Fagging - History


Fagging originated as a structure for maintaining order in boarding houses, when schoolmasters' authority was practically limited to the classroom. Dr. Thomas Arnold, headmaster of Rugby from 1828 to 1841, defined fagging as the power given by the supreme authorities of the school to the Sixth Form, to be exercised by them over younger boys. Senior pupils were given both power over and responsibility for the behaviour of younger boys, thus creating a progressive social structure in the house, while teaching both parties something of service, a concept particularly highly valued in Victorian education and society. Fagging was a fully established system at St Pauls, Eton and Winchester in the 16th century, and may well date back to the Medieval discipline of the monasteries which founded most of the great public schools. During the 19th century, almost all British public schools had a fagging system, and the numerous new boarding schools founded for the children of the British Empire generally adopted the system as a natural reflection of society.

Fagging carried with it well-defined rights and duties on both sides. The senior, sometimes called fag-master, was the protector of his fags and responsible for their good conduct. In cases of any problem outside the classroom, such as bullying or injustice, a junior boy's recourse was to him, not to a form-master or housemaster, and, except in the gravest cases, all incidents were dealt with by the fag-master on his own responsibility (perhaps in consultation with other fag-masters or prefects) and without report to masters.

The duties undertaken by fags, the time taken, and their general treatment varied widely. Each school had its own tradition. Until circa 1900 a fag's duties included such humble tasks as blacking boots, brushing clothes and cooking breakfasts, and there was no limit as to hours. Later, fagging was restricted to such light tasks as running errands, bringing tea to the fag-masters' study and fagging at cricket or football. At many schools, fag-masters were expected to reward their fags for their efforts at the end of term by giving a monetary 'fag tip'. The 1911 Britannica details an evolution of the role at Eton college.

During the late 20th century, fagging fell out of use, as attitudes to boarding education and child development changed. Despite the reluctance of senior boys who had served their time and expected to enjoy the benefits of the system, between the 1960s and 1980s fag-masters, fags, and their system was abolished at most major public schools, and is now believed to be obsolete in Great Britain. Nevertheless, official or unofficial relics of fagging are still quite common in some of the leading British public schools.

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