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Fagging was a traditional practice in British boarding private schools (nearly all "public schools" in the English sense) and also many other boarding schools, whereby younger pupils were required to act as personal servants to the most senior boys.[1] While domestic servants were common in family households, the custom reflected household task distribution and taught pupils about service from both ends of the relationship very much reminiscent of the relationship between squire and knight in the Middle Ages.

Under school rules, fagging might entail harsh discipline and corporal punishment when those were standard practices. Fagging was sometimes associated with sexual abuse by those older boys.[2]

The practice of personal fagging faded away during the 1970s and 1980s, but to some degree has been maintained in former colonies or has been replaced by systems which require junior boys to perform tasks for the benefit of the general school community.


Fagging originated as a structure for maintaining order in boarding schools, 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 authorities of the school to the Sixth Form, to be exercised by them over younger boys.[1] Senior pupils were given both power over, and responsibility for, the behaviour of younger boys. This created 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 Paul's, Eton, and Winchester in the sixteenth century.[1] During the nineteenth 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.[citation needed]

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] (perhaps in consultation with other fag-masters or prefects) and without reporting to masters.

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, bringing tea to the fag-masters' study and fagging[clarification needed] at cricket or football.[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 College.[1]

During the late twentieth 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 first the duties became less onerous and then the system was abolished at most major public schools.[3] It is now believed to be obsolete in Great Britain.

In memoirs, literature and artEdit

  • In George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman series, based on the bully from Tom Brown's Schooldays, Flashman refers to "roasting fags" at Rugby school.
  • In E.W. Hornung's Raffles series, it is often mentioned that the character Harry "Bunny" Manders was the main character A. J. Raffles' fag during their school days.
  • In Yana Toboso's manga Black Butler, fagging becomes an important topic of the series in volume XV. As of the previous volume, the main character enters a boarding school, where he is introduced to school life in nineteenth century England.
  • The Groxbourne school in Tom Sharpe's novel Vintage Stuff includes fagging as part of school life.

See alsoEdit


  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. ^ "When I was at school ..." The Guardian. 2005-10-12. Retrieved 2011-05-26.
  3. ^ UPI (4 March 1977). "Eton students want to carry on fagging tradition". Nashua Telegraph.
  4. ^ Dahl, Roald (1984). Boy: Tales of Childhood. Puffin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-130305-5.
  5. ^ Lewis, C.S. (1955). Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life. Harcourt, Brace and World. ISBN 0-15-687011-8.