While browsing through the contents of archive.org I came across a copy of The Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine, Volume I, 1854, and my eye was drawn to a chapter “On Certain Ancient Wiltshire Customs” by F. A. Carrington, esq. The following extract tells us about the punishment of scolds in the town of Wootton Bassett, a small market town that lies six miles from my home-town of Swindon in Wiltshire, England:
1. THE CUCKING STOOL, AT WOOTTON BASSET.
This by-gone terror of the unruly-tongued fair one, remained in good preservation, till within these forty years, at Wootton Basset, and the pair of wheels on which the machine ran, with the arm chair in which the scolds received their immersions, are still to be seen in a loft, over the Town Hall of that place.
The machine when complete consisted of a chair, a pair of wheels, two long poles for shafts, and a rope attached to each shaft, at about a foot from the end of it.
The person to be ducked was tied into the chair and the machine pushed into a pond, called the Weir-pond, (which is now filled up,) and the shafts being let go, the scold was tipped backwards into the water, the shafts flying up, and being recovered again by means of the ropes attached to them. The chair is an oak arm chair with the date 1668 carved on the back of it, and the wheels are similar to those of a small cart, and are three feet three inches in diameter.
When I was at Wootton Basset some ten years ago, I was introduced to a lady named Cripps, whose brother had been mayor of the town, and who remembered the different parts of the Cucking Stool in a perfect state, and by her I was favoured with the drawing of the Cucking Stool at Wootton Basset, which I send herewith.
With respect to the law on the subject of scolds : Sir William Russell in his work on Crimes and Misdemeanors, one of the best text-books on our criminal law, says (in the last edition by Mr. Greaves, Q. C., published in 1843, vol. 1. p. 327,) “A common scold, communis rixatrix, for the law confines it to the feminine gender, is a public nuisance to her neighbourhood, and may be indicted for the offence, and upon conviction, punished by being placed in a certain engine of correction, called the trebuchet, or cucking stool.”
In the case of Regina v. Houston, in the Court of Queen’s Bench, in Trinity Term, 6. Anne, (1707) reported in Blackerby’s cases, (Tit. Scolding p. 285,) the Court (the celebrated Lord Holt, then being at the head of it,) said that ” to make this a crime indictable, there must be several repeated instances before they can be indicted for common scolds ;” and in the case of Janson v. Stuart, reported in the first volume of Durnford and East’s Reports, p. 754, Mr. Justice Buller, said, ” In the case of a common scold, it is not necessary to prove the particular expressions used; it is sufficient to prove generally, that she is always scolding.”
Upon these authorities, it is as clear, that by the laws of England, scolds, if convicted, are still punishable by the Cucking Stool, as that drunkards are to be punished by the stocks.
One can’t help but wonder whether Mr Carrington was in favour that the practice of punishment of ducking for a common scold had lapsed or not. The last known use of the Wootton Bassett cucking stool was in 1787 when Peggy Lawrence was ducked in the ducking pond which stood on the High Street and was infilled in 1836. The cucking stool is still on display in the Wootton Bassett Museum situated in the Town Hall which dates from 1690. The museum is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 1000-1200 and entry is free.
F. A. Carrington, “On Certain Ancient Wiltshire Customs,” The Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine 1 (1854): 68-69
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