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PAYBACK: Eric Wildman – The crusader for corporal punishment was caned by his pupils

Tijana Radeska

Many British people who grew up during the 1950s might have experienced ‘corporal punishment’ with specialized caning instruments invented by Eric Wildman.

Many parents believed that educating their children is a painful process and – sorry children – but that’s the way it is. For some parents and, in the past, teachers, words just didn’t contain the same power as corporal punishment. Well, Eric Wildman considered himself to be the Crusader for corporal punishment.

One will imagine that the man was publishing obscure articles on the necessity of caning children. But no, Wildman’s main activity was the production of weapons for chastisement. And no, it has nothing to do with sexual fetishes – it was for educational purposes.

Eric Wildman was born in the 1921 in the UK. After serving in the Merchant Navy during the Second World War he set up the Corpun Educational Supply Company which specialised in selling a variety of corporal punishment instruments, including canes, straps and tawses, whipping paraphernalia to schools and caning enthusiasts around the country.

He was also the president and probably the only member of the National Society for the Retention of Corporal Punishment in Schools and the organizer of the League for the Retention of Corporal Punishment and of the Corpun Educational Organisation Limited.

In a 1947 edition of the Daily Mirror newspaper, the 26 year old Wildman claimed that he was the supplier of canes to over 100 schools around the country.

An even more bizarre feature in the Mirror later that same year suggested a national shortage of canes for school use and that Wildman was now supplying canes to no fewer than 300 schools, including those in far away places such as Uganda, Malaya, Palestine and Persia!

And he might have. And many teachers might have mentioned him in their prayers, but he wasn’t the most likeable person among people around him. He was often kicked out of apartments by landlords and he was certainly not the type who sat in pubs drinking beer with friends.

He was devoted to his mission and kept rigid type of organization – he had neatly ordered card-indexes, scattered canes on the floor, on the walls he kept specimens of almost every type of punitive instrument: birch, whip, cane and strap in variety of colors, designs, sizes, shapes and weight. A speciality was the series of Tawzes, the Scottish punitive instrument. Pretty much everything for all tastes. And each product had a price which varied accordingly.

When he wasn’t content with the sales, he paraded through London wearing a schoolmaster’s gown with sandwich board placards bearing such messages as “Abolish the Birch & Crime Increases. Sign the petition and join the crusade to defeat the abolition of Judicial Corporal Punishment” and “Parents, do your children need beating?… If so, etc…”

During his “mission” he was giving lectures on his principles and techniques in various schools. Apparently these were often attended by both supporters and opponents, and so would frequently end in disorder.

In his book Chastisement Across the Ages, Gervas d’Olbert who apparently visited one of Wildman’s lectures described Wildman’s appearance at these meetings as “…deadly serious with the eyes of a fanatic… always arrayed in cap, mortar-board and gown” but that his speeches were “…invariably of the dullest and most monotonous type: content and delivery were alike undistinguished.”

Apart from manufacturing implements of chastisement, he also produced some literary material and was editor of a fortnightly review called The Retentionist. His literary output, however, was not of a high quality being filled with the same recurring cliches, anecdotes and spelling mistakes. Over the next few years he published a number of booklets and mimeographed pamphlets including Modern Methods of Home Discipline (1948), Modern Miss Delinquent (1950) and Punishment Posture for Girls (1950).

That’s the story of Wildman the Crusader’s rise. The story of his fall follows….

Not refusing an invitation for giving a lecture, it so happened that he fell into a trap set for him in one of the schools where he was invited to talk and to demonstrate his methods of imposing school discipline to the assembled scholars. It all happened in Horsley Hall, a British school for boys – as he was talking, a group of the boys crept up behind him, grabbed him, pinned him down, and then began beating him with his own canes.

The assault has been planned by the school’s headmaster, who was strongly anti-caning. He had decided to give Wildman a taste of his own medicine. Wildman threatened to sue the school, but never did. Neither had he given up his mission. The incident was reported in newspapers far and wide including TIME magazine.

However in February 1953, the authorities who had had their eye on him for some time past issued a search warrant as a result of the examination of certain of Wildman’s pamphlets. The police entered his home and proceeded to search the two or three rooms with their wealth of material. Wildman apparently was employing quite a substantial staff, mainly female.

The whole material of his work was removed into four huge vans by the police: the entire contents of the rooms, save the furniture; not only were drawers emptied and their contents removed, but every piece of literature was confiscated. What is more, the police took away every punitive weapon found on the premises, whether lying on the table or floor, or stacked in cupboards, or adorning the walls. During this removal, which lasted the incredible time of three hours, Wildman himself remained calm, muttering merely that he would consult his lawyers.

Despite this, Wildman continued to sell his pamphlets and a second raid was carried out a couple of months later when yet more literature, ‘obscene’ photographs and canes were seized. He was subsequently issued with a summons and at court Wildman pleaded guilty to 17 charges of publishing obscene libels. He was fined £500, which he was allowed six months to pay, the alternative being a year in jail.

Following his prosecution Wildman’s adopted daughter was removed from his “care” and the almost completed plan for adoption of another child was canceled. He kept a much lower profile and ceased to produce spanking-related literature. However, he continued to sell his canes and other spanking implements via mail order from home until at least the mid-1970s and later is believed to have worked as a private maths tutor.

He died in London, May 1990.