confessor to do penance by going once a week, bare-footed and bare-legged, to a
cross near Wigan, two miles from the hall, and it is called Mab's Cross to this day.
You can see in Wigan Church the monument of Sir William and his lady, which
tells this sad story, and also the cross--at least, all that remains of it--the steps, a
pedestal, and part of the shaft--in Standisgate, "to witness if I lie." It is true that Sir
William was born ten years after the last of the crusades had ended; but what does
that matter? He was probably fighting for his king, Edward II, against the Scots, or
he was languishing a prisoner in some dungeon. There was plenty of fighting in
those days for those who loved it, and where was the Englishman then who did not
love to fight for his king and country, or seek for martial glory in other lands, if an
ungrateful country did not provide him with enough work for his good sword and
ponderous lance?
Such are some of the stories that cluster round these crosses. It is a sad pity that so
many should have been allowed to disappear. More have fallen owing to the
indifference and apathy of the people of England in the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries than to the wanton and iconoclastic destruction of the Puritans. They are
holy relics of primitive Christianity. On the lonely mountainsides the tired traveller
found in them a guide and friend, a director of his ways and an uplifter of his soul.
In the busy market-place they reminded the trader of the sacredness of bargains and
of the duty of honest dealing. Holy truths were proclaimed from their steps. They
connected by a close and visible bond religious duties with daily life; and not only
as objects of antiquarian interest, but as memorials of the religious feelings, habits,
and customs of our forefathers, are they worthy of careful preservation.
Near the village cross almost invariably stood the parish stocks, instruments of rude
justice, the use of which has only just passed away. The "oldest inhabitant" can
remember well the old stocks standing in the village green and can tell of the men
who suffered in them. Many of these instruments of torture still remain, silent
witnesses of old-time ways. You can find them in multitudes of remote villages in
all parts of the country, and vastly uncomfortable it must have been to have one's
"feet set in the stocks." A well-known artist who delights in painting monks a few
years ago placed the portly model who usually "sat" for him in the village stocks of
Sulham, Berkshire, and painted a picture of the monk in disgrace. The model
declared that he was never so uncomfortable in his life and his legs and back ached
for weeks afterwards. To make the penalty more realistic the artist might have
prevailed upon some village urchins to torment the sufferer by throwing stones,
refuse, or garbage at him, some village maids to mock and jeer at him, and some
mischievous men to distract his ears with inharmonious sounds. In an old print of
two men in the stocks I have seen a malicious wretch scraping piercing noises out
of a fiddle and the victims trying to drown the hideous sounds by putting their
fingers into their ears. A few hours in the stocks was no light penalty.
These stocks have a venerable history. They date back to Saxon times and appear in
drawings of that period. It is a pity that they should be destroyed; but borough
corporations decide that they interfere with the traffic of a utilitarian age and
relegate them to a museum or doom them to be cut up as faggots. Country folk
think nothing of antiquities, and a local estate agent or the village publican will
make away with this relic of antiquity and give the "old rubbish" to Widow Smith
for firing. Hence a large number have disappeared, and it is wonderful that so many
have hitherto escaped. Let the eyes of squires and local antiquaries be ever on the
watch lest those that remain are allowed to vanish.
By ancient law50 every town or village was bound to provide a pair of stocks. It was
a sign of dignity, and if the village had this seat for malefactors, a constable, and a
pound for stray cattle, it could not be mistaken for a mere hamlet. The stocks have
left their mark on English literature. Shakespeare frequently alludes to them.
Falstaff, in The Merry Wives of Windsor, says that but for his "admirable dexterity
of wit the knave constable had set me i' the stocks, i' the common stocks." "What
needs all that and a pair of stocks in the town," says Luce in the Comedy of Errors.
"Like silly beggars, who sitting in stocks refuge their shame," occurs in Richard II;
and in King Lear Cornwall exclaims--
"Fetch forth the stocks!
You stubborn ancient knave."
Who were the culprits who thus suffered? Falstaff states that he only just escaped
the punishment of being set in the stocks for a witch. Witches usually received
severer justice, but stocks were often used for keeping prisoners safe until they
were tried and condemned, and possibly Shakespeare alludes in this passage only to
the preliminaries of a harsher ordeal. Drunkards were the common defaulters who
appeared in the stocks, and by an Act of 2 James I they were required to endure six
hours' incarceration with a fine of five shillings. Vagrants always received harsh
treatment unless they had a licence, and the corporation records of Hungerford
reveal the fact that they were always placed in the pillory and whipped. The stocks,
pillory, and whipping-post were three different implements of punishment, but, as
was the case at Wallingford, Berkshire, they were sometimes allied and combined.
The stocks secured the feet, the pillory "held in durance vile" the head and the
hands, while the whipping-post imprisoned the hands only by clamps on the sides
of the post. In the constable's accounts of Hungerford we find such items as:--
"Pd for cheeke and brace for the pillory
Pd for mending the pillory
Pd the Widow Tanner for iron geare for the whipping post 00,03,06"
Whipping was a very favourite pastime at this old Berkshire town; this entry will
"Pd to John Savidge for his extraordinary paines this yeare and whipping of
severall persons  00,05,00"
John Savidge was worthy of his name, but the good folks of Hungerford tempered
mercy with justice and usually gave a monetary consolation to those who suffered
from the lash. Thus we read:--
"Gave a poore man that was whipped and sent from Tythinge to Tythinge
Women were whipped at Hungerford, as we find that the same John Savidge
received 2d. for whipping Dorothy Millar. All this was according to law. The first
Whipping Act was passed in 1530 when Henry VIII reigned, and according to this
barbarous piece of legislation the victim was stripped naked and tied to a cart-tail,
dragged through the streets of the town, and whipped "till his body was bloody." In
Elizabeth's time the cart-tail went out of fashion and a whipping-post was
substituted, and only the upper part of the body was exposed. The tramp question
was as troublesome in the seventeenth century as it is to-day. We confine them in
workhouse-cells and make them break stones or pick oakum; whipping was the
solution adopted by our forefathers. We have seen John Savidge wielding his whip,
which still exists among the curiosities at Hungerford. At Barnsley in 1632 Edward
Wood was paid iiijd. "for whiping of three wanderers." Ten years earlier Richard
White received only iid. for performing the like service for six wanderers. Mr. W.
Andrews has collected a vast store of curious anecdotes on the subject of
whippings, recorded in his Bygone Punishments, to which the interested reader is
referred. The story he tells of the brutality of Judge Jeffreys may be repeated. This
infamous and inhuman judge sentenced a woman to be whipped, and said,
"Hangman, I charge you to pay particular attention to this lady. Scourge her
soundly, man; scourge her till her blood runs down! It is Christmas, a cold time for
madam to strip. See that you warm her shoulders thoroughly." It was not until 1791
that the whipping of female vagrants was expressly forbidden by Act of Parliament.
Stocks have been used in quite recent times. So late as 1872, at Newbury, one Mark
Tuck, a devoted disciple of John Barleycorn, suffered this penalty for his
misdeeds.51 He was a rag and bone dealer, and knew well the inside of Reading jail.
Notes and Queries52 contains an account of the proceedings, and states that he was
"fixed in the stocks for drunkenness and disorderly conduct in the Parish Church on
Monday evening." Twenty-six years had elapsed since the stocks were last used,
and their reappearance created no little sensation and amusement, several hundreds
of persons being attracted to the spot where they were fixed. Tuck was seated on a
stool, and his legs were secured in the stocks at a few minutes past one o'clock, and
as the church clock, immediately facing him, chimed each quarter, he uttered
expressions of thankfulness, and seemed anything but pleased at the laughter and
derision of the crowd. Four hours having passed, Tuck was released, and by a little
stratagem on the part of the police he escaped without being interfered with by the
Sunday drinking during divine service provided in many places victims for the
stocks. So late as half a century ago it was the custom for the churchwardens to go
out of church during the morning service on Sundays and visit the public-houses to
see if any persons were tippling there, and those found in flagrante delicto were
immediately placed in the stocks. So arduous did the churchwardens find this duty
that they felt obliged to regale themselves at the alehouses while they made their
tour of inspection, and thus rendered themselves liable to the punishment which
they inflicted on others. Mr. Rigbye, postmaster at Croston, Lancashire, who was
seventy-three years of age in 1899, remembered these Sunday-morning searches,
and had seen drunkards sitting in the stocks, which were fixed near the southern
step of the village cross. Mr. Rigbye, when a boy, helped to pull down the stocks,
which were then much dilapidated. A certain Richard Cottam, called "Cockle
Dick," was the last man seen in them.53
The same morning perambulating of ale-houses was carried on at Skipton, the
churchwardens being headed by the old beadle, an imposing personage, who wore a
cocked hat and an official coat trimmed with gold, and carried in majestic style a
trident staff, a terror to evil-doers, at least to those of tender years.54 At Beverley
the stocks still preserved in the minster were used as late as 1853; Jim Brigham,
guilty of Sunday tippling, and discovered by the churchwardens in their rounds,
was the last victim. Some sympathizer placed in his mouth a lighted pipe of
tobacco, but the constable in charge hastily snatched it away. James Gambles, for
gambling on Sunday, was confined in the Stanningley stocks, Yorkshire, for six
hours in 1860. The stocks and village well remain still at Standish, near the cross,
and also the stone cheeks of those at Eccleston Green bearing the date 1656. At
Shore Cross, near Birkdale, the stocks remain, also the iron ones at Thornton,
Lancashire, described in Mrs. Blundell's novel In a North Country Village; also at
Formby they exist, though somewhat dilapidated.
Whether by accident or design, the stocks frequently stand close to the principal inn
in a village. As they were often used for the correction of the intemperate their
presence was doubtless intended as a warning to the frequenters of the hostelry not
to indulge too freely. Indeed, the sight of the stocks, pillory, and whipping-post
must have been a useful deterrent to vice. An old writer states that he knew of the
case of a young man who was about to annex a silver spoon, but on looking round
and seeing the whipping-post he relinquished his design. The writer asserts that
though it lay immediately in the high road to the gallows, it had stopped many an
adventurous young man in his progress thither.
The ancient Lancashire town of Poulton-in-the-Fylde has a fairly complete set of
primitive punishment implements. Close to the cross stand the stocks with massive
ironwork, the criminals, as usual, having been accustomed to sit on the lowest step
of the cross, and on the other side of the cross is the rogue's whipping-post, a stone
pillar about eight feet high, on the sides of which are hooks to which the culprit was
fastened. Between this and the cross stands another useful feature of a Lancashire
market-place, the fish stones, an oblong raised slab for the display and sale of fish.
In several places we find that movable stocks were in use, which could be brought
out whenever occasion required. A set of these exists at Garstang, Lancashire. The
quotation already given from King Lear, "Fetch forth the stocks," seems to imply
that in Shakespeare's time they were movable. Beverley stocks were movable, and
in Notes and Queries we find an account of a mob at Shrewsbury dragging around
the town in the stocks an incorrigible rogue one Samuel Tisdale in the year 1851.
The Rochdale stocks remain, but they are now in the churchyard, having been
removed from the place where the markets were formerly held at Church Stile.
When these kind of objects have once disappeared it is rarely that they are ever
restored. However, at West Derby this unusual event has occurred, and five years
ago the restoration was made. It appears that in the village there was an ancient
pound or pinfold which had degenerated into an unsightly dust-heap, and the old
stocks had passed into private hands. The inhabitants resolved to turn the untidy
corner into a garden, and the lady gave back the stocks to the village. An
inscription records: "To commemorate the long and happy reign of Queen Victoria
and the coronation of King Edward VII, the site of the ancient pound of the Dukes
of Lancaster and other lords of the manor of West Derby was enclosed and planted,
and the village stocks set therein. Easter, 1904."
This inscription records another item of vanishing England. Before the Inclosure
Acts at the beginning of the last century there were in all parts of the country large
stretches of unfenced land, and cattle often strayed far from their homes and
presumed to graze on the open common lands of other villages. Each village had its
pound-keeper, who, when he saw these estrays, as the lawyers term the valuable
animals that were found wandering in any manor or lordship, immediately drove
them into the pound. If the owner claimed them, he had certain fees to pay to the
pound-keeper and the cost of the keep. If they were not claimed they became the
property of the lord of the manor, but it was required that they should be
proclaimed in the church and two market towns next adjoining the place where they
were found, and a year and a day must have elapsed before they became the actual
property of the lord. The possession of a pound was a sign of dignity for the village.
Now that commons have been enclosed and waste lands reclaimed, stray cattle no
longer cause excitement in the village, the pound-keeper has gone, and too often
the pound itself has disappeared. We had one in our village twenty years ago, but
suddenly, before he could be remonstrated with, an estate agent, not caring for the
trouble and cost of keeping it in repair, cleared it away, and its place knows it no
more. In very many other villages similar happenings have occurred. Sometimes
the old pound has been utilized by road surveyors as a convenient place for storing
gravel for mending roads, and its original purpose is forgotten.
It would be a pleasant task to go through the towns and villages of England to
discover and to describe traces of these primitive implements of torture, but such a
record would require a volume instead of a single chapter. In Berkshire we have
several left to us. There is a very complete set at Wallingford, pillory, stocks, and
whipping-post, now stored in the museum belonging to Miss Hedges in the castle,
but in western Berkshire they have nearly all disappeared. The last pair of stocks
that I can remember stood at the entrance to the town of Wantage. They have only
disappeared within the last few years. The whipping-post still exists at the old
Town Hall at Faringdon, the staples being affixed to the side of the ancient "lock-
up," known as the Black Hole.
At Lymm, Cheshire, there are some good stocks by the cross in that village, and
many others may be discovered by the wandering antiquary, though their existence
is little known and usually escapes the attention of the writers on local antiquities.
As relics of primitive modes of administering justice, it is advisable that they
should be preserved.
Yet another implement of rude justice was the cucking or ducking stool, which
exists in a few places. It was used principally for the purpose of correcting scolding
women. Mr. Andrews, who knows all that can be known about old-time
punishments, draws a distinction between the cucking and ducking stool, and states
that the former originally was a chair of infamy where immoral women and scolds
were condemned to sit with bare feet and head to endure the derision of the
populace, and had no relation to any ducking in water. But it appears that later on
the terms were synonymous, and several of these implements remain. This machine
for quieting intemperate scolds was quite simple. A plank with a chair at one end
was attached by an axle to a post which was fixed on the bank of a river or pond, or
on wheels, so that it could be run thither; the culprit was tied to the chair, and the
other end of the plank was alternately raised or lowered so as to cause the
immersion of the scold in the chilly water. A very effectual punishment! The form
of the chair varies. The Leominster ducking-stool is still preserved, and this
implement was the latest in use, having been employed in 1809 for the ducking of
Jenny Pipes, alias Jane Corran, a common scold, by order of the magistrates, and
also as late as 1817; but in this case the victim, one Sarah Leeke, was only wheeled
round the town in the chair, and not ducked, as the water in the Kenwater stream
was too shallow for the purpose. The cost of making the stool appears in many
corporation accounts. That at Hungerford must have been in pretty frequent use, as
there are several entries for repairs in the constable's accounts.55 Thus we find the
item under the year 1669:--
"Pd for the Cucking stoole
and in 1676:--
"Pd for nailes and workmanship about the stocks and cucking stoole
At Kingston-upon-Thames in 1572 the accounts show the expenditure:--
"The making of the cucking-stool
8s. 0d.
Iron work for the same
3s. 0d.
Timber for the same
7s. 6d.
Three brasses for the same and three wheels
4s. 10d.
1 3s. 4d."
We need not record similar items shown in the accounts of other boroughs. You
will still find examples of this fearsome implement at Leicester in the museum,
Wootton Bassett, the wheels of one in the church of St. Mary, Warwick; two at
Plymouth, one of which was used in 1808; King's Lynn, Norfolk, in the museum;
Ipswich, Scarborough, Sandwich, Fordwich, and possibly some other places of
which we have no record.
We find in museums, but not in common use, another terrible implement for the
curbing of the rebellious tongues of scolding women. It was called the brank or
scold's bridle, and probably came to us from Scotland with the Solomon of the
North, whither the idea of it had been conveyed through the intercourse of that
region with France. It is a sort of iron cage or framework helmet, which was
fastened on the head, having a flat tongue of iron that was placed on the tongue of
the victim and effectually restrained her from using it. Sometimes the iron tongue
was embellished with spikes so as to make the movement of the human tongue
impossible except with the greatest agony. Imagine the poor wretch with her head
so encaged, her mouth cut and bleeding by this sharp iron tongue, none too gently
fitted by her rough torturers, and then being dragged about the town amid the jeers
of the populace, or chained to the pillory in the market-place, an object of ridicule
and contempt. Happily this scene has vanished from vanishing England. Perhaps
she was a loud-voiced termagant; perhaps merely the ill-used wife of a drunken
wretch, who well deserved her scolding; or the daring teller of home truths to some
jack-in-office, who thus revenged himself. We have shrews and scolds still; happily
they are restrained in a less barbarous fashion. You may still see some fearsome
branks in museums. Reading, Leeds, York, Walton-on-Thames, Congleton,
Stockport, Macclesfield, Warrington, Morpeth, Hamstall Ridware, in Staffordshire,
Lichfield, Chesterfield (now in possession of the Walsham family), Leicester,
Doddington Park, Lincolnshire (a very grotesque example), the Ashmolean
Museum at Oxford, Ludlow, Shrewsbury, Oswestry, Whitchurch, Market Drayton,
are some of the places which still possess scolds' bridles. Perhaps it is wrong to
infer from the fact that most of these are to be found in the counties of Cheshire,
Staffordshire, and Shropshire, that the women of those shires were especially
addicted to strong and abusive language. It may be only that antiquaries in those
counties have been more industrious in unearthing and preserving these curious
relics of a barbarous age. The latest recorded occasion of its use was at Congleton
in 1824, when a woman named Ann Runcorn was condemned to endure the bridle
for abusing and slandering the churchwardens when they made their tour of
inspection of the alehouses during the Sunday-morning service. There are some
excellent drawings of branks, and full descriptions of their use, in Mr. Andrews's
Bygone Punishments.
Another relic of old-time punishments most gruesome of all are the gibbet-irons
wherein the bones of some wretched breaker of the laws hung and rattled as the
irons creaked and groaned when stirred by the breeze. Pour l'encouragement des
autres, our wise forefathers enacted that the bodies of executed criminals should be
hanged in chains. At least this was a common practice that dated from medieval
times, though it was not actually legalized until 1752.56 This Act remained in force
until 1834, and during the interval thousands of bodies were gibbeted and left
creaking in the wind at Hangman's Corner or Gibbet Common, near the scene of
some murder or outrage. It must have been ghostly and ghastly to walk along our
country lanes and hear the dreadful noise, especially if the tradition were true
That the wretch in his chains, each night took the pains,
To come down from the gibbet--and walk.
In order to act as a warning to others the bodies were kept up as long as possible,
and for this purpose were saturated with tar. On one occasion the gibbet was fired
and the tar helped the conflagration, and a rapid and effectual cremation ensued. In
many museums gibbet-irons are preserved.
Punishments in olden times were usually cruel. Did they act as deterrents to vice?
Modern judges have found the use of the lash a cure for robbery from the person
with violence. The sight of whipping-posts and stocks, we learn, has stayed young
men from becoming topers and drunkards. A brank certainly in one recorded case
cured a woman from coarse invective and abuse. But what effect had the sight of
the infliction of cruel punishments upon those who took part in them or witnessed
them? It could only have tended to make cruel natures more brutal. Barbarous
punishments, public hangings, cruel sports such as bull-baiting, dog-fighting, bear-
baiting, prize-fighting and the like could not fail to exercise a bad influence on the
populace; and where one was deterred from vice, thousands were brutalized and
their hearts and natures hardened, wherein vicious pleasures, crime, and lust found
a congenial soil. But we can still see our stocks on the village greens, our branks,
ducking-stools, and pillories in museums, and remind ourselves of the customs of
former days which have not so very long ago passed away.