TAKE A LOOK AT... (in Derbyshire)

This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 19th February 2001 (p.27), reproduced by kind permission of its author, Julie Bunting.


As punishment for anti-social behaviour, short sharp shocks have met with public approval ever since the days when an offender earned a spell in the stocks.

Such confinement would have been a dubious deterrent if the culprit had simply been immobilised and left abandoned, even with ankles clapped between the boards, and sometimes wrists and neck too. It was public participation which made for an especially humiliating experience.

Stocks were known in England for about a thousand years, first illustrated in Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, and a few were still in use as late as the 1850s. From the 14th century every town and village was ordered to maintain a set of stocks and an Act passed under Henry VII decreed that vagabonds and idle persons were to be secured in stocks, 'there to remayne by the space of thre days and thre nightes and there to have none other sustenance but bread and water' before being driven out of town.

References to stocks crop up in numerous parish accounts. Bakewell stocks were repaired in 1689 and again three years later. Accounts for 1691 show that sixpence was expended in 'takeing T. Siddal before the Justices and setting him in ye Stocks'. In 1749 John Critchlow was paid seven shillings to fit a new lock to those at Sheen, in contrast to the reasonable sum of sixpence charged by Robert Foxlow for drawing stocks to Winster market house in October 1735. Neither pair have survived, nor do those of Hathersage which stood in front of the stables of the Bell Inn, part of the village green. As one Parish Constable noted, their existence gave the opportunity 'to certain of the baser and lewd people in the village to throw refuse at the prisoner'. In His Grass Roots, author Harry Swindell reveals how Chelmorton's stone stocks were broken up and used as through stones in a section of wall on the north side of Common Lane. Similarly a stone from Youlgreave stocks was built into a wall near the church. The oaken stocks from the centre of neighbouring Middleton were taken to Bateman's Museum at Lomberdale Hall but were lost when this collection was dispersed.

In the 1930s an elderly Matlock resident recalled the existence of stocks against the gates of St. Giles' church. He told how an old man had once explained his detention therein to a passing friend. The conversation ran: 'Oh, I've only been clouting our Liz'. 'Why man, they conna put thee in for wife clouting'. 'Canna they? Ah but tha sees they has done. That licks thee!'

Eyam stocks still stand in front of the modest old market house, a typically prominent site. On open grassy spaces central to their respective villages are the stocks of Wormhill and Litton, each with twin pairs of ankle holes. Chapel en le Frith could also deal with two miscreants at a time, firmly gripped by both arms and legs and boldly displayed in the market place. An example of a simpler type of stocks is to be found at Uppertown near Birchover, this a single-seater with just two holes. Naturally, no surviving examples contain their original boards. For many years the set at Little Longstone has been recognisable just by its stone posts alongside the main village street. Warslow stocks are an oddity in that they consist of cast-iron hoops set into a block of stone.


A less casual confinement was introduced to comply with the 1601 Poor Law whereby able-bodied persons who refused to work - 'sturdy beggars' for instance - were committed to a House of Correction. Alongside petty criminals serving short sentences, or women abandoned to bring up an illegitimate child on parish relief, detainees earned their keep by some form of industry, commonly spinning, carding or milling.

Derbyshire initially had three Houses of Correction, at Derby, Ashbourne and Chesterfield. Another was established at Wirksworth and although it fell into disuse for a time, it had to re-open in 1727 following complaints from officials of Matlock, Wensley, Elton, Bonsall, Brassington, Hognaston and Middleton that they were 'oppressed by Poor by reason of the mines now in decay'. Tideswell House of Correction, dating from 1711, twice moved to larger premises, becoming particularly useful as laws against vagrancy tightened.


The demand for places offering secure overnight custody brought lock-ups into being, useful for detaining suspects awaiting transfer to gaol or, more frequently, local drunks. In her book The Estate the Duchess of Devonshire tells how even Edensor had a lock-up with 'barred window and specially heavy slates to prevent escape of inebriates and felons'. A drunken chimney sweep confined to Matlock lock-up for a night in 1904 declared that he had no money to pay a fine because his sweeping machine was stuck fast up a chimney. Glossop lock-up was once used as a strong-room for a marble bust of Joseph Hague, former merchant and benefactor of the town. Sculpted by Bacon at a cost of £420, the valuable monument had been removed from the church during restoration. Unfortunately, while in the lock-up the inoffensive bust was attacked by a drunken cell-mate, following which it was kept out of public view for several years. In the 1870s a visitor with a troubled conscience sought out the marble bust, by then re-erected in Hayfield church. He confessed to having damaged it so many years earlier and was greatly relieved to find it back on display.

Although lock-ups were far more numerous than Houses of Correction, few survive locally. Hayfield lock-up, beside a small square named Dungeon Brow, remains in use in that the upper room still serves its original purpose as the Parish Council committee room. A quaint little building with a conical roof at Curbar is said to have served as a lock-up at one period, whilst that of Hathersage has been transformed into an attractive cottage on the main road. In recent years Cromford lock-up has been renovated by the Arkwright Society. It was in this building in the summer of 1806 that John Thompson was imprisoned whilst awaiting trial at Nottingham, accused of stealing cloth from a canal barge. He was found guilty and transported to Australia for seven years, leaving his wife and children to endure life in the Poor House.

Only hazy photographs survive to show that there used to be a lock-up with barred windows on Hillside at Middleton by Wirksworth. It had a jail yard between other houses - all, like the lock-up, lost to later quarrying. By contrast, Wirksworth lock-up not only survives, complete with relics from the past, but has a fresh lease of life as a busy guest house, its history proving a major attraction to people who stay overnight voluntarily.

© Julie Bunting
From "The Peak Advertiser", 19th February 2001.

Photograph of The Stocks, Eyam (elsewhere online)

Articles by Julie Bunting are reproduced with her kind permission.

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