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Stocks are devices used internationally, in medieval, Renaissance and colonial American times as a form of physical punishment involving public humiliation. The stocks partially immobilized its victims and they were often exposed in a public place such as the site of a market to the scorn of those who passed by.
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 and the wrists in some cases, 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 public form of punishment its victims were subjected to the daily and nightly weather. As a consequence it was not uncommon for people kept in stocks over several days to die from heat exhaustion or hypothermia.
The practice of using stocks continues to be cited as an example of torture, cruel and unusual punishment. Insulting, kicking, tickling, spitting and in some cases urinating and defecating on its victims could be applied at the free will of any of those present.
One of the earliest reference to the stocks in literature appears in the Bible. Paul and Silas, disciples of Jesus, were arrested. Their treatment by their jailer was detailed in the Book of Acts: "Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks." The Old Testament's book of Job also describes the stocks, referring to God: "He puts my feet in the stocks, he watches all my paths."
The stocks were also popular among civil authorities from medieval to early modern times, and have also been 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. 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.
The offender would be exposed to whatever treatment those who passed by could imagine. This could include tickling of the feet. As noted by the New York Times in an article dated November 13, 1887, "Gone, too, are the parish stocks, in which offenders against public morality formerly sat imprisoned, with their legs held fast beneath a heavy wooden yoke, while sundry small but fiendish boys improved the occasion by deliberately pulling off their shoes and tickling the soles of their defenseless feet."
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, tickling to paddling, whipping of the unprotected feet (bastinado).
The stocks were used in Elizabethan England, and by the Puritans in the colonial period of American history. Their last recorded use in the United Kingdom was in 1872 at either Adpar, Newcastle Emlyn, west Wales  or Newbury, Berkshire, England (11th June)
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 Down, in Northern Ireland. They are occasionally preserved in churches though as wooden devices they are naturally subject to rotting and decay.
Locations of examples in England and Wales include:
- Abinger, Surrey
- Aldbury, Hertfordshire
- Apethorpe, Northamptonshire
- Axbridge, Somerset
- Bingley, West Yorkshire
- Canewdon, Essex
- Chapel en le Frith
- Chapeltown, Lancashire
- Dunchurch, Warwickshire
- Fownhope, Herefordshire
- Elland, West Yorkshire
- Grappenhall, Cheshire
- Grimston, Leicestershire
- Honley, West Yorkshire
- Irby, Wirral
- Keevil, Wiltshire
- Kidwelly, Carmarthenshire
- Kings Sutton, Oxfordshire
- Lymm, Cheshire
- Newton-le-Willows, Merseyside
- Prestbury, Cheshire
- Rivington, Lancashire
- Seamer, North Yorkshire
- Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire
- Thurlaston, Warwickshire
- Waterfall, Staffordshire
- York, North Yorkshire
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- Bible, Acts 16:24
- Job 13:27
- David Ker's New York Times article, "England in Old Times" (page 11 of New York Times, November 13, 1887)
- Cox, James A., "Colonial Crimes and Punishments", CW Journal, Spring 2003. Retrieved 2011-11-09.
- John May, Reference Wales (1994)
- unknown, Sheffield Daily Telegraph (Friday 14 June 1872)