In my many travels throughout the UK I have often encountered oddments that relate to “Crime and Punishment”, many of these would be considered barbaric in our politically correct times, but way back then it was a total different ballgame. The most obvious artifacts that tend to stick out are the village stocks. I have seen 4 sets (that I can remember) and they are interesting curiosities that are often very old.
You have to admit they look like reasonably benign articles of punishment, but the opposite is true. Attitudes were very different in those olde days, when you were bunged in the stocks it was not seen as some idyllic rest period. Perpetrators locked into them faced all manner of additional torments, ranging from weather, children, drunks and the real threat of mob justice. You could also have your clothing stolen and of course could have been pelted with vegetables, faeces, dead animals and of course verbal and physical abuse would have been the norm, especially if you were a well known miscreant.
However, many of the people bunged into the stocks were anti-social, or thieves or somebody on the receiving end of a grudge, and of course pissing off (and on) the church/mayor/town hall/local lord etc. would have brought the might of the “law” onto your head. They were also not restricted to men; women and children could also spend some time being on the end of justice. There was no such thing as “extenuating circumstances” either.
England’s Statute of Labourers 1351 prescribed the use of the stocks for “unruly artisans” and required that every town and village erect a set of stocks. Sources indicate that the stocks were used in England for over 500 years and have never been formally abolished.
Another chance discovery I made in Salisbury one morning on my way to work really left me scratching my head.
Some investigation revealed a plaque close by, although it was not all that easy to read.
And of course Salisbury also had a reminder of the bad olde days affixed on the side of one of the walls of a local building
And in Lichfield I spotted the plaque below.
and I spotted the following in Oxford:
Of course London has a grim past and if you know where to look it is often right in public view. One of the many macabre sights that I recall was close to Tower Hill Merchant Navy Memorial.
I was recently in Liverpool and was able to visit the local holding cells associated with the Assizes court that was in the building and it was an interesting aside to my visit. But I also came up close and personal with items used in punishment, namely:
Birching was a common punishment handed down to young offenders, and a flogging with a light cane or a heavy cane was actually quite a common punishment in South Africa until it was abolished too. The barbarity of the act of flogging or caning should really be seen from the position of the one being caned or flogged or the person committing the act.
Women were often on the receiving end of punishment, and the use of the “Brank” or “Scold’s Bridle” was an easy way to silence what were seen as nagging women, although it was really about power and subjugation of females. I have seen two examples in the Clink Prison Museum in London, but it is doubtful that this pair were ever used and they are probably reproductions.
Children were equally at risk from “the law” and there is a good example in the old castle/prison in Oxford:
Julia Ann Crumpling, aged 7, was sentenced to seven days’ hard labour at the prison in 1870. She allegedly had stolen a pram from a Mr and Mrs Edmund Smith of Witney, who had left it outside while going into a shop. She would have been housed in the B wing that housed women and teenagers. Did she just make a stupid mistake by taking the pram? or was she really just a rebellious child? and what effect did the sentence have on her? Back in those days prison was not seen as a holiday rest camp and justice was served to young and old. The Victorians believed that prisons should deter people from committing crimes, with the punishment of hard labour dished out to crush inmates’ spirits. You did the crime you did the time!
So far I have managed to visit 3 prisons/jails in the UK:
And they have all been grim places, and as a curious visitor I got to go home at the end of the day whereas this was “home” to the inmates. Many of those inmates were there because they deserved to be there; unfortunately rehabilitation is not always as successful as the authorities would like to admit.
The military however had it’s own set of rules known as the “The Kings Regulations” and they were the official policy and were used as the basis for “justice” in the military and to “enforce discipline”. A number of men were “shot at dawn” for offences relating to military law, and in many cases the trials were a travesty of justice. Of over 20,000 who were found guilty of offences carrying the death penalty, 3000 soldiers received the death penalty and 346 were carried out. The circumstances of many of the offences were often ignored by those who sat on the courts martial, and often the accused would have very little inkling of what was waiting for him once he faced the wrath or indifference of those in charge.
The British Army also used what was known as “Field Punishment # 1” which consisted of the convicted man being placed in fetters and handcuffs or similar restraints and attached to a fixed object, such as a gun wheel or a fence post, for up to two hours per day. Of course that was preferable to being shot at dawn. As an aside, the former South African Defence Force was well known for it’s iron discipline, and while there were no cases of execution by firing squad there were many cases of abuse by detention barracks staff and of course daily abuse by “instructors” of national servicemen. It was rumoured that there was an unofficial acceptable body count allowed for in training. Had the SADF been allowed to use a firing squad you can bet they would have!
Our so called “liberal world” cringes at the idea of shooting or flogging anybody, but in some parts of the world these are still in daily use.
However, in some “civilised countries” the “rights” of the offender seem to be overtaking those of the victim, and in the UK even slaps on the wrist would bring out a horde of lawyers and organisations dedicated to preventing the punishment of those found guilty of crime. Had poor little Julia Ann Crumpling been around in 2019 she would have probably have been sent for counselling and paid compensation for having been arrested because she was a minor. The people who left the pram outside would have been fined for littering.
Crime will always be with us. There will always be those who consider themselves above the law, and of course those who get a vicarious thrill from violence and murder. There will always be corrupt politicians and policemen, and alcohol and drugs will always remove any sense of right or wrong when used incorrectly. Thankfully a lot of the draconian punishment has fallen by the wayside and a lot fewer innocent people end up incarcerated, and these relics from bygone ages should serve as a reminder that in many 3rd world countries things are still in the dark ages, and justice can be harsh and the dungeons of the past are still the dungeons of the present
DRW © 2018-2021. Finally completed 13/07/2019