Saturday 26 December 2009

Punishment in the Hoo Union Workhouse, 1841

I've recently unearthed a rich vein of scene fodder in the British Library's collection of 19th-century periodicals. Emma Jane recently made two wonderful posts about a scene we did involving James Miles, master of the Hoo Union workhouse in Kent. The backstory for the scene was real: in 1841, Miles was examined before the Rochester magistrates for "indecently flogging girl inmates". The Satirist commented in January of that year:
The excuse offered by the wretched master of the Hoo union workhouse for flogging [girls] - a charge now under strict investigation - is that they are more tender than youthful culprits of the other sex, and that, consequently, there is more "feeling" about them...

John Bull reported the proceedings in more detail:
We do not extract the following morceau from the examination of the master of some Union Bastille, to show the barbarities which are practised in those dens, but, on the contrary, to exhibit the "finery" of language adopted by the unfortunate victims of oppression in describing their sufferings :-
Eliza Screese examined - I was punished several times by the master, who beat me with a birch rod on my bare back. I had all my things off but my "change" and my flannel petticoat,and that was tied round my waist every time I was flogged. By my "change" I mean my chemise. I had nothing else on except shoes and stockings. I had pulled off my other things by order of the defendant, who then flogged me with a birch rod on my naked back. He made me pull the chemise sleeve off, and tie my clothes round my waist, so that I was naked to my waist. I was beaten on the shoulders, and as low down as the strings of my petticoat. I was beaten just the same way more than once. The master once pulled up my clothes, and beat me on the bare person. I was beaten each time in the women's hall. I laid myself on the table. Fanny Roberts and Mrs. Low held me by the hands. I saw other persons flogged in the same was as I was. The defendant's wife is matron, but I was never corrected by her when I was naughty.

The delicacy on the part of a pauper in calling a shift a "change" and eventually a "chemise," is perhaps one of the most curious signs of the times that has yet been exhibited.

The master was sent for trial at the Assizes. The Age commented in February:
We are glad to find that the Justices of the Peace for that district of the County of Kent, in which the Hoo Union is situated, have met, and come to the determination of prosecuting MILES, the Master of the Workhouse, who was proved to have been guilty of such atrocious and disgusting conduct towards the unfortunate charity girls under his control. We do not wish to prejudge the case ;but we cannot help saying, that if the Jury do not pay the closest attention to the evidence, and fearlessly give their verdict, a precedent may be set which will work with awful results throughout England.

But in April The Satirist reported again:
Miles, the flogging master of the Hoo Union, has had a lucky escape for the want of a prosecutor. The Poor-law commissioners decline to prosecute, as is but natural ; they have no very strong objection to the flogging system, provided it can be carried on without scandal. They consequently left the affair to take its chance. The Government sees no necessity for interference ; and the county justices, who first took the matter up, now abandon it altogether. All this clearly shows that there is no innate repugnance to the practice of flogging in workhouses, if means are found to keep the "sufferers" quiet. Miles will learn to be prudent from the past. He will indulge his appetite for flogging more discreetly in future. Flogging, so as not to be found out, will be the great point with such masters of workhouses as Mr. Miles.

And this provides the background for our scene. Eliza is back in the workhouse, and James Miles and the Poor-law Commissioner are following the paper's exhortation. They will make sure young Eliza regrets causing them such inconvenience. This time there will be no witnesses, though no doubt the other girls will hear what has happened and will learn the value of silence...

Monday 28 September 2009

I'm just back from a weekend with Haron and Abel and many old friends. It was Haron's birthday (well, nearly) and Abel had orchestrated a conspiracy to surprise her. This involved tempting her away for 24 hours while a few of us set up the house with all the deckings of a surprise school-themed birthday party: Food, drink, glittery decorations and a most magnificent CAKE, procured by Abel and adorned with a book inscribed "School Rules" and a crook-handled cane. Eventually Haron arrived, most satisfactorily amazed and bemused. Many birthday spankings followed, and lots of other scenes.

Towards the end, EmmaJane (much beaten already), whispered in my ear that she wanted to do a joint scene with me and Abel. "Do you have anything in particular in mind?" I asked. "No," she said. "Surprise me."

So this is what we came up with.


Maria, lady's maid to Lady Fortescue: EmmaJane
Sir Henry Fortescue: HH
Mr. Jenkins, the estate manager: Abel

Domestic staff are in short supply these days, and it was a great relief when Jenkins found Maria. At last the graceless Betty could return to her destined role of chambermaid. And though I had heard of the scandal with the under-butler at her previous place, Maria did have experience as a lady's maid. I decided to give her a second chance, and for a year all seemed well.

Well, that is, until Maria failed to appear last Sunday morning, and the skivvy sent to rouse her found her room empty and her valise gone. Gone too were the silver cruets and candlesticks from the dining-room table: in better times the butler would have locked them safely away before retiring, but in these difficult days his post was vacant too. So it fell to the estate manager, Mr. Jenkins, to raise the hue and cry. And the girl did not get far: he found her by the coach-road, where no doubt some accomplice would have come to whisk her away. And there in her valise was the missing silverware.

In the mean time, though, her ladyship had discovered that an emerald brooch was gone, missing from its place in her jewellery box. A valuable heirloom, worn only for fine occasions.

Mr. Jenkins and I conferred and decided on a course of action. The girl would not be easy to replace and the house would be unmanageable without her. Perhaps, even with this lapse, we could make something of her. Once she understood the consequences of such behaviour, she would not offend again. But the emeralds must be returned.

So it was that I stood in my study as Jenkins brought the miscreant in, the great mahogany desk cleared of its clutter. He put her in front of me, her clothes dirty and wet from her trek through the woods, and I took up the questioning.

"Well, Maria. Is this how you repay us for taking you in, for giving you a post when no-one else would have you?"

She tried to look down and away, but I took her chin and forced her face towards me. "Look at me when I'm speaking to you, girl. You could end up in the House of Correction for this, and for a good long time, too. Unless we decide to punish you ourselves, of course."

Her eyes took in the room and the rack of canes by my side. She knew we had the evidence to commit her, and the magistrates would impose any sentence we wished. Hard labour and whippings were the order of the day.

"But the first thing we want, my girl, is the emeralds. Where are Lady Fortescue's emeralds?"

Her eyes widened at that, and she shook her head. "I don't know about the emeralds, Sir. I did take the silver, and I'm sorry for it, but I didn't take the emeralds."

Jenkins and I had considered this possibility, and we knew what we would do. "Very well," I said, "so you have concealed them. But you won't deceive us that easily. You will have to be searched. Take off your clothes, girl. All of them."

She baulked at that. Her hands came up as if to cover herslf, even though she was fully clothed. And then she twisted away, and would have run if Jenkins had not caught her by the shoulders. And then a sharp smack rang out; I didn't even see it, but a handprint appeared across her left cheek.

She understood then. Hesitatingly, she started to remove her clothing, piece by piece. Jenkins took each item from her, checked it over, and folded it carefully upon the sideboard. Twice she hesitated, but proceeded when it became clear that Jenkins would happily strip her himself if would not do it. Eventually she stood before us in nothing but her drawers, blushing and trying to cover her breasts with her hands.

"Hands away, girl. We need to see that you're not hiding anything. And I said all your clothes."

And so at last the drawers came off too. She bent to slide them down, and with Jenkins behind her and me in front, there wasn't much she could do to cover herself. Not from all directions at once.

Jenkins and I exchanged glances. "Well, we don't seem to have found them yet, Mr. Jenkins. I'm afraid you will have to check inside. Over the desk, please, Maria."

She fought us again at that, but what can a slight girl do against two well-built men? Soon we had her in place. I held her hands over her head to stretch her out while Jenkins spread her legs and carried out the inspection. The first inspection, anyway. Though he seemed thorough, the girl wriggled and squirmed enough that he might have missed something. So we exchanged places and I repeated the procedure, to make quite sure.

Yet there was nothing. "Did you hide them somewhere, Maria? Somewhere you could come back for them?" She wouldn't answer. "A touch of the cane, I think, Mr. Jenkins. That should loosen her tongue."

The next few minutes do not bear detailed description. The slashing cane, the writhing bottom, the milk-white skin painted with scarlet lines until all the gaps were filled. And the yelps that turned to pleas as the cane rose and fell. I do not know how many strokes he gave her, but certainly dozen upon dozen.

Yet still she denied it. Still she would not tell us where she had hidden the jewels. I was ready to believe her, but then I lifted her head, to look in her eyes to make sure. And I caught an expression on her face that told a different story. No, she was holding out on us. And, though she had quieted now, this was not to be borne.

So I took my place and laid the cane again along its well-worn path. This time there was nowhere unmarked for it to land: stripes fell over stripes and weals rose where tramlines overlapped. I caned her fast and hard, until eventually her shoulders shook and her cries turned to sobs.

We let her cry for a while, and then lifted her to her feet. She no longer thought to cover herself, and there was no longer any resistance on her tear-streaked face.

“Well, Mr. Jenkins. I believe she may have learnt her lesson. But there is one more place that the emeralds might be. Lock her away for a few days, and have her well purged each night: we shall soon know if she has swallowed them.”

Sunday 13 September 2009

The wooden pony

Mostly cross-posted from a guest post on Kami Robertson's blog, On the Way of Exploration, but with different pictures.

Kami is in faraway lands where her only Internet access is in public places, so she asked me to post some pictures on her blog to keep it warm. But when I had, I found I'd used only about half the pictures I liked best. So I thought I'd post the rest here. I'm afraid the text is almost the same, though.

When Kami comes to visit it tends to be a pretty intense weekend. But you can't play all the time, so if the weather's decent we tend to go out and look for photo opportunities. This particular day, we found a path through the woods that didn't look too frequented and came to an old wooden gate festooned with barbed wire. Kami's eye's lit up: "Can I strip off and climb on that?", she asked. "Yes, certainly", I answered. "But I'll decide how long you stay there."

Well, that's how it started. Kami likes a challenge, so she stripped off and climbed gingerly atop the rail. To start with it wasn't too uncomfortable. Kami perched there, her toes just reaching the ground at full stretch. To begin with I let her stabilise herself with her hands behind her on the rail.

But after a while the pressure started to build. She tried moving her hands in front, but that just made it worse.

After a few minutes of this, Kami was biting her lip and trying not to wriggle. But it was time to up the ante: "Feet off the ground, please. And hands on your head."

This was harder. She tried very hard, but couldn't help wriggling and rocking from side to side. Here's the moment when she lost it:

But she's a good girl when she wants to be. And something about this made her want to be. So I didn't have to say a thing for her to straighten up, lift her legs, and put her hands back where they belonged.

And there she stayed until I told her I was proud of her.


Sunday 6 September 2009

Names and identities

Cross-posted from Niki Flynn's Not-Blog (with different pictures)

I’ve been musing on the difference between names and identities. For quite a long time now, I’ve been known as “Niki Flynn’s partner”, and people know me on the Web as HH. But people who actually meet me usually call me Cameron, and that’s the name Niki used for me in Dances with Werewolves. But Cameron and HH flow into one another: they’re basically the same person.

But now Niki has admitted that she is also Fiona Locke, who wrote Over the Knee and On the Bare. In that case, who is Peter Markworthy, who is Angie’s partner in Over the Knee? Am I Peter too?

Well, yes and no. Fiona has always described Over the Knee as semiautobiographical, and so it is. Not the personal details – they’re changed and fictionalised. And many of the scenes have been “improved”: they’re described as they might have been, liberally laced with hot ideas that came afterwards. But the core personalities are definitely the two of us, and lots of the “top dialogue” came from me.

We’ve always been role-players, and created characters for our role-plays. In role-play we become our characters, at least for the duration of a scene. The best role-plays are the ones where we get lost in our roles. And the best role-play characters come back, and form the basis of a series of scenes. Characters can develop, and it gets quite easy to slip into their skins. Peter is one of those.

But what does that mean, exactly? That there’s a lot of me in Peter, or that there’s a lot of Peter in me? Sometimes I’m not sure myself.

The Web site is a good example. Long before Over the Knee, Fiona and I liked to take outdoor spanking photos. Nothing too elaborate: just a camera perched on a convenient rock or tree and set to auto-timer. But when Fiona decided to use that part of “us” in OTK, we realised that some people might actually type the name into their browser. Wouldn’t it be fun if it actually existed? So we created a celebration of spanking al fresco.

By then, though, Niki had a Web presence, and people were starting to recognise her at parties. So I spent a very long time trawling through photos, trying to find ones that didn’t look identifiably like Niki. It seems I was remarkably successful. It was only a few weeks ago, when Niki decided to “come out” as Fiona, that she posted a few shots taken during the same road trip on her NotBlog, hoping that someone would spot the similarities. As MysteryMinx did.

But when you have a Web site, you get email. And it wasn’t long before I started getting email addressed to Peter at the EnglishVice site. When that happened, there wasn’t much choice but to reply as Peter. That was something I hadn’t foreseen: I had to be Peter.

Of course the cover of Over the Knee does show Fiona getting her bottom warmed and demonstrating Niki’s trademark kick. We always thought that was rather a giveaway, but as far as we know only one person has spotted it unprompted. A few years ago, at a Florida Moonshine party, a new friend came up to Niki and held out a copy of Over the Knee: “Would you sign this for me?”, he asked. Niki tried to look blank, but he wasn’t having it, so we took him away into a corner and explained our secret. A little later we asked him how he’d known: “Well, I don’t suppose many other people would spot it. But I’ve made something of a study of your bottom…”

Emma Jane spotted it too: she read Over the Knee and Dances with Werewolves side-by-side, and noticed similarities in the writing. And then she drew parallels between the silhouettes of me in some of the pictures on my FetLife profile and Peter’s on EnglishVice.

But it does seem that unrecognisability is one of Niki’s skills. Or perhaps it’s Fiona’s.

Tuesday 1 September 2009

The responsibilities of a top

I’ve had a blogger profile for several months now, and an empty blog waiting for me to be inspired to post. I thought I’d find an opportunity to write about who I am, what drives me, why I like to have a girl across my knees for a spanking. But I’ve just spent a weekend with EmmaJane, and she’s made a very interesting post about one aspect of it. Not about the hot stuff, really: more about the difficult parts of This Thing We Do. So I think I’m going to dive in. Why talk about the easy parts, after all? The realities are much more interesting.

Well, to be fair, EmmaJane did make a post about the hot stuff. And I'm sure there will be more about that. There certainly has been in the past. But I’m feeling thoughtful tonight.

EmmaJane wrote:

We played later just before bed and Caoilfhionn was getting a very hard slippering from her housmaster, with the very scary, hurts so much it makes me and Kami cry, slipper. I got 12 to start with. And they hurt so badly. At 2 I couldn't see how I could get to 12. And at 11 I lost it completely. I screamed and jumped up in pure rage, literally stamping my feet in anger.

HH gave me a minute then bent me back over for the 12th. And that was it, we were done. But I couldn't relax. The anger had upset me. One minute I was heading for deep headspace and the next I was out of scene throwing a tantrum. And it wasn't fair on HH.

So I asked for more…

And later:
As we drove to the airport HH and I chatted about it and started a gentle argument over it. He claims the lack of headspace is his fault as a top. That it's his responsibility to create the situation where I can get there. And apply the right amount of pain, discipline and intimidation to make it work.

I in turn argued that no matter how great a top is that ultimately the bottom or sub has be open to him/her. And I told him that with all due respect I thought it was patronising for him to think he had so much power over me.

I’ve thought about this a lot in the last day or two. Of course EmmaJane is right that in general the bottom offers the top control and he takes what is offered. In that sense he can't take what isn't given - at least within the bounds of consent.

But it's not really as simple as that. Most bottoms want to be able to give in, to surrender to the scene [though that isn't quite the same as surrendering to the top – resistance has its place in role-pay (grin)]. But I'm sure that EmmaJane did want to give in this weekend: it was the fact that she couldn’t that frustrated her, and it was the frustration that led to anger - with herself as much as with me, though anger is not a finely focussed tool.

I do think that part of the skill of a good top is to facilitate letting go: to make the bottom feel safe enough to be vulnerable, to read her well enough to stop at the right time: not too soon, not too late.

That doesn't mean carrying on until she says I've gone too far. I don’t usually play with a safeword in the classic sense: something like “oranges” or “aardvark” that will stop the scene. But I know a genuine appeal when I hear it, and I’ll always pay attention if a girl uses my name. But safewords aren’t a solution anyway: in CP play, very few girls call a halt because it hurts too much. And keeping enough control to safeword is a big obstacle to letting go. Yes, the bottom can stop it. But no responsible top can/should assume that she will stop it, so I believe that "deciding when to stop" is primarily the top's responsibility.

So where exactly do the responsibilities lie? EmmaJane thinks it was her job to tell me if I went too far, and that it’s not my fault if she didn’t. I think I should have read her better during the bedtime slippering, and understood better that “I need more” meant "enough to fix the disconnect" rather than "enough to be cathartic".

But I'm not beating myself up over it: EmmaJane and I trust each other enough to talk through such things and understand them. [In fact we’ve already done that.] But this thing we do is all about the interactions between two people. We take risks, because risks give the hottest scenes. But taking risks means that scenes don't always go exactly to plan, and aren't always exactly what we hoped. When that happens, the causes are usually shared. EmmaJane says it was "because she couldn't let go", but I claim my share of the responsibility.

But still: it was a great weekend, with many hot scenes. And we learnt a lot about each other, which we will put to good use in the future. There is no substitute for communication.