1872: Headmaster uses barbed wire to thwart sexual hijinks

Edward White Benson (1829-96) was an Anglican clergyman who for the last 16 years of his life served as Archbishop of Canterbury. He started his career as a schoolmaster at Rugby before becoming the foundation headmaster of Wellington College, Berkshire, in 1859.

As an educator, Benson was a disciplinarian especially tough on sexual misconduct or antics. Students caught masturbating, dallying with other boys or girls from outside the school were punished severely. Several students were expelled, including one senior who fornicated with a teenaged servant over the Christmas holidays and returned to Wellington with a sexually transmitted disease.

Benson also moved to prevent unhealthy relationships by separating older students from much younger ones. Mixed-aged dormitories were dissolved and restrictions were imposed on ‘fagging’. Concerned that students were breaching these rules by climbing over dormitory dividers after lights out, Benson personally strung two tiers of barbed wire along the tops of each cubicle.

Rudyard Kipling’s son John attended Wellington College in the years before World War I. In 1912 Kipling wrote to John warning him to steer clear of:

“..any chap who is even suspected of beastliness… Give them the widest of berths. Whatever their merits may be in the athletic line, they are at heart only sweeps and scum, and all friendship with them ends in sorrow and disgrace. More on this subject when we meet.”

Source: D. Newsome, A History of Wellington College, 1959; Rudyard Kipling letter to John Kipling, May 1st 1912. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.