Whipping Tom: He Makes Your Butt Cry Spanko

The legend of Whipping Tom, the so-called ‘enemy of Milk-wenches Bums’, seems to date from the 1670s. It involves women of all ages, shapes and distinctions having their buttocks smacked at random by a strange man dressed in black, occasionally accompanied by the victorious cry of ‘Spanko!’

One version of the story is found in a broadside/news-sheet published in London in 1681, titled ‘Whipping tom brought to light and exposed to view, in an account of several late adventures of the pretended whipping spirit. Giving a full relation of several maids, widows and wives etc that have been by him used in a most barbarous and shameful manner in and about the City of London, within six weeks last past, as also an account of the various reports that are spread abroad concerning him.

It’s such an entertaining read (apart from the last paragraph) that it’s worth including in full so you don’t have to go and dig it out at the British Library:

There having of late been much Discourse in this City, in relation to Whipping Tom, (a Name so much dreaded by the Female Sex) his being abroad again, of whose late Exploits (for the better satisfaction of such as are Inquisitive, and desirous to be informed) and for the benefit of such Husbands as are troubled with gadding Wives, we shall give this following Account of the places that he usually frequents and haunts: Know then, that according to common Fame, he is of the Generation of that Whipping Tom, that about Nine years since proved such an enemy to the Milk-wenches Bums, and often times occasioned the Country Dames to hire a Guard for the security of their Posteriors; whose name so overawed Joan and Ciss that they durst not stir out after Candlelight to meet their Sweet-hearts, for fear of having an Alarum beaten upon their Tobies, and that he being tired with Country Exercise, and not well brooking to take up his Lodgings in Woods and Barnes, nor to turn up any longer, Tales draged at least a quarter of a yard deep, he has thought it expedient to Exercise his Tyranny over the Backsides of the cleanly, tite City Ladies, and for some weeks past, has lurked about in Alleys and Courts in Fleet-street, Chancery-lane, Shooe-lane, Fetter-lane, the Strand, Holbourn, and other places, and at unawares seazes upon such as he can conveniently light on, and turning them up as nimble as an Eeel, makes their Butt ends cry Spanko; and then (according to the Report of those who have felt the weight of his Paws) vanished; for you must know, that having left the Country, he has not the advantage of getting Rods, and therefore is obliged to use his hands instead thereof; His first Adventure, as near as we can learn, was on a Servant Maid in New Street, who being sent out to look her Master, as she was turning a Corner, perceived a Tall black Man standing up against the wall, as if he had been making water, but she had not passed far, but with great speed and violence seized her, and in a trice, laying her cross his knee, took up her Linnen, and lay’d so hard upon her Backside, as made her cry out most piteously for help, the which he no sooner perceiving to approach (as she declares) but he vanished; and although diligent search was made, no person could be found. Another likewise tasted of the same sawce a little after in VVine-Office Court in Fleet-street.

Another time the Woman that cries hot Gray Pease about the Streets, coming up Ram Alley in Fleet-street, whilst she was bawling out her Trade, perceived a long black thing standing bolt upright a little distance from her, but not Dreaming of what after happened, came on, but was no sooner within reach, but a cold hand was lay’d upon her, and up flew her heels, and down fell the Pease Tub, when (as she has farther related) her fences was so charmed, that she lost all power of Resistance, and left him to Tyranize over her Posteriors at Pleasure, the which when he had done, he left her to scrape up her Ware as well as she could, for the use of such longing Ladies as are affected with such Diet.

A Gentlewoman some few Nights past, coming through Flowerdeluce Court, near Fetter-lane, was set upon in the like manner by a person in Black, which (as she affirmed) had Armour on to prevent any private stab with Sizers or Penknife, as is supposed; but e’re he could accomplish his designe, the Watch hearing her Shriek out, came to her assistance, and one of the Watchmen (as it is credibly reported) laid hold of him, but could not secure him, he either being too strong (or a Spirit as some will have him) might flip through his fingers. At another time its reported, a Gentlewoman coming through Fetter-Lane, (at the end which comes into Holbourn) she was set upon, and abused as the Gray Pease Woman was, and there left for some time in a Sound.

And farther its said, that he like Death, spares neither old nor young; for some Nights since, scouting about Whetstones Park, met with an old piece of Mortality, or Hegler in Haman Flesh, who taking him to be a Well timber’d Gentleman, would needs be inviting him to her House, but she had scarce made him a Curtesie e’re he turn’d up the unweildy Mass of Kitchen-stuff, and by his hard claps made her Sing to the TUne of Lacrime; Another time as we are informed, he meeting with a demure rack or Miss of the Town, (who came to accost him) he so swinged her Tail, that tis thought, she will not be capable of her Trade for some considerable time. These and many other Pranks (as we are credibly Informed) has been his late Exercise, to the great Terror of the Female Sex, insomuch that a great number dare not stir abroad after the Shops are shut up. And father it is reported of him, that altho great wait has been laid to apprehend him by Men attired in Womens habit, yet he is so Cunning, that he will not venture upon them, but passes them by, which is one main reason that induces the Lasses to believe he is a Spirit; and because they will be sure to know whether he is so or not, a great many when their Masters and Mistresses sends them on Errands late, go Armed with Penknives, sharp Bodkins, Sizzars, and the like, resolving if they meet with him to turn the Comedy into a Tragedy (if he should prove MOrtal) for a fence against which, it is reported, as we have before recited, he goes in Armour, resolving to continue at utter Enmity with the Female Sex.

Besides these Outrages, we hear that about three weeks since, he met with a Gentlewoman great with Child, who lived in Fleet-street, and so affrighted her with the suddain surprise, that notwithstanding he was prevented his usual designe, yet through the fright (as most believe) she Miscarried, and about a week after Died in Child-Bed.

This story suggests there was an earlier ‘Whipping Tom’ in around 1672. Forty years later another ‘Whipping Tom’ emerged, real name Thomas Wallis, after a campaign of buttock-punishment across east London. At his trial, Wallis is said to have declared that ‘unless woman be whipped out of their wicked pride and baseness, mankind will become women’s slaves.’ According to one report his punishment was to be whipped weekly by two women in Bridewell prison for 12 months before being forced to ‘run the gauntlet’ between 200 maids, wives and widows in Cheapside.

For more on Whipping Tom (who has his own Wikipedia page) see the long-ago blog by Lucy Inglis at georgianlondon.com.


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