Miss Langley undertook to tell the girls that they must write to their parents and say that they were going to be good in future, instead of harping on what had happened. I then saw Gladys Corbett alone, an older girl, who [...] was very bitter at first about the fact that Miss Langley whipped girls [...] She said that [...] the bigger girls [...] felt that though they had behaved well themselves they were not trusted and would get the tawse on the seat for the slightest thing. [...]

  Miss Langley then told me she had administered corporal punishment on the seat in three more cases since my last visit. The cases were Annie Maria -----, Doris Levick and Dora -----. (Marginal note: girls under 16 years of age.) The latter had now had it for the second time, as she was the girl who had it first during the rioting. The girls had it for disobedience in not going promptly to sew upstairs, when told to do so, and for running out into the garden after supper and not coming in to bed. All three girls had 6 strokes on the seat and were not held while it was administered.

  I asked Miss Langley why she had not tried it first on the hand and she said she did not believe that the girls would take any notice of this form as they now knew they would get it on the seat and would only think her weak if she did anything else.


  On 6.6.23 I returned to the Home Office and reported to Mr. Harris, who drafted a letter for me to send to Miss Langley asking her to stop corporal punishment on the seat until the matter had been further considered [...]

  On 11.6.23 Miss Langley rang me up [...] I asked [...] about my letter and she said that she and the managers had considered it, but feared they must continue to use corporal punishment on the seat when occasion arose, because it was what the girls had been told they would get [...]

4. Memo from Dr A.W. Norris to the Under Secretary of State, 12 July 1923

I submit a recommendation regarding the application of the Managers of Kenilworth Training School in regard to the Model Rule No. 21(3) [...] with the addition of (a) "In case of grave necessity, corporal punishment on the posterior may be inflicted on a girl under the age of 16 if the previous authority of the Chief Inspector has been obtained. Such corporal punishment shall be administered strictly under the conditions prescribed by the Chief Inspector".

  I wish to make it clear in putting forward this recommendation that I am very strongly opposed to corporal punishment of this nature; that I feel that the circumstances under which it should be necessary will be very exceptional indeed and may never occur. It must be remembered, however, that many of the younger girls in these reformatories are of a hooligan type and have had no training whatever, have no refined tastes and are not particularly sensitive and cannot therefore be appealed to in the same way as a girl who has been better trained. I would further point out that up to 1913 and even later this form of punishment was very prevalent in practically every Reformatory and that the Departmental Committee of 1913 which investigated this very carefully by means of a small committee presided over by Sir George Newman recommended that the power of corporal punishment should be retained by the Superintendents but expressed the hope that it would not be necessary to use it.

  Since then the policy of the Department has been to discountenance its use but I regret to say that in every reformatory it has from time to time been used and the fact concealed.

  In a recent case (Kenilworth Training School) as the result of a period of some months' slack discipline under an incompetent superintendent, the girls made an organized attempt to get rid of a new superintendent and were openly defiant, smashed windows and doors and even threatened the Superintendent with personal violence.

  On two occasions the school doctor found it necessary to remain in the School for over three or four hours for the protection of the Superintendent. Although the older girls knew that they might be sent to Borstal they thought it was unlikely, whilst the younger girls openly told the Superintendent that they could not be punished in any way.

  Ultimately, at the request of the Managers I had to visit at short notice and arrived to find a state of open insurrection. Three of the older girls were in the hands of the police and most of the younger ones were openly defying all authority. Three had barricaded themselves in the dormitory and were smashing the panels of the door and the window. I advised the Superintendent to beat one undeveloped little hooligan of 15 and informed the girls as a whole that this punishment was authorized and would be enforced in the case of the younger girls and the older ones would be dealt with by being sent to Borstal.

  The effect both on the girl who was punished and the others was almost instantaneous and although further corporal punishment was given, possibly unwisely, I believe that this and this step alone checked what had become a very serious matter.

  I am definitely of the opinion, in view of the difficult type of girl which these Schools have to deal with, the fact that the Superintendent and Staff are human and not perfect, that it is necessary for the maintenance of discipline that the rule of the School should permit punishment of this kind as a last resort and that the girls should know it.

  I quite appreciate that in this matter we may have some difficulty in satisfying public opinion; that our policy may be misunderstood; but I believe that our first duty is to support the staff of the school in any reasonable methods to keep order and that the public must realize that these schools are different from all other institutions; that they have to retain and deal with their difficult girls and that they cannot expel them and pass them on to other people. A.W.N. 12.7.23.

  Since dictating the above I have met a new manager of this school. He is one of the six men and six women who manage this and a boys reformatory. Referring to Home Office administration of these schools he said he felt there was something wrong when at Kenilworth in May "a lot of little unruly girls of 13-15 years of age were openly defying all authority and smashing doors and windows and a body of 12 educated men & women, most of them married with children of their own, were powerless to order these girls a whipping & had to send for the police who, again, could do nothing". I informed him that under the existing rules the Managers could have ordered a whipping. A.W.N. 13.7.23

  (Marginal note: They ought to have read their own rules!)

5. Internal Home Office minute, 24 July 1923

In May last there was a serious revolt on the part of the girls at this Reformatory School. Dr. Norris went there and found the girls entirely out of control, and as the situation looked ugly he took steps to have three of them sent to Borstal and ordered an obstreperous girl of 15 to be whipped on the posterior (under the skirt but not on the naked body). This action had a good effect and matters have since quietened down.

  The Superintendent (Miss Langley) had only recently taken charge and there is no doubt that the girls had got badly out of hand under the late Superintendent. Corporal punishment on the posterior was not forbidden by the rules in force at the school, though the managers strangely enough did not appear to know that it was in the power of the Superintendent to inflict it. I think Dr. Norris was perfectly right to adopt the course he decided to take, and but for his prompt action the state of affairs might have become much worse.

  The question now arises whether corporal punishment on the posterior is to be allowed in this school in future. In the new Model Rules it was decided after discussions with representatives of the Managers and Superintendents that the only corporal punishment in girls' schools should be on the hands -- not exceeding three strokes on each hand with a light cane or tawse. Dr. Norris agreed to this rule at the time though he says he always felt doubtful whether it would be possible to maintain it in dealing with certain classes of girls. The Managers are unanimous in asking permission to keep their existing rule which leaves the Superintendent a discretion as to the infliction of light and moderate corporal punishment (whether on the hands or on the posterior).

  The two lady inspectors (Dr. Whitlock and Miss Wall) hold that all corporal punishment of girls on the posterior is objectionable and ought not to be necessary, and I believe this is the view which would be commonly held, except possibly by some of those who have had the actual management of unruly girls.

  There is no doubt that the task of controlling difficult girls such as are found in our Reformatory Schools -- especially when they become hysterical -- is a very difficult one and baffles even the wisest of women. It is possible that women of exceptional type might be able to tackle the problem without resorting to corporal punishment at all, but women with such qualities are rare and are not often found in our schools. We must do the best we can with the staff we are able to command and give them such support as they need.

  The Departmental Committee of 1913 gave special attention to this question and came to the conclusion that the discretion to inflict corporal punishment must be given to the Superintendent, though they are silent as to whether it should be inflicted on the hands or on the posterior. I presume that they intended to leave the Superintendent a discretion also as to method. It must also be remembered that girls over 16 can be sent to Prison or to Borstal and that it is in the case of the younger girls that the difficulty arises.

  It would of course be possible to call a further meeting of representatives of Managers and Superintendents to discuss the question again but I am reluctant to reopen it and I think it would be best to deal with each school on its merits. Many of them -- especially the Industrial Schools -- will probably be willing to accept the new rules as drafted.

  If this policy is accepted I think it would be unwise to refuse the application of the Managers, having regard to recent happenings, and if it is made clear that no corporal punishment on the posterior may be inflicted without the sanction of the Chief Inspector, frequent or improper recourse to this method will be prevented. It seems to me better to alter the rule rather than when serious trouble occurs to contemplate the possibility of the staff or the Inspector authorising punishment contrary to the rule.

  I should prefer, however, to keep the framework of the new rule rather than to adopt the present rule with a modification, and I would suggest the following draft. This has the advantage of not mentioning specifically whipping on the posterior, which might give rise to adverse comment by those who are not familiar with the circumstances, and leaves the Chief Inspector the responsibility of prescribing the conditions under which it may be administered.

Rule 21

(3) Corporal punishment shall be used only as the last resort when all other methods of maintaining discipline have failed and its administration shall be subject to the following conditions:-

(a) Corporal punishment shall be only of a light and moderate character and shall be inflicted on the hands with a light cane or tawse as prescribed by the Secretary of State -- not exceeding three strokes on each hand.

(b) If in cases of grave breaches of discipline the Managers think it necessary to adopt any other form of corporal punishment the previous sanction of the Chief Inspector must be obtained.

(The remainder of the rule will read as in printed copy.) S.W.H. 24.7.23

6. 31 July 1923. Letter to Lt Col. Reger, Warwick in reply to his submitting (on behalf of the Managers) a draft of rules

[...] The terms of the model rule were settled after considerable discussion with representatives of the Managers and Superintendents of certified schools including girls' schools, and it was decided to limit the infliction of corporal punishment in girls' schools to three strokes on each hand with a light cane or tawse. The rule proposed by the Managers (which is based on the existing rule) would allow corporal punishment on the seat to be given at the discretion of the Superintendent and without any limitation as to the age of the girl to be punished or as to the method of punishment. The model rules were intended to mark an advance in this and other directions and the Secretary of State regrets that he could not agree to so serious a modification.

  He realizes however that some of the girls who are sentenced to Reformatory Schools are very difficult to manage, and if the Managers feel, in view of what happened at the school in May last, that the model rule as drafted does not provide them with sufficient means of dealing with cases of serious and persistent breaches of discipline, he is prepared to approve the addition of a paragraph to Model Rule 21(3) so as to allow corporal punishment to be administered on the seat in case of grave necessity so long as the previous approval of the Chief Inspector is obtained. Mr. Bridgeman hopes, however, that the need for this form of punishment will not arise in the future [...]

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