What are stocks and pillories?
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 specific device.

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The stocks

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.

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The pillory

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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.

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Last modified 2 June 2014.
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