Marsden Village Stocks


The term 'Stocks' is used to describe a feet restraining device once commonly used as a form of punishment and public humiliation for those convicted of what were considered minor offences.

Marsden Stocks

Stocks are formed of two horizontal elements with shaped recesses, to allow the ankles of the convicted person to be clamped between the upper and lower elements. The two boards would be clamped together and locked. Both the horizontal elements were often made of wood, but in the north of England the lower element was often made of stone, as is the case in Marsden. Of course it was not completely necessary to clamp both ankles in the stocks and sometimes only one ankle of the convicted person would be clamped.

Origin of Stocks

It is difficult to be precise as to when stocks were first used as a punishment, but there are biblical references to them e.g. Paul and Silas imprisoned '...On receiving this order he (the gaoler) placed them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.' Acts of the Apostles 16:24

Stocks were in use in Europe in Saxon times and later. In England after 1351 there was a statutory requirement for every township to provide and maintain a set of stocks. This Statute of Labourers was enacted because the Black Death had killed so many people that labour, especially in agriculture, was short and survivors demanded higher wages for their work. The statute allowed that those demanding a high wage or those offering a high wage to attract workers should be placed in the stocks for up to three days.

Marsden Stocks

Marsden Stocks at the junction of Towngate and Church Lane

Marsden Stocks at the junction of Towngate and Church Lane

The stocks were originally sited at the junction of Town Gate and Church Lane next to the grave yard of the old Marsden Church (demolished 1895). It was common practice to place stocks near churches or even in church yards as is the case at St. Mary's church in nearby Honley.

The last person to be held in the stocks was Mr. Harry Broadbent, commonly known as 'Dutch Harry' because he was the husband of the landlady of The Two Dutchman Inn in Towngate . On the evening of 11th November 1820 he had spent the evening celebrating the birth of his son when he and his companions heard the factory and foundry bells ringing. They were being rung to celebrate Queen Caroline successfully preventing her husband King George the Fourth from divorcing her. Harry decided to join in the celebrations by gaining access to the church and ringing the bell for a full five minutes.

He was taken to court, found guilty of being drunk and disorderly, but he refused to pay the fine. He was therefore punished by being ordered to spend six hours in the stocks. According to a nostalgia piece in The Huddersfield Examiner of 7th October 1899 (cited by Thorpe and Pinder 2014) 'Harry was treated as a martyr and a hero...' Whilst in the stocks he was '...liberally supplied with food and drink. ' When the six hours passed '...Harry was carried in a chair on the shoulders of his friends in triumph.'

In the early 1970s following the widening of Towngate, the former graveyard was landscaped and the tombs and gravestones removed or used as path ways. The stocks were re sited about 50 metres lower down and placed opposite number 5 Towngate where they may be seen today. Regrettably, after a number of years the residents of Towngate were disturbed by loud roaring, shouting and the sound of smashing woodwork. A drunkard had taken it upon himself to badly damage the stocks. The police were called, but by then irreparable damage was done. The lower stone element for the ankles was undamaged but the old moveable wooden element had to be replaced.

The difference between Stocks and Pillory.

The pillory was another form of punishment and public humiliation similar to stocks. The main difference was that two wooden boards of the pillory had holes for both neck and arms and these were fixed to an upright pole. Thus, when placed in the pillory, the convicted person was forced to stand.

Possibly the most famous person to be publicly pilloried in this way was Daniel DeFoe, author of Robinson Crusoe.

Illustration of DeFoe in the Pillory

Illustration of DeFoe in the Pillory

In 1702 (17 years before Robinson Crusoe was published) he advocated tolerance for dissenters, but made a great mistake when he wrote a tract 'The Shortest Way with the Dissenters' which was intended to mock High Anglicans by exaggerating their bigoted position. In this pamphlet, written as if he were an extreme High Anglican he argued that the best way of dealing with dissenters was to banish them abroad and that those preaching dissent should be hanged. The Church of England, the pamphlet said, was like Christ being crucified between Nonconformist Sectarians on one side and Papists on the other.

The authorities were not amused, and although the pamphlet was written anonymously, Defoe was betrayed, imprisoned and put in a pillory on the last 3 days of July 1702 for an hour each time in a three different places in London, namely The Royal Exchange in Cornhill, Cheapside and by Temple Bar in Fleet Street. Whilst in the pillory DeFoe was not subject to abuse or pelted with anything obnoxious, instead flowers were thrown at him and his friends sold copies of his pamphlet 'The Shortest Way with the Dissenters.'

Further Reading

Sporne K.R.(1986) An Illustrated catalogue of Stocks in Great Britain volumes 1 and 2.

Thorpe J., and Pinder M. ( 2014) Marsden: A Journey Through Time. Marsden History Group

Roger Logue. July 2022