Sunday, 11 August 2013



Penalties for relatively minor offence were indeed harsh even into the 19th century.  The county of Dorset is rightly proud of the fine old bridges in possesses.   A transportation tablet’  can still be seen on several of them, notably on the graceful 15th century bridge over the River Stour at Dursweston.   It reads :

Any person wilfully injuring
Any part of this County Bridge
Will be guilty of Felony and
Upon conviction liable to be
Transported for life by the court.
7 & 8 Geo 4 C50S13 T.Fooks.


Even people who misbehaved in church were liable to be punished by the use of a nasty little ecclesiastical device known as  ‘ a finger pillory.’   The only one to survive can be seen in the interesting church of St Helen at Ashby-de-la-Zouch in Leicestershire.  Two grooved beams came together to trap the miscreants fingers and. although the grooves catered for varying thicknesses, the incumbent probably wasn’t given much choice.

In times gone by there were stocks in most towns and villages where minor offenders were detained and often derided by the general public.   Usually two wooden bars with suitable holes and locked together securing the offenders legs therein and examples can been seen in various places.   An unusual set of stocks can be seen in the Gloucestershire village of Painswick.   They are made of metal and the unusual construction has resulted in the name spectacle stocks.



Originally called the ‘cucking-stole’, this is one of the most ancient modes of punishment in England.  From Saxon times it was nothing more than a ‘stool of use’ upon which the offender sat and thus being exposed to public derision, but in time the idea was extended to include immersion in water and the various boroughs and manors were required by law to maintain their own ducking stool.   Normally associated with female ‘common scolds’, it was also used for Butchers, Bakers, Brewers, Apothecaries and the like who gave short measure or vended adulterated articles of food.  A fine example can be seen in the Priory Church at Leominster in Herefordshire and was the last to be used in England when, in 1809, a woman called Jenny Pipes alias Jane Corran, was paraded through the town on the stool and then ducked in the river.
Poet Benjamin West described the process in 1780 as follows:
‘ There stands, my friend, in yonder pool,
an engine called a Ducking Stool;
By legal power commanded down,
The joy and terror of the town,
If jarring females kindle strife,
Give language foul, or lug the coif;
If noisy dames should once begin
To drive the house with horrid din;
Away, you cry, you’ll grace the Stool;
We’ll teach you how to hold your tongue to rule.
Down in the deep the Stool descends,
But here, at first, we miss our ends;
She mounts again, and rages more
Than ever vixen did before.
If so, my friend, pray let her take
A second turn into the lake;
And, rather than your patient lose,
Thrice and again repeat the dose,
No brawling wives, no furious wenches,
No fire so hot, but water quenches.’


Although distressing for the victim the ducking proceedure didn't usually have such severe consequences as was revealed at The Half Moon Inn  at Wilstone in Hertfordshire being the scene of an unusual Coroner’s Inquest back in 1751 It was held to inquire into the death of an alleged witch.    Ruth Osborn had been accused of witchcraft following an incident whilst she was begging for food at Gubblecote, her subsequent mutterings being interpreted as a curse.  Notices were posted that she and her husband would be publicly ducked at Wilstone on 21st April 1751.   Despite resistance, they were dragged from their place of refuge in the church vestry by a mob said to number some 4,000 people.  They were repeatedly ducked in the pond at Wilstone, which resulted in the death of Ruth Osborn who had been physically held under the water by the village chimney sweep, Luke Colley.  Colley was subsequently convicted of murder and was hanged at Hertford Gaol on 24th August 1751 and his body was hung in chains at Gubblecote.


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