Remembering the Lochgelly Tawse

The Lochgelly Tawse, or school belt
The Lochgelly Tawse, or school belt

MORE than one generation of readers will no doubt wince at the mention of the Lochgelly Tawse, or the ‘strap’ or ‘belt’ as it was also known.

But the words are also sure to bring flooding back memories of school days from days gone by.

And it’s these memories, which will be used to create a special piece of community musical theatre to be performed in Lochgelly - the town where the tawse originates from.

‘Banned: The Belt, How the Lochgelly Tawse Changed the World’ will be performed at the Lochgelly Centre at the end of November, but those behind the project - part of the successful community music project ‘The Band’ - are urging the public to get involved and attend taster sessions this weekend.

Janet Robertson, Youth Music Theatre Scotland (YMTS) creative director, has been asked by On at Fife to lead the project following her role in previously successful productions in the Kingdom.

And she is looking forward to creating an exciting piece of theatre, specific to Lochgelly, which people across central Fife can get involved in.

She said: “The third phase of The Band - the initiative run by On at Fife and Creative Scotland - is to put everything together as a piece of musical theatre.

“I was delighted to be asked to be involved, and the idea of doing something pretty unique for Lochgelly, and a piece that could be best done there and celebrating something very Lochgelly, really appealed to me.

“The Lochgelly Tawse is perfect.It’s a real piece of history.

“It was invented and made in Lochgelly for over 100 years.’’

Around 70 per cent of belts used in schools came from the town, and the original manufacturer, Robert Philp, started making them in the 1880s when it became compulsory for kids to go to school.

She added: “The business grew and Philp’s apprentice was Margaret Dick’s grandfather.

“He took over the business and it has remained in the family ever since.

‘‘She still has a leather making business in Lochgelly.

Full circle

“The story goes full circle and comes back to central Fife as a mum, whose son was at Beath High School, Cowdenbeath, was one of those who petitioned for the EU courts to outlaw the use of corporal punishment in schools in the 1980s.

“I believe the Lochgelly Centre is on the site of an old high school, so it seems the perfect place to celebrate the Lochgelly Tawse.”

The production will be a celebration of the tawse, showing how it shaped society.

A series of taster sessions are being held this weekend and it is hoped people will come along to find out more about the project and how they can get involved.

Janet said: “We want to engage with as many people as possible and at this stage the production could go in any direction.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen.


“The whole project relies on people getting involved and telling us their stories to help shape the piece.

“I was at school when the belt was banned, so anyone my age or older will have memories and a story to tell about the tawse.

“Those who are younger will no doubt have heard the tales and experiences of their mums and dads, grandparents or other relatives.

“Everyone will have a story to share.

“The tasters are everybody’s chance to come and find out more and see if it’s something they want to be part of.

“We want as many people as possible to get involved in the whole process and anyone aged 16 to 116 is welcome to come along and get involved.

“The main thing is, it’s going to be fun.”