Where In London Can You Still Find Stocks And Whipping Posts?

M@
By M@
Where In London Can You Still Find Stocks And Whipping Posts?
A set of double stocks on grass, surrounded by a protective low fence

In 2010, Boris Johnson came within a metre of a public whipping post.

The then-Mayor of London was up on the hill of Havering-atte-Bower to unveil the village's new sign. Speaking from experience, he made numerous jokes about the verb "to haver" (talk nonsense or gibberish). Oddly, though, he totally blanked the adjacent whipping post and stocks, which have stood on Havering green since time immemorial. They're the best preserved stocks in Greater London, and almost unique.

How old are the Havering stocks?

The Havering stocks contain four holes, the better to accommodate two malefactors at the same time. They're joined to a featureless upright, which functioned as a whipping post.

A weathered plaque beside the carpentry reveals their age. "Believed to have been erected near this site about the year 1829, and to have replaced an erection of much earlier date," it says. Not mentioned by the plaque is that the wood is mostly replacement from the 1960s, though the metalwork is thought to be genuine.

When were stocks in use?

The use of stocks, pillories and the like may stretch back as long as human civilisation — they're mentioned in the Bible for example. In England, most sizeable towns and villages had some form of apparatus for punishing ne'er-do-wells. Stocks and pillories remained a common sight well into the 19th century, when they started to drift out of use.  

Those unlucky enough to find themselves in the stocks could expect far worse than rotten tomatoes. Passers-by could hurl anything they liked at the restrained person, including hard objects and ordure. They could be kicked, or even (heaven forfend) tickled. Worst for many, though, was the humiliation of being singled out for ridicule in this way.

The final recorded use of the stocks in England was in Newbury in June 1872, as a last-resort punishment for a drunkard. By all accounts, he followed his four-hour shift with a swift visit to the nearest public house.

What's the difference between the stocks and the pillory?

The two terms are often used interchangeably, but there are differences. Stocks restrained the feet. The victim would usually sit on a stool with their feet out in front, clamped by wooden boards. The pillory is the one where you put your head and arms through holes (as shown above in this Clet Abraham street art). This forces the victim to stand or kneel for their punishment.

Are there any other surviving stocks or pillories in London?

As far as I can trace, the Havering stocks are the last complete (sort of) authentic stocks out in the open. However, other examples can be found in various states of distress.

Perhaps the most treasured is at St Leonard's Shoreditch. Here, the stocks and whipping post had stood in the churchyard until early in the millennium, but have now been moved inside for their own protection.

A sorry fate befell the stocks of nearby St John's of Hackney. As the Gentle Author explains, its 17th century stocks and whipping post were largely intact until the 1970s, but have since been left to decay. They're now largely unrecognisable.

Ickenham in west London also has a simple pair of outdoor stocks (shown above) close to the village water pump. I can find no references to these online, however, and suspect they're a relatively modern replica (though I'd love to be corrected).

Finally, a remarkable example of a public whipping post, dating from 1752, can be found in the crypt of St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square (below). Another is on show at the Waltham Forest district museum, just north of London.

Of course, there are plenty of novelty stocks and pillories around. No medieval attraction is complete without its own set. London Dungeon and the Clink prison museum both offer an inauthentic taste of the pillory. But the genuine article remains vanishingly rare in the capital.

Could they still be used today?

It's a tantalising thought, isn't it? Supposedly, the use of public humiliation has never been withdrawn in law. It could still be demanded as a punishment — for those who lie, cheat, and haver their way around public health laws, for example. In reality, though, such a sentence would be unacceptable to modern society and would never be passed or carried out. (Editor: But give it five years...)

Last Updated 16 March 2022

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