Stocks and pillories were not always used as a punishment. They were also a very effective form of restraint.

Villages and small towns would rarely have a jail. So someone arrested for a serious crime would be held in the stocks, as the only means of secure confinement available. He or she would remain there until they could be brought to trial, either to a court in a large town or by a visiting judge.

stox11 almondbury


Stocks could be used in prisons to restrain prisoners, as an alternative to manacles and fetters. This picture shows Thomas Leyes, William Andrew, John Wade and George King in the Lollard's Tower in 1555. This was a private jail in Lambeth Palace, London, the residence of the Archbishops of Canterbury. These prisoners were Protestants who were persecuted by (the Catholic) Queen Mary I, also known as "Bloody Mary". They all died in prison; possibly from natural causes, although Queen Mary did not hesitate to use torture on Protestant prisoners. If they had survived, they would have been burnt at the stake, as were hundreds of other Protestants during Bloody Mary's reign.


Stocks were also used in prisons as a means to punish unruly prisoners. This practice continued in the USA until well into the 20th century.

fultoncounty_florida georgia1937 pivak7 Spalding County Prison Camp, Atlanta, Georgia


Stocks were a common punishment in workhouses, which were 19th century "benevolent" institutions for the poor. Failure to obey the strict and numerous rules could entail a spell in the stocks.



Stocks and pillories were also employed in torture chambers, to restrain victims during or between torture sessions.

kol15 Sphinx6 inquisition

The stocks were particularly favoured for any torture of the feet. For example, roasting the victim’s feet in front of a fire, and the bastinado (beating the soles of the feet). More subtlety, Chinese torturers would put their victims in the stocks and tickle their feet continually until they confessed.

Stocks sometimes formed part of a torture instrument, for example to immobilise the victim’s ankles while he or she was being stretched on the rack. Here are some illustrations of other instruments of torture which incorporated stocks.

4663 With this device the victim’s feet would be secured in the stocks, while the hands were manacled to the other end, leaving him or her bent backwards over the large wedge in the middle.

stox17 As if this was not enough, a funnel would be inserted into the victim's mouth, into which would be poured a considerable quantity of water.

throne This device was mockingly called the "throne" (trono in Spanish), due to its resemblance to that item of furniture. The victim's ankles were placed in the stocks at the top, then he or she was left upside down until the increasing strain of that position forced a confession.

trono2 The throne in use by the Holy Inquisition. The edge of the throne forces the victim's spine to bend backwards.

jban The victim sits in the stocks, while hot coals are placed under her feet.

elsp2 A more refined torture, where the hot coals are in a brazier under the victim's feet. The feet are then basted with oil, so that they roast rather than burn. This was done to keep the nerve endings intact as long as possible.

bastinado Bastinado involved beating the soles of the feet, and could be used as a punishment or a torture. Bastinado was practised throughout the Middle East and a number of other countries. The picture shows bastinado being used as a harem punishment, with the victim's feet inverted in stocks.

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Last modified 14 May 2017.
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