Picture the scene: You’re a lone woman walking the streets of London in 1681, perhaps doing a spot of shopping or going to see a friend. Out of nowhere a man leaps out and strikes you sharply across the buttocks and before you can glimpse his face, disappears with a cry of “Spanko!”
It sounds like something out of a Monty Python-style sketch show, but this attack is not fictionalised. In 1681 there really was a mysterious buttock beater roaming the streets of London. This attacker was so prolific that he earned the nickname ‘Whipping Tom.’
Mainly operating in the small courtyards between Strand, Fleet Street and Holborn, he was known to wait for his victims in dimly lit alleys. His prey were always lone women, and he would leap out, lift their skirt and slap their behind repeatedly, either with his own hand or a rod. The phrase “Spanko!” would often accompany these attacks; then he would vanish so quickly some began to wonder if the Whipping Tom was a supernatural being.
At the time the attacks were taken very seriously, not only did they prompt women to start carrying weapons like penknives and scissors, but they also caused the effectiveness of London’s policing into question. In an effort to capture the mysterious attacker, some men would don women’s clothes and lurk around the areas he was known to operate.
A man and an accomplice were eventually arrested for the attacks, but sadly the trial records have been lost and we can only speculate on the justice that was handed out to this eccentric attacker.
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