The School Belt Past and Present

The True History Of The Lochgelly Tawse
by Margaret J Dick (daughter of John J Dick & granddaughter of George W Dick)

It all started with a saddler called Robert Philp who had a saddlery / Iron mongers shop in Main Street, Lochgelly. The first tawse was made for Robert's son and daughter who had both become teachers. He supplied them with a belt each and it fitted the bill so well that other teachers wanted them. Prior to this children were soundly beaten using anything from a stick, cane, ruler, slipper or makeshift leather strap often procured from old harness.

My Grandfather George Wilson Dick served his apprenticeship with Robert Philp.This involved 4 years learning to be a Black Saddler (Harness maker), 3 years learning to be a Brown Saddler (Saddle and Bridle maker) and a further 3 years as an improver. In those days you paid for the privilege of being trained so the first 7 years were unwaged and had to be paid for. During his 3 years as an improver he received a wage and worked exclusively for the Master Saddler.

After the 10 years as an apprentice he was free to take his trade out into the world and after a short stint as a journeyman he set up his own premises in Lochgelly with his brother Robert Shand Dick who was a coachbuilder, these premises were on the High Street. It was known as The Yard and consisted of a saddlers workshop (still making the Tawse/school belt on request) blacksmiths & wheelright, coachbuilders and latterly when my Dad's brothers took over it operated as a working garage and filling station. meanwhile Robert Philp retired and another earlier apprentice of his James Heggie bought the business in Main Street, Lochgelly and continued manufacturing amongst many other things yep! you guessed The Tawse.

Horse drawn carriage built in the early days
by George and his brother Robert.

My Dad, John Johnston Dick went straight from school to The Yard to be trained as an Apprentice Saddler. There were 2 Time Served Saddlers and another apprentice in the Saddlers workshop and approximately 30 employees at The Yard in total. You have to appreciate that the Co-operative in Lochgelly had about 30 working horses at this time so there was plenty of work for G.W.Dick & sons and James Heggie even without the Lochgelly Tawse.

Car custom built by George and his sons

Dad served a very different apprenticeship from his father. Going into a family business has it's advantages, not having to pay for your training and disadvantages, having to fill in where and when required. In the early 50's things were changing. James Heggie was retiring /selling up and Motor vehicles were taking over from the horse and cart. Dad bought the Main Street shop and the yard changed to a working garage and put in fuel pumps but the story of the Tawse was far from over.

So back to the Tawse, it's hard to stay on the subject because as you will have gathered by now it might have made Lochgelly & the Dick name famous around the world but it wasn't the mainstay of any of these businesses. It was just another wee sideline amongst many that made up a rich tapestry of working life.

In 1951 John Johnston Dick married Diana Gunn-Sutherland Fraser for the next 5 decades they worked hand in glove through many changes and made a formidable husband & wife team. The Main Street shop diversified supplying gardening equipment and toys as well as the Ironmongery and Saddlery and through it all the Tawse in there thousands winged there way to school teachers all around the world. My parents never knowingly supplied the 'domestic market'. They were mild mannered folks who never lifted their hand far less a belt to their children. They feared that in the home environment, outwith the controls of school, a parent may go much further than '6 of the best' on the hand.

In the early 70's they bought premises in Cowdenbeath High Street and diversified again into Fancygoods and Saddlery selling up the Lochgelly shop about a year later. My brother Malcolm John Dick joined the business and served his apprenticeship. It became obvious about this time that there was other interest in the Tawse from the 'Adult Market'. People realising John & Diana wouldn't supply for domestic use would pass themselves off as teachers in order to procure a belt so they tightened things up and only despatched to school premises or after seeing adequate ID. Manufacture continued for another decade and then things changed.

The law was changed and parental consent was required before a teacher could strike a child. Obviously not all parents would give consent so the public school system banned the belt. Some private schools continued for awhile but opinion had changed and the era of corporal punishment was dying if not quite dead. But things go on and so does this business unfortunately my brother has not been able to continue due to Multiple Sclerosis and the shop in Cowdenbeath was sold sometime ago but I returned to the fold after 10 years in Engineering and attempted to absorb as much knowledge as I could before Dad retired. I now make a good living supplying tourist goods, workman's gear and yes the odd 'Lochgelly' so long as it's just for hanging on the wall and not for beating children.

Regards Margaret Janet Dick

Where can I buy a Lochgelly Tawse?