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A junior at Eton fagging, illustration by S. P. Hall in C. F. Johnstone's Recollections of Eton (1870)

Fagging was a traditional practice in British public schools and also at many other boarding schools, whereby younger pupils were required to act as personal servants to the oldest boys.[1][2][3] Although probably originating earlier, the first accounts of fagging appeared in the late seventeenth century.[4]:23 Fagging sometimes involved physical abuse[4]:23–25 and/or sexual abuse.[5] Although diminishing in its severity over the centuries, the practice of virtual enslavement of junior pupils by their seniors continued in some institutions until the last decades of the 20th century.[4]:23–25


Fagging originated as a structure for maintaining order in boarding schools, when schoolmasters' authority was practically limited to the classroom. Thomas Arnold, headmaster of Rugby from 1828 to 1841, defined fagging as the power given by the authorities of the school to the Sixth Form, to be exercised by them over younger boys.[1] Fagging was a fully established system at St Paul's, Eton, and Winchester in the sixteenth century.[1][6]

In 1816, George Lewis criticized the practice in the Edinburgh Review, describing it as "the only regular institution of slave labour enforced by brute force which exists in these islands".[4]:23 Defenders of the system argued that it prepared boys for future positions of authority.[7]

Fagging carried with it well-defined rights and duties on both sides. The senior, sometimes called the fag-master, was the protector of his fags and responsible for their happiness and good conduct.[1] In case 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.[1]

The duties undertaken by fags, the time taken, and their general treatment varied widely. Each school had its own traditions. Until around 1900 a fag's duties might include such humble tasks as blacking boots, brushing clothes and cooking breakfasts, and there was no limit as to hours.[1] Later, fagging was restricted to such light tasks as running errands and bringing tea to the fag-master's study.[1] 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.[1] Under school rules, fagging might entail harsh discipline and corporal punishment when those were standard practices. In 2017, the actor Simon Williams described how, as a new pupil at Harrow School in 1959, he was required to fag for a prefect four years his senior, involving duties such as spit-polishing his shoes, making his bed, serving tea, and even pre-warming the toilet seat for him.[8]

In 1930, an inquest into the death of a 14-year-old schoolboy from Sedbergh School heard that, rather than return there after his holidays, he took his life because of his dislike of the fagging system. The jury returned a verdict of suicide and recommended that the fagging system in public schools be abolished.[9][10]

During the late twentieth century, fagging fell out of use in British public schools, 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 first the duties became less onerous and then the system was abolished at most major public schools.[11] The practice is believed to have become obsolete in Great Britain.[12]

There is a history of fagging in schools in former British colonies such as India[13] and South Africa, where fagging continues in a limited form at some schools.[14]

Sexual abuse[edit]

Fagging was sometimes associated with sexual abuse.[4]:215–244[5] One author, writing about the history of Harrow School, stated that in some situations, fagging could either encourage or conceal sexual activity between boys, and that at Harrow, fagging began to decline at around the same time as homosexuality was eradicated as an acceptable part of the boarding school environment.[15]:477 Fagging remained a part of formal school life there until the 1990s.[15]:440

In memoirs, literature and art[edit]

Many authors have written of the experience of the harsh regimes experienced within public or boarding schools; some in novels and others in memoirs.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Fagging" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 10 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 125.
  2. ^ Brown, Tamara L.; Parks, Gregory; Phillips, Clarenda M. (2005). African American Fraternities and Sororities: The Legacy and the Vision. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 978-0-8131-2344-8.
  3. ^ Report of Her Majesty's Commissioners Appointed to Inquire Into the Revenues and Management of Certain Colleges and Schools, and the Studies Pursued and Instruction Given Therein: With an Appendix and Evidence. London: G.E. Eyre and W. Spottiswoode. 1864. Retrieved 22 August 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d e Schaverien, Joy (2015). Boarding School Syndrome: The psychological trauma of the 'privileged' child. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-317-50659-1. Retrieved 22 August 2020.
  5. ^ a b "When I was at school ..." The Guardian. 2005-10-12. Retrieved 2011-05-26.
  6. ^ Johnson's New Universal Cyclopædia: A Scientific and Popular Treasury of Useful Knowledge. A. J. Johnson. 1877. p. 7. Retrieved 22 August 2020.
  7. ^ a b Brooke-Smith, James (2019). Gilded Youth: Privilege, Rebellion and the British Public School. Reaktion Books. pp. 36, 44. ISBN 9781789140927.
  8. ^ Williams, Simon (8 December 2017). "The Archers' Simon Williams on public school 'fagging'". The Telegraph. Retrieved 22 August 2020.
  9. ^ Nash, Paul (1961). "Training an Elite: The prefect-fagging system in the English Public School". History of Education Quarterly. 1 (1): 14–21. doi:10.2307/367195. ISSN 0018-2680. JSTOR 367195. Retrieved 23 August 2020.
  10. ^ "Suicide - Dislike of Fagging". The Times. 10 May 1930. p. 9. Retrieved 23 August 2020.
  11. ^ UPI (4 March 1977). "Eton students want to carry on fagging tradition". Nashua Telegraph.
  12. ^ Barekat, Houman (June 29, 2018). "Posh Boys by Robert Verkaik review – how public schools ruin Britain" – via www.theguardian.com.
  13. ^ Agarwala, Vishant (31 August 2014). "Lights out, bullies are out". The Times of India. Retrieved 23 August 2020.
  14. ^ Löser, Dylan Thomas (2016). "The Classics, the Cane and Rugby: The Life of Aubrey Samuel Langley and his Mission to Make Men in the High Schools of Natal, 1871-1939" (PDF). pp. 55, 63. Retrieved 23 August 2020.
  15. ^ a b Tyerman, Christopher (October 2000). A History of Harrow School, 1324-1991. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-822796-0. Retrieved 22 August 2020.
  16. ^ Renton, Alex (8 April 2017). "School of hard knocks: the dark underside to boarding school books". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 August 2020.
  17. ^ Bieri, James (2004). Percy Bysshe Shelley: A Biography: Youth's Unextinguished Fire, 1792–1816. Newark: University of Delaware Press. p. 81. ISBN 9780874138702.
  18. ^ "Tom Brown's Schooldays, by Thomas Hughes". Project Gutenberg. Retrieved 23 August 2020.
  19. ^ Hornung, E. W. (2003) [1899]. Richard Lancelyn Green (ed.). Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman (Annotated ed.). London: Penguin Books. p. 3. ISBN 978-1856132824.
  20. ^ Garrison, Daniel H. (1989) [1987]. Who's Who in Wodehouse (Revised ed.). Peter Lang Publishing. pp. 162, 164. ISBN 1-55882-087-6.
  21. ^ Lewis, C.S. (1955). Surprised by Joy. Harcourt, Brace and World. ISBN 0-15-687011-8.
  22. ^ Dahl, Roald (1984). Boy: Tales of Childhood. Puffin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-130305-5.

Further reading[edit]