Green’s Dictionary of Slang

oaken towel n.

also oaken plant, ...sapling, ...staff, birchen towel

a cudgel; usu. as rub-down or rubbing-down with..., a beating.

[UK]N. Ward Hudibras Redivivus I:7 25: Attended by a Rogue, design’d / To guard and vindicate his Jewel / With Mutton Fist and Oaken Towel.
[UK]J. Gay Shepherd’s Week 1st Pastoral 10: Forbear, contending Louts, give o’er your Strains, An Oaken Staff each merits for his Pains.
[UK]Derby Mercury 17 Apr. 2/1: [He] saw something black, which put him in a dreadful Panic; however, recovering himself, he gave it so stout a Blow with an Oaken Towel [...] that he fell’d it at his feet.
[UK]C. Johnson Hist. of Highwaymen &c 352: With a good oaken Plant he had in his Hand, [he] gave the Waterman such a shrew’d Blow under the Ear.
London Eve. Post 17 Oct. n.p.: At which his men being exasperated began to exercise their oaken towels.
[UK]‘Hercules Vinegar’ The Cudgel or Crab-tree Lecture 9: He need not want A Crab-tree Cudgel, or an Oaken Plant: Tough answers [...] fit To tame the wildness of ill-natur’d Wit.
[UK]Smollett Roderick Random (1979) 9: I shall rub you down with an oaken towel, my boy.
[UK]W. Toldervy Hist. of the Two Orphans III 149: Copper [...] happening to hear, immediately seized his oaken towel and fell upon them.
Horse and away to St. James’s Park 1: Raising his oaken plant and beating it down again with some earnestness.
[UK]Kentish Gaz. 12 July 2/1: An oaken towel would furnish a more proper argument against the insolence.
[UK]Smollett Humphrey Clinker (1925) I 142: But i’fackins, Mr. Clinker wa’n’t long in his debt – with a good oaken sapling he dusted his doublet, for all his golden cheese toaster.
[UK]Bridges Burlesque Homer (3rd edn) 242: Soon he ply’d his oaken towels, / And gave ’em all the gripes i’th’ bowels.
Northhampton Mercury 7 May 3/2: The young son of Neptune, grasoping his oaken towel, swore he would knock down any man who offered to stop him.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue n.p.: Towel, An oaken towel, a cudgel. To rub one down with an oaken towel; to beat or cudgel him.
[UK]Sussex Advertiser 23 Aug. 2/4: To leave thee Moll, to pine and languish, / I own deserves an oaken towel.
[UK]C. Dibdin Britons Strike Home 12: An English oak towel, shall bodder your breath.
[UK]J.H. Lewis Lectures on Art of Writing (1840) 39: I am a Master of Arts [...] Knight of the Cane cudgel – and Brandisher of the Birchen Towel.
[UK](con. early 17C) W. Scott Fortunes of Nigel I 26: To be taken after a gentle rubbing-down with an English oaken towel.
[[Ire]W. Carleton Traits and Stories of Irish Peasantry III 10: Och! I wish you’d hear the sackin’ I gave Tom Reilly [...] rubbed him down, as the mashter says, wid a Greek towel].
[UK]Worcs Chron. 6 Sept. 2/2: He thought a gentle rubbing down with an oaken towel would be effectual in calming the overflow of bounce.
[UK]R.S. Surtees Handley Cross (1854) 100: If you persist in playin’ marbles [...] I’ll send you back to the charity school whence you came where you’ll be rubbed down twice a day with an oak towel.
[UK]Hereford Times 28 Dec. 2/2: He is not always so fortunate in escaping the [...] cane of a cautious father, or the more dangerous ‘oaken towel’ of an irascible brother.
[US]Matsell Vocabulum 60: oak towel An oaken cudgel.
[UK]E. de la Bédollière Londres et les Anglais 316/2: oaken, [...] To rub a man down with an oaken towel, frotter un homme avec une serviette de chêne, lui administrer une volée de coups de bâton.
[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict.
[UK]Blackburn Standard 9 July 2/8: She ordered the fellow to be drawn through the horse-pond [...] and then to be well rubbed down with an oaken towel.
[US] ‘Jargon of the Und.’ in DN V 457: Oak towel, A club. ‘The flatty give me a damn good rub down with his oak towel.’.
[UK]Partridge DSUE (8th edn) 815/1: C.18–mid-19.