Public Punishments

Hours in the stocks for bad behaviour


A time spent in the town's stocks was an unpleasant punishment for bad behaviour. Offenders would be forced to sit, with their legs trapped inside holes in a wooden plank, while passers-by were free to spit at them, hurl rotten fruit or even tickle the prisoner's bare feet!

One example recorded in Dunstable was in 1826 when a travelling carpenter was subjected to two hours in the stocks for beating his wife.

As far back as the 1300s, most towns provided a set of stocks. The ones in Dunstable were in West Street. A painting by Thomas Fisher in the early 1800s shows them in front of the Ashton almshouses, which stood on the corner of Ashton Street.

A more severe punishment was to be whipped. There are numerous references in old documents to offenders being publicly thrashed in Dunstable, together with the payment made to the man who wielded the whip. Thomas Richardson was tied to the signpost of the Red Lion and whipped for deserting his family. Joseph Dockree was whipped in 1769 for stealing some beans, John Osborn in 1804 for stealing hay and John Osborn in 1805 for stealing eggs.

In 1771 James Frame, who had stolen brass and copper clippings, was ordered to be whipped from one end of Dunstable to the other. He would have been tied to the back of a cart and whipped on his bare back. Two men would have been employed specially for the occasion, one to lead the horse and the other to wield the whip.

The last boy to be flogged at the old stocks was William Placeham, who had been caught stealing apples.

Public whipping was abolished in Dunstable in 1849.

A painting of the Ashton almshouses which shows the the town stocks.

Text: John Buckledee of Dunstable and District Local History Society. ©
Design: David Turner.
Narration: Katherine Yates of Dunstable Repertory Company.
Recording: David Hornsey.
Website developer: Joshua Buckledee.