Stocks & Chairs.
An ancient form of punishment can still be found in many villages throughout the shires, these stocks close to the Cheshire / Derbyshire border in the village of Chapel-en-le Frith are found near to the cross in the market square. The stocks were normally made of wood and were a method of imprisoning a disorderly person or persons by the legs. The stocks were probably the best known form of ancient punishment as any village which did not provide a set of stocks were liable to a fine. The offender was placed on a bench with his ankles fastened in holes under a moveable board, the period of punishment usually lasted about two hours. Many men who have been found drunk on Sunday mornings after a Saturday night spent drinking were ordered to be placed in the village stocks by the Churchwardens.
This bench can be found high up on Morridge Moor at the side of a haunted pool. Inscribed on the bench can be found a dedication to the Mermaid or Mere Maid who is said to haunt this lonely spot. The woman who lost her life here was branded a Witch by one of the locals who threw her in the pool where she drowned, however before she lost her life she cursed the man, his body was found three days later at the side of the pool with talon like slash marks across his face. Since that time her ghost has been seen and she protects the waters of Blakemere (Black Mere).
Returning to the subject of Stocks, the Churchwardens had a variety of duties, one of these duties was to visit public houses in the parish on a Sunday afternoon to catch people inebriated and introduce them to the stocks. The parish stocks were often sited by the churchyard gates when not set up in the village market place. These stocks pictured on the right can be found on the appropriately named Stocks lane in the small village of Rainow in the county of Cheshire. Found just down the road from the Rising Sun pub, one could have enjoyed a skinful and then spend an enjoyable few hours in the stocks taking in the breathtaking Cheshire countryside.
Another form of ancient punishment comes in the form of the Cucking Stool, this is a name probably corrupted from the name Ducking Stool. This punishment was normally used against women who had too much to say for themselves, it consisted of a chair or a stool connected to a long pole which was levered up and down on a support in the middle of the pole, rather like a see saw. The woman was dipped into a muddy pool or a pond after being tied in the chair until she found it in her best interest to keep quiet. In the past these devices were known as Tumbril’s or Trebuchet’s.
A Ducking Stool can still be seen to this day at St Edwards church in leek, the hole in the back of the chair can still be seen where the pole would have been attached. It is believed that this stool was used at the side of the river Churnet on the outskirts of Leek to quieten noisy women!
Another set of stocks can be found on the village green in the small Derbyshire village of Eyam overlooked by Eyam Hall. I don’t know whether these stocks would have been used much in the past as half the population were wiped out during the plague, this is why Eyam became known as the plague village which sealed itself off from other outlying communities to stop the plague from spreading. The Pillory was different from the Stocks as the offender was forced to stand up on an elevated platform with his head through an iron collar or a round hole in a board, it often had another two holes in which his hands were similarly imprisoned. Another name for the Pillory was the Collistrigium, from the stretching of the culprit’s neck. The Pillory was used as a form of punishment against fraudulent Millers and Bakers for using false measuring weights, they were also used for perjury and forgery.
Returning to the subject of chairs and unusual stone seat can be found on the rocky escarpment known as the Roaches close to the border of Cheshire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire. The seat was carved into the rock for a Royal visit which took place in 1872. Above the seat can be found a plaque set into the rock face commemorating the visit of Her Royal Highness Princess Mary of Cambridge and Prince teck. They arrived in Leek at noon on the 23rd of August 1872 by Royal train, they were greeted by 8000-9000 residents who had lined the streets to see the Royal procession.
A picnic had been arranged by Mr Philip Brocklehurst at his hunting lodge known as Rock Hall cottage which is built into the end of the Roaches and is used these days by rock climbers who practise their climbing techniques on the Roaches.
In the small Cheshire town of Congleton can be found a small museum located quite close to the towns library, when you enter the museum but before you enter the main room which houses many of the items on display you will see on your left the towns stocks. The stocks now housed away from the elements will probably last indefinitely unlike the other examples found outside scattered throughout the counties. It is thought that in the past there had used to be two sets of stocks in Congleton, one set used to be found at Cole Hill Bank and the other set at Priesty Fields. The stocks at Cole Hill Bank fell into disuse and disappeared for some time before turning up in the garden of a house called “the Portal” at Tarporley where it was being used as an ornamental curiosity, the stocks were removed and returned to Congleton in 1995. These stocks are quite interesting as they appear to have been constructed from an old bed, there are holes in the cross pieces which in the past would have held ropes which would have been strung across to support a mattress.
Also to be found in Congleton museum is another ancient form of justice is the Branks or Scold’s Bridle, this was a framework of iron which could be locked upon the head and was armed at the front with a gag having sharp edges, this was fitted into the mouth of a woman who would have been deemed to undergo this punishment to prevent her speaking, any attempt to speak would have caused her tongue to be cut. The woman would then have been paraded through the town’s streets being led on a chain by the Town Crier who would ring a bell to attract peeole’s attention in the belief that the humiliation would change the offender’s ways.