Festive Capers? Barring-Out the Schoolmaster

Rex Cathcart tells the tale of the strange Christmas and holiday custom that left teachers two or three hundred years ago risking life and limb.

Down the ages pupils have always greeted the end of the school term with an exuberant sense of release from the daily grind. Older readers may recall chanting:

No more English, No more French,
No more sitting on the hard old bench,
Kick up tables, kick up chairs,
Kick old [the name of a significant master or mistress] down the stairs.

This threat of subversion was usually accompanied by nothing more violent than the slamming of desk tops or of classroom doors. The aggressive words may, however, have encapsulated a dim folk-memory of a time when a riotous revolt was commonly organised before school break-up. For harsher times had brought tougher responses. Custom allowed, even encouraged, pupils to flout authority by locking the master out of his lawful domain with a view to compelling him to concede the conditions for a more humane regime in the school.

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