Town stocks- Medieval Thorley

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

This is a story about the medieval town stocks from Thorely that are a part of the museum collection.

These stocks are from the churchyard at St James church, Thorley, Bishop’s Stortford.  They were originally placed in an open area known as ‘Village Pond’, sometime after 1350.   This was to the left of the gateway to Thorley Hall and immediately in front of the lychgate.


The stocks are made of wood and were used to publically humiliate offenders for minor offences e.g. petty theft, wife beating, Sabbath breaking and drunkenness.  They consisted of large hinged wooden boards, which were placed around the ankles and sometimes the wrists of victims and the restriction of movement even for short periods of time caused intense pain.  It was also common for the offender to be pelted with unpleasant (e.g. rotten fruit, vegetables and eggs) and sometimes dangerous objects, the result of which could mean death.  As the stocks were outside the offenders also endured their punishment in all weathers.


The stocks were often used on the Sabbath (Sunday) for those committing ‘lesser’ offences.  It was compulsory for the offender to attend church at Morning Prayer, about midday and publically apologise for their misdeed.  Once done, churchwardens would set him or her in the stocks and there they would remain until evening prayer, around 4pm.  In towns the punishment was usually repeated on the next market day.


Stocks were outlawed by an Act of Parliament in 1837, most then falling into disrepair.   Around 1850 these stocks became so decayed that the Rev. Frederick Vander-Meulen had them removed to the churchyard near the ancient yew tree.  When the churchyard was enlarged in 1888 they were moved again and fixed against the north wall.  In 1904 two local people offered to have them restored.  Permission to do so was granted by the rector and churchwardens and the job was taken on by Glasscock and Sons of Bishop’s Stortford.  After careful cleaning and preserving the remains, and fitting a new upper bar, the stocks were refixed against the south wall of the churchyard, behind railings and then moved to the north-west corner and subsequently to the Rhodes Museum.

Chris Sapsford

Museum Volunteer

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