Most people have seen at least a picture of a set of stocks, but
there are many different sorts. A stock is simply a wooden
board with one or more semicircles cut into one edge. When
adjoined to another stock, the semicircles form holes and
become stocks (plural).
There are a number of devices which contain stocks. For
example, the lunette on a guillotine is a form of stocks. A
magician’s sawing-in-half box has stocks at either end. The top
part of a pillory is a set of stocks, and the whole thing is
sometimes mistaken for stocks. But the stocks are a more
In their simplest form, these are a pair of stocks hinged
together at one end and, at the other end, a hasp and staple for
a padlock. The lower stock is fixed to the ground. The stocks
confine the victim’s ankles, who is obliged to sit in that position,
either on the ground or on a wooden bench. Some stocks have
posts at each end, with runners in which the upper stock can
slide up and down.
More elaborate variations include additional holes to confine
the victim’s hands. These can be in separate stocks above the
foot stocks, or in the same stocks, either between or outside
the feet. Stocks can usually accommodate
two or more people.
A set of stocks with three holes, one in the centre for the neck, and smaller holes each side for the wrists.
These stocks are fixed to the top of a central post (or posts at each end), obliging the occupant to
stand with his or her head and hands thus confined. Like the stocks, the upper stock can be either
hinged or in side runners.
Pillories were usually either for one or two people. Although
some pillories could accommodate more by fixing one end of
each set of stocks to a central post, where the stocks were
arranged like the spokes of a wheel.