Other types of stocks and pillories
The yoke consists of a single set of stocks for the neck and
wrists. It is effectively a portable pillory, in that the stocks are
not attached to a post. The weight of the yoke is supported by
the occupant’s shoulders. Unlike it’s close relative, the Chinese
cangue, yokes were not normally used as a punishment. Their
main function was to disable prisoners and slaves (especially
while travelling), as the yoke restrains the occupant very
effectively while leaving his or her legs free. Slaves were also
transported in hand stocks, simply a yoke without a head hole.
Similar to field stocks (see "Punishment of Slaves"),
except that only the victim’s hands were confined above his or her head in the stocks.
These were regularly used to punish minor offences in English workhouses, which were
“charitable” institutions for the destitute.
These stocks (also known as a finger pillory) operate on a
slightly different principle. In addition to the familiar
semicircular cut-outs, the lower stock has vertical holes in
which the first two joints of the finger are inserted. Once the stocks are closed,
the finger (which is bent at the middle joint) cannot be removed. It was sufficient
to imprison only the index or middle finger of each hand in this manner.
Finger stocks were routinely used in upper class halls to punish the disorderly
during social gatherings, and to discipline servants. A particularly fine example
can be found in Littlecote Hall, Berkshire, England (see illustration). These stocks
are still regularly used on unruly diners during contemporary medieval banquets.
Finger stocks were also used in churches for minor offences,
like not paying attention during a sermon. An example still
survives in the parish church of Ashby-de-la-Zouch,
Stocks and pillories could also be used to restrain a victim while he
or she was being whipped.
The following pictures show stocks and pillories which were used respectively by the Spanish
Inquisition, Newgate prison in London (now in the Museum of London), and Ipswich in Suffolk.
You will see from the latter two pictures that there is more than one set of hand holes
to accommodate male or female wrists.
A punishment used in Germany for women who dressed
The following picture shows a set of stocks mounted on wheels.
These were occasionally used to double up for both secular
and ecclesiastical offences. A criminal offender would be
confined in the stocks in the market square or village green, but the clergy sometimes took the view that ecclesiastical offences (eg failure to attend services) should be punished nearby the church. In a small community which could not afford the expense of two sets of stocks, mobility seemed the ideal
compromise. So the stocks could be wheeled to the church and
back according to the nature of the offence. History does not
relate what happened if the stocks contained one secular
offender and one ecclesiastical offender!
Although wood is traditional, stocks were occasionally made from cast iron. On the left is a set of iron
stocks in the village of West Derby, Liverpool. The iron stocks on the right are in Dromore, Northern Ireland.
This is a reproduction of a device known as the "Shower Bath" or "Water Bath" punishment, which is in Canada's
Penitentiary Museum, Correctional Service of Canada, Kingston, Ontario.
It was installed in Kingston Penitentiary in 1855 as an
alternative to whipping.
The Water Bath consisted of stocks in which the prisoner was secured in a seated position. The head was secured
in a small barrel, which is hinged on one side to enable it
to be closed around the head. Above the small barrel is a larger barrel (just out of shot in the picture),
which was filled with ice water. The spout at the bottom has a spring-loaded control valve
attached to a cord, which allowed the officer administering the punishment to control the torrent of water that poured
down upon the prisoner's head. The prisoner would be submersed for a few seconds until the water ran through around
the neck and out the cracks of the smaller barrel.
The Water Bath continued in use in Kingston Penitentiary until 1859. It was discontinued when a similar device at
Auburn Penitentiary, New York caused a prisoner to die from a heart attack.
Warden Donald Æneas MacDonell of the Kingston Penitentiary described the Water Bath in his Annual Report of 1853:
“I have been present in Auburn Prison and witnessed the water punishment, for which I felt under compliment
to the Warden of that Institution. The Convict is stripped quite naked, and placed in what may be termed
the stocks, in a sitting position; a shower of water is brought down upon the unfortunate being, which as I
could observe, produced a suffocation; this is continued for some time, the operator either increasing or
slackening the torrent at his pleasure. On view of this proceeding, I was quite satisfied with the system of
punishment in practice in this Institution.”
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