Two years ago, a spate ofletters about the origin of the Caning Competition caused a great deal ofexcitement, when it became clear that the Competition dated back to 1875.Â This has now been generally accepted, but amore remarkable and sinister chain of events has come to light.
As we reported two years ago,the body running the competition, the Birching Block, became increasinglydivided during the 1920s and 30s; the Competition had originally been betweenpublic schoolboys, but with the admittance of adult couples, who saw caning asa consensual sex game, a rift developed within the Birching Block itself.
Matters came to a head in 1938,when the celebrated caner of Skipton, Mr John Nettleship attempted to enterwith a 15 year old boy as his subject, and was rightly sent packing; whatsympathizers he had left with him, and until recently it was thought that theyhad vanished into obscurity, while the remaining members changed their name toThe Rump: We now know different.
Various contemporary sourcesindicate that the Birching Block Old Guard remained highly active, andprosecuted a vigorous campaign to uphold the practice of domestic disciplineright through to the Post War years.
But much more sinister is themysterious death of a retired school teacher, who was found behind the monumentto Sir Hugh Middleton at Great Amwell.Â Mr James Evans, a classroom martinet of seemingly limitless notoriety,seems to have been the fifteen year old boy accompanying Nettleship in1938.Â Following his service under armsin the Second World War, he trained as a schoolmaster, with every intention offollowing his former teacher's footsteps in the enthusiastic use of the cane.
The Herefordshire Gazettereported that Mr Evans' home had been burgled, probably by two young menwearing â€˜hoodie' tops, who were caught on CCTV, running away that night.Â There was no indication that they hadattacked Mr Evans, and it was suggested that he might have disturbed themrobbing his house and suffered a heart attack while in pursuit.
Police said that the thieveshad escaped with a C19 cavalry sword and a sporting trophy; more recent postshave seemed to suggest that the cup was found on a golf course and then sold ata car boot sale in Guildford.Â It iscurrently the property of someone calling himself â€˜Silverbirch', but itsownership is contested by Peter Birch, descendant of Sir John Birch, whoinaugurated the trophy, and Ishmael Skyes who presides over The Firm, whichcurrently runs the competition.
"I'd read various accounts ofthe Caning Competition in years gone by - not that I'd believed all of them bya long chalk - and there had been some mention of a cup, I'm sure', saidIshmael, when we phoned him.Â â€˜If thegentleman in Guildford has the trophy, I would like to see it', he added.
Peter Birch is less sceptical;â€˜The cup is inscribed with my ancestor's name, and the criteria of the CaningCompetition are there too in Latin - Power, style, accuracy - "vires,sapor, sagaciter" (though I don't think it's such a perfect translation).Â It's obviously authentic, and according toadvice I've obtained, I've got a very strong claim to it'.
In order to find out more, wewent to see Madame C****, authority on the cane, and Caning Competition judge.Â C****, a retired professional mistress, receivedus in her charming home on the Dorset coast and told what she knew of the earlyyears.
â€˜I first went to theCompetition in 1979', she said. â€˜Cynthia Payne took me, and her slave Harolddrove us both; she went in the competition and she won that year.Â What you've got to realise is that back thenThe Scene was tiny, it was just a few ladies that had private parties for themore privileged members of their clientele, and the competition was held in achurch hall in Brixton, but it had been since the war, when its original homehad got bombed.'
â€˜There was a cup; it lookedquite nice - well looked after - Victorian; I don't know if it was worth anymoney, I suppose to the right collector it might have been, but if somebody hadnicked it, who would they ever show it off to?Â In the end it did seem like somebody had taken it, because the hall wentup in smoke in the Brixton Riot, and there was no sign of the cup the followingmorning, so somebody had had it away.'
And this is the strangest thingof the whole story, James Evans retired (quite young at 58) on April 11th,1981, but crucially failed to attend his own retirement party; it would seem highlyunlikely that a middle aged Hertford shire school teacher was committingrobbery and arson at the height of the fiercest civil unrest of the year, butfor the following extract from the recently published â€˜Frank's Rascals'(seemingly the work of Mad Frankie Fraser).
"[Ginger]... He said that the strangestjob he ever had was to get rids of a load of sporting cups that had come fromthis retired school teacher, who'd gone a bit barmy and taken it into his headto do a burglary; this was 1981, while I was still in Broadmoor.
"I suppose it'slike they say the last straw that broke the camel's back; this old boy had justgot sacked for being a bit eager with his cane, and Wedgwood Benn looked likelyto stand for Prime Minister, and the IRA man Bobby Sands had declared himself apolitical candidate, so Sir goes â€˜Blow this for a game of soldiers; thecountry's going to the dogs, I've followed the rule all my life, now for a bitof a lark'; you'd be surprised how many people do go like that.Â He near enough pulled on an old stripyjersey and a little black mask and got a bag marked â€˜swag', then he done thisold church hall in Brixton, and set fire to the place.Â I think it might even have been in themiddle of the riot, which would have been rather handy.
"Ginger did shiftthe gear for him, but the old boy never come back for his dough, so I reckonhe'd returned to honest living, leastways there was no talk between the chapsof the schoolmaster burglar."
The plot, as theysay, thickens.
The Firm will becelebrating the tenth Night of the Cane on Saturday 8th of Novemberfrom 7pm to 1am at Chats Palace 42-44 Brooksbys Walk, Hackney E9 6DF.Â
Tickets Â£20 fromZeitgeist, Holloway Road; if you can't get to any of them, you can send acheque payable to Ishmael Skyes to 13 Riddlesdale Avenue, Tunbridge Wells,Kent, TN4 9AB; tickets best bought in advance.
Dresscode: Leather,rubber, PVC, academic, uniform, TV, evening dress.