Sunday, 27 September 2009
When Lesley and I went to Bramall Hall I noticed that there was a pair of stocks in area at the entrance to the Hall. The stocks played a major part in punishment until the 19th Century. Public humiliation was a major part of punishment and many, if not most or perhaps even all, towns and villages had their stocks. The victims would be made to sit with their ankles trapped in the stocks. These would always be sited in the most public place available, for example the market square or village green. In small communities, those being punished would be well known to everyone else, thereby increasing their shame.
Although the concept of public punishment may now seem strange, even barbaric, it was the accepted norm in England until the 19th century. It is only in recent times that prison has been used as a punishment. Before the 19th century, jails were usually only places to hold people prior to their trial or punishment.
Audience participation was a key element. The helpless victim would usually be subjected to a barrage of mockery and abuse, and pelted with any missiles which came to hand. These could range from rotten fruit and vegetables, mud, excrement, dead rats, even stones.
There are still quite a few village stocks preserved. Mostly, so far as I am aware, in the North of England.