The curious world of old-time punishments — 1 October 2018 by Ian Morgan

Ian Morgan has given a number of talks to the Club.  His pas­sion is his­tory.  He has pub­lished books on his­tor­ical and crime sub­jects, made many appear­ances on local radio and is a guide for some English Heritage prop­er­ties.

His talk star­ted with the earli­est laws still in use.  Until recently the 1266 Assize of Bread and Ale was the oldest but it was updated due to met­ric­a­tion.  The oldest is now the 1267 Assize of Distress.  This meant that a person suf­fer­ing dis­tress from another should take the matter to the Crown Court and not just take their own revenge.

Until the 1840’s there was not a police force as we think of one.  Local people would pay into a Felon Society to cover the costs of main­tain­ing a con­stable.  A form of pro­tec­tion was the “hue and cry” and parish­ion­ers must help to detain a felon if not the parish may have to pay com­pens­a­tion to the victim.  At this time pris­ons were essen­tially to hold people before their trial.  The pun­ish­ment for approx­im­ately 285 crimes was hanging or quite likely trans­port­a­tion to the colon­ies.

None cap­ital pun­ish­ments were flog­ging, birch­ing, pil­lory, stocks, duck­ing stool, scold’s bridle or branks.  It was only later that hard labour and tread­mill type pun­ish­ments were used when crim­in­als and debt­ors were incar­cer­ated for long peri­ods.  Branding 1.5 “ high let­ters onto crim­in­als was common to sig­nify the type of crime com­mit­ted.

Birching on a birch­ing stool was com­monly 12 lashes and was stopped in England in 1948 but con­tin­ued in Jersey until 1955.  Public flog­ging with a cat ‘o nine tails was abol­ished in 1830’s although it con­tin­ued in pris­ons and died out in 1930’s.

A pil­lory and or stocks were common in many vil­lages and all towns.  One could be pil­lor­ied for many offences and might be ser­i­ously injured or killed by the pun­ish­ment.  Prisoners would be kept in the stocks for sev­eral hours or even days and might be tor­tured as well has have all manner evil sub­stances thrown or poured over them.  There were even finger and thumb stocks that were some­times used in schools and by employ­ers sus­pect­ing petty theft.

Ducking stools were fre­quently used on women for such things as vin­dict­ive gos­sip­ing and pros­ti­tu­tion and entailed the com­plete immer­sion of the person in water sev­eral times.  This was some­times fatal.  Another pun­ish­ment for nag­ging and gos­sip­ing was the scolds bridle.  In 1799 a man was placed in a bridle for 3 days and then was hanged.

Ian’s talk con­tin­ued to cover cap­ital, prison and less obvi­ous pun­ish­ments.  The talk is crammed full of really inter­est­ing detail and makes one real­ised how atti­tudes have changed over the past cen­tury.  The last public behead­ing was in 1747 and the last removal of a head after hanging was in 1817 in Derby.