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Taught under tawse regime

Article | Published in TESS on 27 January, 2006 | By: Elizabeth Buie

Stan Sewell is 75 and began his education at Scotland Street School in 1935, but he was not aware that his school had any particular architectural value.

"It didn't mean anything to us," he says, recalling his upbringing at 262 Scotland Street, a tenement that was across the road from the school but was torn down long ago.

Gus Macdonald, the former broadcaster and government minister who took the title Lord Macdonald of Tradeston from the area where he grew up, became a pupil at the school a decade later, in 1945.

"I was aware that the school was different," he says. "We knew there was something strange but nobody had heard of Mackintosh then. It was only much later when a friend of mine, Murray Grigor, made one of the first programmes about Mackintosh that I became aware of who had designed the school."

That programme helped to thrust Mackintosh into the Scottish consciousness and there followed a campaign to stop the local Howden's engineering works either knocking it down or turning it into an apprentices' school.

Both men remember a strict school regime, dominated by rote learning and discipline.

Mr Sewell, who spent most of his career in steel distribution and now works as a messenger at The Herald newspaper, recalls knitting squares which a teacher and sewing them into a blanket as part of the war effort.

His strongest memory is of his evacuation on September 2, 1939, carrying his gas mask in a bag, the day before war was declared, to Mauchline in Ayrshire. He and his older brother were to remain there for little more than a year, their stay cut short because they were being under-fed by their host family.

Back in Glasgow, there were nights, especially during the Blitz on Clydebank, when Stan hunkered down with his family in the shelter owned by Howden's, where only company workers and their families were allowed to shelter. In the mornings, children would pray that the all clear siren would sound too late for them to go to school.

From his desk at Scotland Street School, Stan could look out the window to the air raid warden's shelter behind the school. Some of Stan's education during the war years was at nearby schools, as the war led to a shortage of teachers and, with many children evacuated, a fall in pupil numbers.

Discipline was maintained by regular use of the tawse. "I was always a scaredy wee cat, but some of the boys really went to town. They were really cheeky," says Mr Sewell.

Were his school days happy ones? "Yes, I think so. You were mainly unhappy if you had not got your sums right. I used to worry about getting the belt for not doing my homework right."

Ten years later, when 5-year-old Gus Macdonald entered the school, the disciplinary regime had changed little and families were living in post-war austerity.

"We still had rationing. In the school there were very few frills. I don't remember any extra-curricular activity," he says.

Stan Sewell and Lord Macdonald are among a number of former pupils and teachers taking part in Stories from Scotland Street's Archives, an exhibition of photographs and memories from May 5 to June 11.

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Comment (1)

  • The "belt" in Scotland was a cruel abuse that was allowed to continue for far too long. A misguided saddler in Fife had been allowed, and even encouraged, to produce straps of such fearsome thickness and density that their effective use was nothing less than devastating. And these were used in the vast majority of Scottish schools including illegally, against the local authority’s wishes, in Glasgow. The pain was unbelievable and agonising, and could be continued for up to six strokes, when the first one or two had already rendered the child's hands swollen and contused, and the recipient in shock and extreme pain. It is hard to credit now, thirty years on, but just to see and feel the weight of one of these implements is shocking. And in some schools they were in daily and almost random use as a punishment of first resort. In the hands of sadists (and sadly there were too many of those) it was effectively torture. And new teachers were drawn into the foolish practice, even at a time when after the supposed 'liberation' of the sixties it should have been clear to any rational person that it was an unacceptable anachronism. Here is the story of one silly wee lassie who joined in with some apparent enthusiasm and still feels no shame:

    Back then, the worst thing was to let your friends see that you 'couldnae take it', but now we're in our 40s and 50s and older, it's time to stop pretending 'it didnae dae me ony hairm' and show this up for what it was - plain and simple abuse. And it's not too late to name and shame some of the worst perpetrators.

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    8 February, 2010


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