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.