The following paper by William Blyth Gerish, the antiquarian, biographer and folklorist, was published in the Transactions of the East Herts Artchaeological Society, Volume 3, Part 1, pp 100-01 (1905).
IN bygone days every village had its stocks, its pound and the constable, which were deemed essential to good order and government. The former instruments of detention and punishment were in general use among the Anglo-Saxons, and from the fourteenth to the eighteenth century were occupied with petty thieves, unruly servants, wife-beaters, hedge-tearers, Sabbath-breakers, vagrants, revilers, gamblers, drunkards, strolling players or musicians, and numerous other minor offenders. In 1405 an Act was passed ordaining that every village should provide itself with a pair of stocks, and the County Records give many presentments during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries of the stocks being " out of repair." They were probably more used on the Sabbath than any other day, as for the lesser offences against morals the transgressor had to come into the church at morning prayer about 12 o'clock and state publicly that he was sorry; he was then set in the stocks by the churchwardens, and remained there until the conclusion of evening prayer, about 4 o'clock. In towns the punishment was generally repeated on the next market day.
Whipping-posts were not instituted until the time of Queen Elizabeth, as all offenders up to that time were flogged at the cart's tail. The persons who underwent this form of physical punishment were usually vagrants and insane persons, women as well as men. In 1791 the whipping of women was prohibited, and shortly afterwards the posts ceased to be used for the purpose, but it was not until about a quarter of a century ago that flogging as a punishment for misdemeanours was abolished.
The stocks were in use, although only occasionally, up to the middle of the last century, but latterly they had been utilised solely for the exposure of drunkards. The sight of these poor wretches in durance vile only amused the most brutal of the populace, and without their employment being abrogated by any legal enactment they gradually fell into disuse, and, ceasing to be repaired by the parish, rapidly decayed, and were, save in a few instances, swept away. Those that remain in Hertfordshire are to be found at Aldbury (near Tring), Great Amwell, Datchworth (the wshipping-post only), and Brent Pelham.
At Thorley tradition states that the stocks and post formerly stood on the wayside at the junction of the roads adjoining the Rectory garden. Some half a century ago they became very much decayed, and as it seemed likely they would disappear altogether, the Rev. Frederick Vandermeulen caused them to be removed into the churchyard and placed near to the ancient yew-tree. Upon the enlargement of the churchyard they were removed and fixed against the north wall. Some three months ago, finding them falling into almost hopeless decay, Mr. H. A. C. Chambers and Mr. Brooks generously offered to jointly defray the cost of reparation if it were practicable; so, having secured the assent of the Rector and Churchwardens, the task of repair was entrusted to Messrs. Glasscock & Sons of Bishop's Stortford. The remains were removed to their works, carefully dried, cleaned, and treated with preservatives, a new upper bar and end were provided, the post spliced, and they were refixed against the south wall in a line with the ancient yew-tree.
The grateful thanks of all parishioners and antiquaries generally are due to those to whom the preservation of these relics of a more barbarous age are due.
W. B. Gerish
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