T: 01397 702169
E: info@westhighlandmuseum.org.uk

Crime and Punishment:

It is easy to forget in the present day how recent it was that corporal punishment was thought fitting and useful both as a punishment and deterrent. Right up until the mid-twentieth century (and the 1970s in the Isle of Man) it was common in many areas of the UK for perpetrators of petty crimes to be sentence to a ‘birching’.

This involved having to lie face down on a table with arms tied together underneath, and legs held still by strong straps. A bundle of stripped rods of birch (or sometimes willow or hazel) was then used to whip the recipient’s bare buttocks. Occasionally the back and/or shoulders were whipped, and the type, number and weight of branches used (as well as the number of strokes) varied with the severity of the crime.

The Birching Table

“The birching table pictured is from the old court house in Fort William where the birchings were carried out. It was last used in 1948, when a 15 year old boy was birched for shoplifting”

It was legally required to have a doctor on hand when these punishments were being administered, although this may have been of little comfort to the recipient.