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.

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Field stocks

See “Punishment of Slaves”.

Hanging stocks

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.


Finger stocks

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, Leicestershire, England.

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Whipping post

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.

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Wooden ruff

A punishment used in Germany for women who dressed "immodestly".

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Mobile stocks

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!

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Iron stocks

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.

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Water Bath

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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