Town mouse on punishments in London

Poor Richard Howes, a labourer who was put into the stocks at Aynho for being ‘drunk and riotous’ in 1837. It was Coronation Day: obviously nobody had told him that he was now a Victorian. I passed the stocks the other day. I wish we could have some in Pimlico just the place for the louts throwing snowballs at our windows.

A few hours of enforced contemplation, without iPod, would do the world of good. Asbos are said to be a badge of pride, but I doubt that anybody would look cool in the stocks.

But they’ve gone out of use. In 1872, the stocks at Newbury were disinterred from the town-hall cellars, so that one Mark Tuck could be consigned to them. As it was raining, they were set up under cover, and a policeman stood by to make sure Tuck wasn’t unreasonably pelted. Was Tuck the last person to be sentenced to the stocks? Could be.

I would stop short of advocating the pillory, even for miscreant MPs. Exposing prisoners to projectiles could lead to rough justice. The author Daniel Defoe got away with it in 1703: when forced to stand in the pillory for attacking the Church, the crowd garlanded him with flowers. But a public informer at Seven Dials in London was stoned to death.

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