The pillory and stocks, the gibbet, and even the whipping-post, have seen many a noble victim, many a martyr. 

ALICE MORSE EARLE (1851-1911)

Stocks and Pillories

Stocks and Pillories


Stocks and pillories were medieval punishment devices in which criminals were locked and put on public display.

The stocks were a device which locked your legs – and only your legs – in front of you as you sat on the ground. The punishment where your head and hands were stuck through a hole was a special kind of pillory called the thew.

Offences for which people were pilloried included: dishonest shopkeeping, cheating at cards, perjury and faking fortune telling. The punishment was often meted out to make the public aware of what a particular criminal looked like. It could be very dangerous in the pillory – men who had committed unpopular crimes were sometimes killed by the crowd. In 1727, one man convicted of attempted sodomy, Charles Hitchen, went into the stocks wearing a suit of armour. 

Another punishment was the ‘barrel pillory’ – wearing a barrel over yourself. It was also known as the ‘Drunkard’s Cloak’ or ‘Spanish Mantle’. 

Early Release


Many people who’d been sentenced to the pillory paid bribes to local officials to keep the crowd back or blockade their access with carts.

It was a different story if the crowd was on your side: when Daniel Defoe was pilloried in 1703 for writing a satire about the Church, the crowd threw flowers at him.

In 1738 a man pilloried for refusing to pay the duty on soap was cheered. Some crowds even intervened and released the prisoner early. 

Drunk and Disorderly


The pillory was abolished in the UK in 1837, and the last recorded use of the stocks was in 1872 – on a man called Mark Tuck for being drunk and disorderly. The last person to be pilloried in England was Peter James Bossy. He was convicted of ‘wilful and corrupt perjury’ in 1830. He was offered the choice of seven years’ penal transportation or one hour in the pillory. He chose the pillory.

In the USA, Delaware kept the pillory until 1905.

Birching lasted in Britain until 1948, and till 1976 on the Isle of Man. 

ROBERT GREEN INGERSOLL (1833-99)

Every pulpit is a pillory, in which stands a hired culprit, defending the justice of his own imprisonment

The pillory was abolished in the UK in 1837.

The term pillory is still used to mean to expose to public ridicule, scorn and abuse.

The stocks were popular among the American Puritans who frequently employed the stocks for punishing the ‘lower class’.

Stocks’ victims feet were usually bare, this caused heightened humiliation and their feet were often tickled.

In Colombia in 2012, Alfreda Basilio and her lover Luis Martinez were placed in stocks by the Sampues tribe for Basilio's adultery.