18th century crime and punishment

For what were regarded as the most heinous crimes the penalty was death, in some case this was commuted to transportation. Prison was another option, in the case of some women, the ‘shrew’s fiddle’ was used as a way of punishing women who were caught fighting in public.

Today however, we thought we would take a look at what in modern society could possibly be regarded as ‘naming and shaming’ – the public use of either the stocks or the pillory.

Eyam Stocks Britiain express
The stocks in the village of Eyam, Derbyshire, courtesy of Britain Express

Stocks and pillory’s date back centuries, but even as late on as the Georgian era their use was still extremely evident as at least several days a week there was mention of them being used in the newspapers.The stocks were mainly a mechanism used to confine the prisoner by their ankles and usually accommodated two people at once. The pillory was a similar mechanism however, it had three holes, one for the neck and two smaller ones either side to secure the wrists. Again these were often designed to take two prisoners at once.

Here in Britain the use of the pillory as a method of punishment was not abolished until 1837 despite several attempts to have it scrapped much earlier in the 1780’s, but the stocks remained for a few more decades.

We’ll leave you to decide whether the punishment fitted the crime.

London Evening Post, June 9, 1750 – June 12, 1750

On Saturday last two women stood on the pillory at St Margaret’s Hill, Southwark, for keeping a bawdy house and being instrumental in debauching several young girls.

The pillory at Charing Cross This engraving was published as Plate 62 of Microcosm of London 1809
The pillory at Charing Cross This engraving was published as Plate 62 of Microcosm of London 1809

Gazetteer and London Daily Advertiser, Tuesday, March 9, 1756

Yesterday two of the thief-takers stood in the pillory in Smithfield, and as soon as they were fixed the mob began to use them very severely, which usage continued near 40 minutes during which time Eagan, otherwise Gahagan was killed, and then the mob desisted from throwing anything at them for the remaining part of the hour. They were both carried back in the cart to Newgate, but as Eagan was dead, his body was put into a place called the Pump room and the Coroner has issued

Gazetteer and London Daily Advertiser, Thursday, May 6, 1756

Gloucester, May 1

This week was held here the general quarter sessions of the peace for this country, when John James, for felony was ordered to be transported for seven years and Mary Morris for keeping a bawdy house, was ordered to stand in the pillory at Cirencester, fined 5l. and to be imprisoned till the same be paid, and then to give security for her good behaviour for three years, and also to remain in goal till such security be found.

Strutt, William; Stocks Closed Firmly with an Upward Tendency; Kirklees Museums and Galleries; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/stocks-closed-firmly-with-an-upward-tendency-21598
Strutt, William; Stocks Closed Firmly with an Upward Tendency; Kirklees Museums and Galleries; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/stocks-closed-firmly-with-an-upward-tendency-21598

London Evening Post, April 1, 1760 – April 3, 1760

Francis Hayes was tried on two indictments, the first for violently assaulting Anne Lemman, an infant aged seven years with an intent to commit rape and thereby giving her the foul disease; and the second indictment was for violently assaulting and abusing Mary Swan, an infant aged eight years, with an intent also to commit rape, and thereby giving her the foul disease. On the first, he was sentenced to imprisonment for six months, to stand in the pillory and to give 100l security for his good behaviour for three years; and on the second he was sentenced to six months imprisonment after the former time was expired, to stand once in the pillory and to give 100l security for his good behaviour for three years.

Public Ledger or The Daily Register of Commerce and Intelligence, Thursday, January 8, 1761

Yesterday a man and a woman stood on the pillory on the south side of St Paul’s, opposite the Sun tavern, for keeping a disorderly house, notwithstanding, they behaved with the utmost assurance, they met with no ill treatment from the populace.

Cocking the Greeks courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library
‘Cocking the Greeks’ courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, Wednesday, October 23, 1765

Worcester, Oct 17

On Saturday last, one Elizabeth Hollington stood in the pillory in our corn market being convicted at the quarter sessions last week, of being a cheat and imposter and endevouring to extort money from a gentleman of the parish on pretence of being with child by him.

Public Advertiser, Monday, August 16, 1790

Saturday two footmen for an unnatural crime underwent their sentence by standing in the pillory at Hay-Hill, Mayfair, for one hour, between one and two. Their reception was extremely warm, by a very numerous, but we cannot add a brilliant spectatory; the women especially treated them with an abundance of eggs, apples and turnips.

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4 thoughts on “18th century crime and punishment

  1. Wow, Francis Hayes got off lightly, didn’t he? Interesting piece as I just heard a dramatised account on R4 of Defoe’s time in the pillory, ahead of which he’d smuggled out of jail a satirical verse. In the radio play he had onlookers chanting it along with him as he sat in the stocks and pelting him with flowers instead of the usual ordure.

    Liked by 1 person

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