Bring back the stocks

Its not every day that we see the introduction of a new set of stocks. But the good people of St Peter's village near Broadstairs in Kent, England have done just that.

New stocks? But (I can hear the purists mutter) stocks are ancient relics! Not so, on two counts. First, all stocks were obviously new at some time. Many parish records contain entries detailing the expense of repairing and replacing stocks; and sometimes fines for neglecting to do so. The wear and tear on stocks exposed to the elements and in regular use was considerable, so replacement every few years was essential.

Second, St Peter's is effectively complying with the law which (since 1405) has obliged every village to install and maintain a set of stocks. That law has never been repealed and (at least in theory) the stocks remain on the statute books as a judicial punishment in England and Wales. Potential lawbreakers take heed!

St Peter's stocks

The reintroduction of the stocks in St Peter's was the brainchild of Brian Sleightholm, Chairman of St Peter's Village Tour. Brian asked me about an authentic design for the new stocks, but there is no such thing as authentic stocks. A medieval carpenter commissioned to make a set of stocks would not have worked from a blueprint, not least because he would have been illiterate. In practice he is likely to have copied the design of existing stocks in a nearby village (probably the extent of his travels). That is exactly what Brian did. St Peter's stocks are based on those at Monkton village, which makes them as "authentic" as any other stocks.

The new stocks were unveiled with due ceremony on 31 March 2001, attended by the great and the good (and a few of the not so good). Perhaps not a moment too soon, for it appears that the normally law-abiding village of St Peter's has been hit by a crime wave. The following pictures tell the story.

sptstocks6.jpg The new stocks are unveiled, watched by a large crowd. Some of the villagers look decidedly nervous!

sptstocks2.jpg The court is in session. The first miscreant is John Snelling, who is accused of providing rotten meat to the Master of the Workhouse. He is sentenced to two hours in the stocks, with the offending meat hung around his neck.

sptstocks3.jpg Next before the court is Sarah Postlethwaite, an alewife who has been caught selling watered down beer. She is sentenced to sit in the stocks for one hour, and to have the diluted beer poured over her head.

sptstocks4.jpg The last case involves Albert Sludge, the parish rat catcher. He is found guilty of being drunk and disorderly, and frightening ladies with dead rats. Albert is sentenced to fours hours in the stocks, with the dead rats hung around his neck.

sptstocks7.jpg Justice is done!

dcp0095.jpg The stocks now stand empty, waiting for the next lawbreaker. Who will be next?

If you would like to find out more about St Peter's village, take a look at the St Peter's Village Tour website.

Western Illinois University

Abby Lagemann, a history student at Western Illinois University, constructed a pillory and a set of stocks in 2008. Abby had been researching crime and punishment in early modern England for her thesis, and felt that a practical demonstration would assist her fellow students' understanding of stocks and pillories. The following pictures show Professor Jennifer McNabb securely locked in Abby's pillory where she was pelted (somewhat anachronistically) with whipped cream.

mcnabb1.jpg. mcnabb2.jpg. mcnabb3.jpg.

Sitting in Abby's stocks in the following pictures are fellow student Amy Kallenbach, Professor Virginia Boynton, and Abby herself.

kallenbach.jpg. boynton.jpg. lagemann.jpg.

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Last modified 5 November 2009.
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