UNDER CONSTRUCTION, PLEASE CALL BACK OFTEN TO SEE IT DEVELOP, it will change lots as I go along, and revisit pages, a lot of what you read will have dropped straight from the inside of my head to the page, so it won’t be polished, so to speak…
This story is based on the true recorded events of a finishing school in Bristol, England in the late 1800’s.
I have researched the accounts of ‘the Lady With the Birch’ as well as I can. I have narrowed its location down to Oakfield Road, in Clifton, near Bristol. A rather well to do and respected residential district. I have scoured as many Victorian photographs of dwellings in that typical middle class suburban district as I can find, here is one of Rokeby House.
Lovely isn’t it?
But I do not think that is the house we are looking for. I think this one, is the one I want it to be for our story…
Can you see the little brick arch in the centre at the top? Perfect for a school bell isn’t it? Along with the central gate, it looks more like a finishing school than any other I have found.
(The actual address given for the school was 53 Oakfield Road and an apartment there was recently up for sale, at the end of the story I will show you a photo of it as it is now.)
I say school.
It was not a school as you know them today. It was for girls and young women, many of them over twenty. It taught music and art, as well as all the usual subjects. But it also taught deportment and manners. In other words it taught the Victorian young lady how to behave. In particular a certain type of young lady.
Naughty girls and young women to be accurate.
Or brats, as we would call them today, the type of girl who considers many people who try to help her become an adult, stupid. She answers back, she says ‘you are wrong… ACTUALLY.” With emphasis on the words she feels make her sound important and clever. Usually spoilt, and spared the rod. Girls who become hysterical easily, stamping their feet, making a fuss over nothing. With weak parents or Uncles etc, who do nothing but let it proceed unabashed.
The house where the school was is up for sale, and I am driving down today, stopping overnight, and looking around the place tomorrow. Would you like to come? We can talk about spanking and bottoms all day long!
We have a lovely journey and lodge at ‘The Great Western Hotel’, a beautiful, elegant old railway establishment. I love steam trains, that is why I decided to stay there, Mrs Walters must have passed by on a tram or trolley bus many times.
We sat up late drinking and talking of corner time, implements, bottoms, bloomers, school knickers, and our spanking exploits etc. Did you come to my room? Maybe…but we will keep that secret.
Excitedly we eat breakfast, a full English. We remark how fried tomatoes look like a well paddled bottom with their dark, almost burnt rings on their skin. We check out of the hotel, and jump in my old car, go to pick the keys up from the Estate Agent as I have arranged, and drive to the area with a lady from their office. Both of us a little worried that it will look very modern and not at all how we hope, but what a lovely surprise greets us, it is almost like going back in time
I take charge of the exploration, I am a little like that I’m afraid, but you seem happy to let me be the leader of the expedition. Funny that, most people do.
We are alone, the house is completely empty, the young woman who has accompanied us is happy to stay in the car, looking at her phone messages and the like, no doubt. She has told us to take our time, and just ask if we need anything. Other than coming to check everything is locked when we depart, she is happy to leave us to it for as long as we like.
She has complied to my earlier request to be left alone, happily. I am pleased, she would not have understood the need for silent contemplation.
Let’s walk through that gate, up the short, pretty garden path, to the front door. To the left is what was probably the parlour of Mrs Walters, the proprietor. To the right of the tiled entrance hallway, next to the wall mounted mahogany coat and umbrella stand, is the door to what must have been her study. Let’s peep in, quietly. Just think, her coat has probably hung on the chapel style hat pegs times aplenty.
I ask you to let your imagination work. “Let’s drift back in time. There might be ghosts here, maybe we will hear distant cries of young women being birched…who knows?”
You take a step closer to me, your eyes wide, looking around into the shadows.
“Shhhhhh, don’t make a sound, can you see her?” There, in the bay window is sat the lady in question. A tall woman, sat straight, dipping her pen in the inkwell, let’s look to see what she is writing.
We look over her right shoulder, her pen is busily scratching away. It is such an evocative place that we can almost see an aspidistra, and lots of pale pink bilberry glassware, the smell of beeswax and coal smoke fill the air. A grandfather clock ticks heavily, as if counting the beat to a birching.
She is penning two advertisements, it seems three girls have successfully left and she has spaces.
What you are about to read are two real adverts out of the many she put in the local newspapers. I will verify everything you read at the end of this story, by showing you copies of actual newspapers.
On the 5th October 1889 this advert appeared in The Daily Telegraph.
‘Bad Temper, Hysteria, Idleness etc. Cured by strict discipline and careful training. Three girls received’
…it seems a strange way of saying it, but I assume it means she will receive three more girls. I believe it was a little like a Victorian version of Twitter, an advert was only allowed so many characters.
She gave an address to reply to, that of Mrs.Clapp. Of St Johns Wood, Bristol. This was a company who made birches. I have no idea why the applications did not go straight to number 53. I summise that they were close friends and associates.
A few days later this advert appeared in The Times.
‘Intractible girls trained and educated. Excellent References.’ It also advertised her papers for sale at a shilling each. They covered various subjects such as; Hints on Management of Children, and The Rod.
Her own address given this time.
Now let our minds continue as before… A girl, Lucy is almost dragged to the door. Her parents have had enough, they have answered the advert and have been interviewed. They deem themselves lucky to have their twenty year old daughter accepted. Lucy thinks otherwise of course.
PHOTO OF DEBORAH (AS MRS.WALTERS) OPENING THE DOOR WITH A BIRCH IN HER HAND
The girl is unceremoniously taken by the hand and led inside, with her solitary bag. “It doesn’t do to make a fuss Mrs Hastings, it only unsettles the girls. You can visit next Sunday, you will see how she has settled in then, and be able to take tea with her…goodbye.”
The dark oak, stained glass door shuts firmly, the shiny brass knocker rattles three times before it settles. Mrs Hastings looks at the door and up to the upstairs windows, where three girls look down and smile politely. Sniffing back her tears, she walks away.
“Rosealee! Come and take Lucy’s bag up to your room. There’s a good girl.” Says the crisply spoken Mrs Walters, who turns to look at the bewildered Lucy. “Follow me!”
Lucy walks nervously behind the lean frame of Mrs Walters, into the parlour, and sits down.
“Don’t you dare sit down before me girl! Have you no manners at all? Stand up! Stand up this instance you silly girl!”
Lucy stares defiantly, without moving.
A sinister smile spreads across the face of Mrs Walters, as she reaches over for a bell, and rings it.
PHOTO OF DEBORAH RINGING THE BELL
A young woman walks in, trim of figure, and a handsome disposition. Lucy was to find out that this was Tamara, the daughter of Mrs Walters, who taught Music and Art. “Tamara dear, would you fetch Lucy’s welcoming present please?”
Tamara curtseyed, turned and left.
Lucy smiled, the same willful smile she gave mother, when she won another round of ‘the contest’. “A present? This is going to be easy!” Thought the girl.
Tamara returned with two boxes, a small delicate one, and a large plain cardboard one. The former was wrapped in pretty paper, the latter was just the well made box, with the name CLAPPER stamped on the side.
“There you are dear, a welcoming present, something to keep you nice and warm.” Said Mrs Walters as she took the big box and put it on Lucy’s lap. “But open this first.” She said passing the inviting small box.
Lucy sat looking positively pleased, and grinned at Mrs Walters, tearing open the pretty paper, not bothering to read the label. The paper fell to the floor.
Tamara looked to her mother, who stared back, with her face flushed. Dropping paper on purpose was a very big NO.
Lucy held up a bundle of ribbons, all delicately embroidered with her name and flowers, bright yellow daffodils. She discarded them, letting a few slip to the floor as she reached eagerly for the big box. Within seconds the lid was removed, to reveal a brand new, exquisite birch, it smelt of the fresh countryside.
Lucy looked at Mrs Walters, she had never seen one before. “What am I supposed to do with this?” She asked mockingly, frowning at the birch as if it was a silly little toy, like a doll, meant for young children.
Mrs Walters stood, and Tamara went to stand behind Lucy. “Well, first of all, you take a ribbon, and tie it in a bow, just here.” Instructed Mrs Walters in a kind soft voice.
Lucy did so, with an annoyed ‘tut’ gently and deftly. “Now what?” She asked with a bored look to the sky.
In a very matter of fact way Mrs Walters told her. “You take your dress off, bend over the chaise lounge, and take a beating with it dear!”
Lucy’s face turned ashen.
Unusually for Lucy, she did not hesitate. She had never been ordered to do such a thing, and had never seen such a strong determined figure telling her to do as she said.
PHOTO OF DEBORAH WITH THE BIRCH, AND LUCY UNDRESSING
Tamara, like some kind of smiling assassin took the wrists of the girl, saying sweetly “it is for your own good”
And there she was only fifty minutes into her year at the school, bottom up, bloomers open at the back, feeling six good hard swats of the birch on her bare rump.
PHOTO OF THE BIRCHING
“That is the only time you will get just six young lady, I never sentence a girl to less than twelve. It may be reduced to ten if you take it well, make a huge fuss and it will have more added and quite possibly start all over again! I will not tell you again! Rosalee! In here now!”
The girl came marching in, straight and quiet.
“Show Lucy to your room. This is your room mate, learn well from her. If you get punished in your room, she gets the same. If she gets punished in your room, you get the same. Off you go, tea is in one hour. Do not be late!”
Lucy stood rubbing her bottom, tears filling her eyes. “Yes Mrs.Walters.”
The two girls left.
CALL BACK SOON, AS I ADD TO THE STORY…..BYE!