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Stocks are devices used since medieval times for torture, public humiliation, and corporal punishment. The stocks partially immobilized its victims exposing them in public place to the scorn of the local people, who often took to insulting, kicking, spitting and in some cases urinating and defecating on its victims.

Form and application

The stocks are similar to the pillory and the pranger, as each consists of large, hinged, wooden boards; the difference, however, is that when a person is placed in the stocks, their feet are locked in place, and sometimes as well their hands or head, or these may be chained.

With stocks, boards are placed around the legs or the wrists, whereas in the pillory they are placed around the arms and neck and fixed to a pole, and the victim stands. However, the terms can be confused, and many people refer to the pillory as the stocks.

Since stocks served an outdoor or public form of punishment its victims were subjected to the daily heat or to the rain and cold. As a consequence it was not uncommon for people kept in stocks over several days to die from heat exhaustion or frost bite.

The practice of using stocks continues to be cited as an example of torture, cruel and unusual punishment.

Historical uses

Black slaves in stocks in Brazil circa 1830
The stocks were popular in medieval times with the authorities because they were greatly feared by the people. They were also used as punishment for military deserters or for dereliction of military duty. In the stocks, an offender's hands and head, or sometimes their ankles would be placed and locked through two or three holes in the center of a board. Either before or after this the wrongdoer might have his or her footwear removed, exposing their bare feet. Exhibiting an offender's bare feet was considered a form of humiliation. Offenders were forced to carry out their punishments in the rain, during the heat of summer, or in freezing weather, and generally would receive only bread and water, plus anything brought by their friends. Finger pillories often went by the name of "finger stocks".

Public stocks were typically positioned in the most public place available, as public humiliation was a critical aspect of such punishment. Typically, a person condemned to the stocks was subjected to a variety of abuses, ranging from having refuse thrown at them, paddling, and tickling, to whipping of the unprotected feet - bastinado.

The stocks were used in Elizabethan Englandmarker, and by the Puritans in the colonial period of American history. Their last recorded use in the United Kingdom was in 1872 at Adparmarker, Newcastle Emlynmarker, west Walesmarker.

The Spanish conquistadores introduced stocks as a popular form of punishment and humiliation against those that impeded the consolidation of their settlements in the new world. They were still used in the 19th century in Latin America to punish indigenous miners in many countries for rebelling against their bosses.


An excellent example of stocks can be seen in Dromore, County Downmarker, in Northern Irelandmarker.

Locations of examples in Englandmarker and Walesmarker include:

See also



External links

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