One hundred years ago in Southend, a case that would make us shudder today in our more liberal and idealistic world was making the headlines.

It involved a school headmaster who was summonsed to court for the over-zealous beating of one of his pupils.

Back then, of course, corporal punishment was perfectly normal and largely accepted by society. In this case the boy’s parents brought the court case against the teacher, not because he administered the caning, but because they felt he went too far with the thrashing.

It was spring of 1920 and William Lucas, the headmaster of Southchurch Hall School was summoned for an alleged assault upon a ten-year-old boy named Herbert West.

The boy’s mother Cissie Rhoda West, aged 42, of Chinchilla Road Southchurch, brought the case after she noticed painful marks on her son’s legs.

The mother then took her son to a police constable who also saw the marks.

The court heard how the boy had been seen by Mr Lucas “playing around with a comic” with another pupil while in school.

The headmaster took West upstairs to his office and “struck him four times on the legs and elsewhere”. Each of the blows left a mark for days and the cane used in the punishment was described as “a thick one”.

PC Chapman, the constable who the mother had called, told the court in his opinion the blows were inflamed and the boy seemed to be suffering from shock. He admitted that he personally considered the punishment far too excessive.

Lucas, in defence, said he had been headmaster at the school for three-and-a-half years but had held the power to inflict corporal punishment for the past 15 years – and had never had a complaint like this. “A child usually tells half the truth and hides the other half,” he said in his defence.

After a lot of debate and hearing statements from witnesses, the court found that the headmaster had not used excessive punishment and the mother’s charges against him were thrown out. The acquittal did not go down well with the boy’s father, a seaman, who yelled at the bench: “Then your Worship I shall punish him as he punished my boy!”

He called the headmaster a vicious man and promised to mete out his own justice. The chairman of the bench replied to the angry father: “Very well we will make a note of this” and Mr Lucas was led out of the court under the protection of police officers.

This was by no means the only excessive corporal punishment case to make the news in south Essex.

In fact a decade earlier, in the winter of 1910, an even more unpleasant case had come to light.

Cornelius Valentine Barker, the school master of Pitsea, found himself in the dock to answer charges of assaulting 11-year-old pupil John Arnold, from Thundersley.

The case reached the Rochford Petty Sessions Court and was again brought by the victim’s parents. The allegation came about after the boy returned to school after having lunch at home ten minutes late one day.

Arnold lived a mile-and-half away from the school and had to walk to and from classes every day – as well as walking home for lunch.

On this occasion it was raining, making him late for afternoon lessons.

He was told to stay back after school for detention, but as he was feeling poorly he went straight home.

The next day when he got to school Barker gave him four “handers”. The court heard how the boy screamed that he was going to tell his father,

Barker “took him across his knee and severely caned him on the buttocks”. “He fell to the floor and was again beaten in this position.” Barker told the boy: “If you let anyone outside hear the noise I will give you some more.”

Arnold ran home and told his parents. He was in so much pain he couldn’t sleep and a doctor was eventually called.

Fellow pupil Reggie Hopwood gave evidence and described how he saw “the master give Arnold a good thrashing while he held him on his knee”.

Dr Cosmo Grant, from Thundersley, who had attended to the boy after the beating also gave his opinion: “To cause wheals of such extent and character considerable force must have been used, considerably more force than should have been used,” he admitted.

The court determined Barker had used excessive force and fined him £1 as well as ordering him to pay four shillings costs.

It appears Mr Barker got off with just a fine, but if we delve a little deeper we see he didn’t.

A search of newspaper archives shows John Arnold’s stepfather found himself in the dock after he came across Barker in the street in Pitsea shortly after the beating and gave him a piece of his mind.

Charles Clarke saw Barker riding his bike to school shortly after the drama. As he passed the Gun Inn, Clarke stopped him and the pair got into a row. Clarke pushed the teacher off his bike and “pulled his nose” and was fined 10 shillings.

Corporal punishment in schools was finally outlawed in Britain in 1986.