Old-Time Punishments


If one feature is more prominent than another in connection with former methods of repressing crime, or of punishing those who had been declared guilty of breaches of the law, it is that of brutality. Refinement, even in retribution, is perhaps not to be expected, having regard to the habits of the people and the conditions under which they lived. In the neighbourhood of the Border, "Jeddart1 justice" - to hang a man first and try him afterwards - was doubtless often found a convenient arrangement for dealing with those who were supposed to be delinquents. There is at least one case on record, too, of the drowning of a supposed witch at Carlisle, though the unfortunate woman was probably guilty of no more serious offence than being insane.

One of the most remarkable executions on record was that of Sir Andrew de Harcla2, whose place in North-Country history is too well known to need further reference. He offended Edward the Second - whether he was as guilty as some historians have endeavoured to show is certainly a matter of opinion - and that monarch sent commissioners to Carlisle to seize de Harcla for treason. "The law" in those days was merely another name for the caprice of the King, and de Harcla had no trial. The cedula, or judgment, ran that Sir Andrew de Harcla, Earl of Carlisle, should be stripped of his Earl's robes and ensigns of knighthood, his sword broken over his head, his gilt spurs hacked from his heels, and that he should be drawn to the place of execution, and there hanged by the neck; his heart and bowels taken out of his body, burnt to ashes and winnowed, his body cut into four quarters, one to be set upon the principal tower of Carlisle Castle, another on the tower of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, a third upon the bridge at York, and the fourth at Shrewsbury, and his head upon London Bridge.

There has been doubt thrown upon the extent to which this revolting sentence was obeyed. Dr. Burn says "it was performed accordingly," while the monks of Lanercost record that de Harcla "suffered in the ordinary place of execution with great fortitude, affirming to the end that in his transactions with the King of Scotland he had meant no hurt to his own King or country." On the scaffold, they add, he said, " You have disposed of my body at your pleasure; my soul, which is above your disposal, I give to God." It was customary to allow a sledge or hurdle on which persons condemned for high treason were dragged to the gallows; there is nothing in local records to show in what way the Earl was conveyed to the place of execution.

A question which has occupied a good deal of the attention of local antiquaries at various times is whether the body was dismembered and the parts dispersed as ordered. De Harcla's sister petitioned Edward the Third for the restitution of her brother's body for burial, and the order addressed to de Lucy, who had been de Harcla's executioner, is still in existence. It runs thus :- "The King to his faithful and beloved Anthony de Lucy, Warden of Carlisle Castle, greeting. We command that you cause to be delivered without delay the quarter of the body of Andrew de Harcla, which hangs by the command of the Lord Edward, late King of England, our father, upon the walls of the said Castle, to our beloved Sarah, formerly the wife of Robert de Leyburn, sister to the aforesaid Andrew, to whom we of our grace have granted that she may collect together the bones of the same Andrew, and commit them to holy sepulture, whenever she wishes or her attorney. And this you shall in no wise omit. Witness the King at York, the 10th of August (1337), by the King himself." A portion of the body is believed to have been buried in Kirkby Stephen Church; the tradition was strengthened by the discovery of part of the bones of a man under peculiar conditions when the church was rebuilt half a century ago.

Although there are several Gallows Hills in Cumberland and Westmorland, there only seems to be one place which has retained any particular story, and it is thus told in Mr. William Andrews' third book relating to punishments* :- "It has been asserted by more than one local chronicler that John Whitfield, of Cotehill, a notorious North-Country highwayman, about 1768 was gibbeted alive on Barrock. He kept the countryside in a state of terror, and few would venture out after nightfall for fear of encountering him. He shot a man on horseback in open daylight; a boy saw him commit the crime, and was the means of his identification and conviction. It is the belief in the district that Whitfield was gibbeted alive, that he hung for several days in agony, and that his cries were heartrending, until a mail coachman passing that way put him out of his misery by shooting him."

There is a contemporary record of the execution to be found in the St. James's Chronicle, for August 12th, 1768, as follows:- "Wednesday, John Whitfield, for murdering William Cockburn on the Highway, near Armithwaite, was executed at Carlisle, and afterwards hung in Chains near the Place where the Fact was committed." It will be seen that the record makes no mention of the culprit having been put into his iron cage when alive, and one can only hope that there is nothing beyond tradition to support the assertion.

Next we come to the gibbeting of a Threlkeld man, one of the earliest recorded instances of that punishment being imposed in the County Palatine. The facts are contained in the Rydal papers, published in 1890 by the Historical Manuscripts Commission. Writing from Rydal on November 24th, 1671, to Sir Joseph Williamson, Sir Daniel Fleming said :

"Being lately in Lancashire I received there - as a justice of the peace of that county - an information against one Thomas Lancaster, late of Threlkeld in Cumberland, who, it is very probable, hath committed the most horrid act that hath been heard of in this countrey. He marryed the 30th of January last a wife in Lancashire, who was agreed to be marryed that very day, or soon after, to another; and her father afterwards conveyed all his reall estate to this Lancaster upon his giving security to pay severall sums of money to himselfe, and his other
daughters. And though covetousness to pay these and other payments it is very probable that Lancaster hath lately poysoned - with white arsenic - his wife, her father, her three sisters, her aunt, her cosin-german,3 and a servant boy, besides poyson given to severall of his neighbours who are and have been sick, that people - as it is presumed - might think the rest dead of a violent fevor. I have committed him prisoner unto Lancaster Castle and shall take what more evidence I can meet with against the next assizes, that he may there have a fair triall, and -
if he be found guilty - such a punishment as the law shall indict upon such like offenders."

On April 3rd, of the following year, Sir Daniel, writing to Sir George Fletcher, at Hutton, returned to the subject, after he had discussed private affairs and the action of the judges with regard to the Papists. At the Lent Assizes at Lancaster, he said, - "Thomas Lancaster has been found guilty of poisoning eight persons, and is to be hanged in chains." Three weeks later in a letter to Sir William Wilde, Justice of the Common Pleas, the same gossip recorded that - "Thomas Lancaster has confessed that he poisoned the old woman with arsenic, for a bribe of £24 from the heir to her estate, worth £16 per annum." It is, however, to the church registers of Hawkshead that we must turn for an account of the final proceedings, the entry being under date April 8th, 1672:-

"Thomas Lancaster, who for poysonning his owne family was adjudgt att the assizes att Lancaster to be carried back to his owne house att Hye-Wrey, where he liv'd, was there hanged before his owne doore till he was dead for that very facte, and then was brought with a horse and carr into the Coulthouse meadows and forthwithe hunge up iron chaynes on a gibbett, which was set up for that very purpose on the South syde, of Sawrey Casey, neare unto the Pool Stang, and there continued until such tymes as he rotted every bone from the other."

There are records of wholesale executions in Cumberland for what may be called political offences. When the authorities were subduing Aske's rebellion, for instance, little was thought of hanging a score of men, and many readers will no doubt remember the bravery of the victims' wives on some of those occasions, for at the risk of their own necks they removed their executed husbands from the gallows and buried the bodies by night. At Appleby in former days doubtless many executed men were subjected to the further indignity of being drawn and quartered. In 1664 three of the men who supported Captain Atkinson, of Mallerstang, were, at a special assize in the county town, convicted of high treason for their share in the Kaber Rigg rising, and all were hanged, drawn, and quartered. It was not until the autumn of 1675 that Captain Atkinson was sentenced to die the death of a traitor, and pursuant to sentence was hanged, drawn, and quartered on September 1st. It was once common to hand over the bodies of those who had suffered on the gallows to surgeons for dissection. Probably the last Gallows Hill victim thus dealt with was George Mackereth, of Kendal, who was hanged in 1748 for the murder of his sweetheart.

A more interesting study is to be found in the methods adopted by the clergy when dealing with refractory individuals. Of excommunication, as imposed in the diocese of Carlisle, much might be written from the records preserved in the registry, for not only were poor folks put under the ban. Bishops and priors were declared "excommunicate," while rectors, vicars, and less important people by the score seem to have offended.

One case of post-mortem punishment at Penrith, by way of appeasing the wrath of a former Bishop, may be quoted. The latter required the Archdeacon of Carlisle to seek out and summon certain malefactors who had insulted him while on a visit to the town. Three years seem to have passed before anything was done, and by that time one of the culprits had died and been buried. The Bishop ordered the body to be dug up, and to lie unburied until the form of absolution had been gone through. In connection, apparently, with the same affair, the Bishop "signified" to the Court of King's Bench that John de Agliunby, who had been excommunicated for assaulting and wounding a priest, "after the term of forty days still remains impenitent and unabsolved," and so the aid of the secular arm was invoked to coerce him. What the result may have been does not appear.

There is a peculiar case, perhaps less known than any - that of the priest or friar who officiated the Brunskill conventicle, and made a good harvest from the "miraculous" cures wrought by the strong iron water at the Holy Well, Brough. The vicar obtained the Pope's authority, and the offender was duly excommunicated. In the Ven. Archdeacon Prescott's recently edited transcript of the "Register of Wetherhall4" may be read the full terms of a somewhat peculiar Cumberland case of excommunication and penance.

Robert Highmore, Lord of Bewaldeth, had taken a mare, the property of John Overhouse of that place, as a heriot5, before the church of Torpenhow had got the mortuary6, and he was promptly punished in the orthodox way. Having quickly asked absolution, and restored the mare to Sir Robert Ellargill (for the parsons were always styled "Sir" in those days), vicar of Torpenhow, and by way of penance given the six best oaks in his wood, the Bishop absolved him. In some parts of the country the second best horse was due to the Church, and, says an old historian, "was carried, by the name of mortuary, or curse present, before the corpse, and delivered to the priest at the place of sepulture." But in the diocese of Carlisle the Church was first served, and the lord only got the second best. Bishop Barrow, who ascended the episcopal throne at Carlisle in 1423, anathematized all men who took the heriot before "the Holy Kirke" got the mortuary. The punishment of excommunicating was far from being reserved for the lower orders. Quite a long story might be made of the part taken in this way, in the thirteenth century, by the Bishop of Carlisle, who excommunicated the Bishop of Dunkeld7 for refusing to pay the Pope's tenth for the Holy Land.

When it became a matter of cursing wrongdoers, there was generally no tendency towards mincing words. Christian, Bishop of Glasgow, who became a professor of the Cistercian order, gave to the Abbey of Holme Cultram the grange of Kirkwinny. In this grant, quoted in Dugdale's "Monasticon," the Bishop charged all men to protect and defend the grange, as they valued the blessing of God and of himself; threatening, if they did otherwise, that they should incur the papal excommunication, the curses of Almighty God and of himself, and the pains of eternal fire.

In 1361 several persons being accused of shedding blood in the church and churchyard of Bridekirk, were decreed to be excommunicated by the greater excommunication, and the incumbents of all the churches of the deanery of Allerdale were ordered to publish the sentence against them on every Sunday and holiday at high mass, when the largest number of people should be gathered together, the bells ringing, the candles lighted and put out, and the cross erected. The mother church of Greystoke being much out of repair, the belfry fallen, and the wooden shingles on the roof mostly scattered, and the inhabitants of Threlkeld and Watermillock refusing to contribute their proportion of the charge, the Bishop, at his visitation in 1382, issued his injunction "to all and every of them," under pain of the greater excommunication - a proceeding which in those superstitious times no doubt quickly had the desired effect. Indeed no great provocation would seem to have been needed to bring the punishment of excommunication. Complaint having been made of some unknown persons riotously breaking into the houses and grange at Wet Sleddale, and committing disorders, a former Bishop issued his mandate to the Dean of Westmorland, and the local clergy, to denounce the greater excommunication at the time of high mass, the bells to ring, and the candles to be put out, against the rioters.

One of the vicars of Appleby St. Lawrence, Thomas de Burnley, was cited to York for neglecting to serve the chantry in Appleby Castle - doubtless the action was taken at the instigation of the Hereditary High Sheriff. On not appearing before the judge of the Prerogative Court of the abbot and convent, he was excommunicated. The sentence was ordered to be read in the parish churches of St. Lawrence and St. Michael, Appleby, and in other churches and public places in the dioceses of Carlisle and York, every Sunday and holiday, so long as the abbot and convent required, or until he should comply and make satisfaction to the judge and parties. Burnley was not the only holder of his office who objected to the castle service, as Sir Walter Colwyn, who was appointed vicar of the parish forty years previously, was also sentenced (doubtless to be excommunicated) for "having endeavoured to throw the charges of serving the chantry in the castle upon the prior and convent of Wetheral."

About the middle of the fourteenth century, Bishop Welton sent out his mandate to the rector of Brougham and another cleric to denounce the sentence of greater excommunication against certain unknown persons who had broken up a paved way and done some other outrages in the churchyard of Penrith, reserving to himself the sole power of absolution. Thereupon several of the inhabitants made a pilgrimage across country to Rose8, confessed themselves guilty, and prayed for a remission of the heavy sentence. That was granted on condition of each man offering, by way of penance, a wax candle of three pounds weight, before the image of St. Mary in the parish church of Penrith on the following Sunday. In the same year the vicar of Penrith had a licence granted to him, to continue from March 8th to the Easter following, to hear the confessions of all his parishioners, and to give absolution upon the performance of penance injoined. Some exceptionally bad cases were, however, specially reserved by the Bishop. Persons who suffered from the ecclesiastical ban were deprived of the right of burial in the churchyard. Two cases of the kind are recorded in the Penrith registers for 1623. "August 29th, Lanc. Wood, being excommunicate, buried on the Fell. September 5th, Richd. Gibbon, being excommunicate, buried on the Fell."

The most noteworthy instance of a man of any eminence in the Church being visited with excommunication during the last two centuries is probably that of Dr. Todd, who was vicar of Penrith in the first quarter of the eighteenth century. He and Bishop Nicolson had a long and bitter quarrel as to the rights of the prelate in local Church affairs. The diocesan at length suspended the vicar ab officio et beneficio, and then excommunicated him. The story throughout is not of a particularly edifying character; Dr. Todd took his punishment very lightly, and afterwards he and the Bishop seem to have been very good friends again.

Still later there are to be found records in various parish registers of ecclesiastical pressure being brought to bear on parishioners. Without any reason being shown in the register, Jane Curry was declared excommunicate, December 10th, 1732, by Hugh Brown, curate of Hayton. At Kirkandrews-on-Esk the churchwardens' book shows a list of presentments for not bringing children to be baptised; for clandestine marriages, fornication9, and contumacy10. The parties were either excommunicated, or did penance, in the church on Sunday. One man did his penance in 1711 after having for fornication been excommunicated for thirty years; another man was excommunicated for refusing to be churchwarden. In 1785 two couples were publicly rebuked in church for clandestine marriage, and Sir James Graham, on the application of the curate, Mr. Nichol, ordered all his tenants to pay their fees properly. Clandestine marriages of course deprived the rector or the curate of the fees, hence the landlord's reproof and caution.

The power of excommunication, which during the time of Charles the First had been chiefly exercised against the Romanists, was at the commencement of the reign of James the Second turned against the Protestant Nonconformists, with, in some districts, results sometimes curious but almost always sad. The names of forty-four persons were set out in the Greystoke register on March 29th, 1685, with this announcement following them: "Were these persons whose names and sirnames are here under written denounced excommunicate for their offences, and other their contumacy in not appearing at Consistorye Court for the reformation of their lives and manners." Some of the offenders seem to have had only indifferent moral characters, but the majority were Quakers. Quakerism had been spreading for many years in the two counties, and during the time Dr. Gilpin was rector of Greystoke, the Nonconformists, while holding him personally in the deepest respect, gave him some hard puzzles to solve. "Such were their novel phrases and cross questions and answers that the doctor seemed sometimes at a loss what to say to them." Among those who went over to the Quakers was a noted yeoman in his day - Henry Winder, of Green Close, who was appointed by the "Friends" to be the Receiver of all their collections in Cumberland. He, however, afterwards returned to the Presbyterians, and wrote some noteworthy pamphlets on religious topics. His many quarrels did not help to wear out his frame, for we read: "Feb. 9th, 1716/7 was buried Henry Winder, sen., of Hutton Soyle; who dyed of a dropsy in the hundredth and first year of his age."

The registers of Bampton contain many curious entries, especially about people who did not go regularly to church. One, which may be taken as an example of other reports by the churchwardens, reads:- "We have no presentments to make but what has been formerly presented, viz., we have Thomas Braidley and Margret his wife, Richard Simpson, John Hottblacke, and Syth Gibson, quakers, and noe other we have in our parish, but doe duely resort to church, nor any other offence presentable to our knowledge." In other cases it was further noted that "the parties stand excommunicated." The churchwardens were evidently strict about enforcing order, and on one occasion reported "William Stephenson for violent beating of John Wilkinson of Shap upon the sabbath and within the churchyard." In other ways the church-wardens exercised care; and a woman got into trouble with them for acting as a midwife "without licence to the prejudice of several persons." Again, "Lancelot Hogarth is presented to us by information of Richard Brown for loading corn on the sabbath in time of divine service." Sometimes the parish clerk had a share in the work; one of these presented "James Hayes of Banton, for reading two sale notices, without leave on the Sabbath day, one in the church, the other in ye churchyard."

Possibly even Dissenters were not thought to be entirely bad, so long as they paid their tithes, and in presenting William Simpson once more the Bampton churchwardens vouched that - albeit he was a Quaker he was "a very moderate one; tho' he absent the church yett he payes his tythes." The Church authorities seem to have carried out their unpleasant duties with a due amount of consideration; there is a tone of sympathy about some of the entries; in others indifference may be noted, as where Richard Simpson and Margaret Braidley (the latter "very old, not able to go abroad, scarcely help herself,") are presented along with William Wilson, younger, a Dissenter - what sort we know not, but he never comes to church.

Although the Howards of Naworth at one time owned the manor of Thornthwaite, and lived at the Hall, the only entry in which the name is found is the following: "We have none to present but who have been formerly presented and doe stand excommunicated, viz., Mr. William Howard and Jane his wife, papists, Richard Simpson and Margret Braidley, widow, quakers, all that we have."

Although the sentence of excommunication was frequently used by the Nonconformist bodies, in this case the proclamation had no such serious results as followed the sentence in earlier days. Among the records of the Penrith Presbyterian Church are many allusions to excommunication; one instance will suffice to illustrate the rest. In 1818, Robert MeCreery, a member of the church, had left the town in company with a woman who was not his wife, but returning three months afterwards, he petitioned to be re-admitted to the Presbyterian Society. Before the formalities could be concluded McCreery seems to have changed his mind and withdrawn his application, and he was therefore declared from the pulpit to be excommunicate.

At Ravenstonedale, in the days of Philip Lord Wharton, there was a ready method of dealing with slanderers and other transgressors. The "town" was governed by twenty-four of the principal inhabitants, called the grand jury, and the oath which they were required to take included a promise that

"Every person or persons within this lordship which shall be convicted before the grand jury for the time being and by them be found to have offended against any person or persons within this lordship, either by slanderous words or other unlawful speech or report, that the same offender or offenders shall, upon such a Sabbath Day, before the celebration of the general Communion then next following the conviction, and in such manner before the people assembled in the church . . . appoint the said offender or offenders in penitent manner to confess their fault, and to ask the party aggrieved foregiveness for the same, upon pain of every such offender or offenders to forfeit to the lord of this manor, so often as they shall contemptuously or obstinately deny or defer to make their reconcilements, 3s. 4d.: and the men in charge of the church not to fail in execution hereof upon pain to forfeit to the lord 12d."

Though paying 3s. 4d. seems a small punishment, it was a large sum towards the end of the reign of Queen Bess, and would be equal to fully £3 now, while three years after the rule was instituted the fine was doubled. Mr. Nicholls, in a series of lectures which he delivered in the village some twenty-four years ago, remarked:-

"Such a law as this one would expect to be a very wholesome check against slander. There is a tradition that the culprit was compelled to land up, wrapt in a white sheet, and confess his fault; but, whether this were so or no, the confession must have been a terrible ordeal, and I can understand that the fine was often paid. It would seem that notwithstanding the fine or penalty, the vice was a prevalent one, as its mention is followed by a homily against the sin of slander, in which many passages of Scripture are cleverly and skilfully incorporated."

The long-since dismantled Abbey of Lanercost had its origin in a tragedy. Gils Beuth laid claim to a part of Gilsland, and Robert de Vallibus, lord of Gilsland, slew him at a meeting for agreement appointed between them under trust and assurance of safety. In consequence of that action Vallibus laid down arms and began to study law with such good effect that in time he became a judge. The murder still preyed on his mind until he made satisfaction to Mother Church by building Lanercost Abbey, and endowing it with the very lands which had brought about the murder.

Dr. Burn in one instance shows that not only were people allowed "the option," in some cases, but that the money was put to good use. A silver communion chalice belonging to Beetham Parish Church "was purchased by the late Commissary Stratford with money paid in commutation of penance for adultery and fornication;" its inscription being "OB POEN. MULCT. DEDICAT. HUIC ECCLESIM, 1716." Slanderers had occasionally to pay not only a monetary penalty for the free use of their tongues, but to satisfy the ecclesiastical authorities as well. Chancellor Paley had such a case before him in November, 1789, where a man had uttered words of a shameful nature and unbecoming a Christian, in prejudice to the complainant and his daughter." The Chancellor "decreed the defendant to do public penance in the parish church, and to be condemned in all costs." The Pacquet which thus records the decision, is silent as to the method in which the punishment was carried out. Penance in connection with illegitimacy was not uncommon; therefore the following entry which occurs in the Kirby Thore register, dated June 27th, 1779, after the baptism of an illegitimate child, must be taken only as an example:- William Bowness, of Bolton B[achelor]: Frances Spooner, widow, of this Parish, the parents, underwent a public penance in this church."

The Millom records under date March 27th, 1595, say that Jenet Benson was "to be sorye for her sins by order of Mr. Commissorye at Botle11;" and in 1608 "Barnard Benson did his penance in the parishe chirche of Millem the 19th of March and payed to the poor of the chirche xs. which was openly delivered in the pulpit, vis. viiid. at Millom and iiis. ivd. at Ulfall12." The Bensons would seem to have been a troublesome lot, for another entry is that "Myles Berson pd. xiid. for sleepinge and not goinge orderly to church." The wardens at that time could fine any parishioners a shilling for neglecting to attend church. Insults to the clergy were visited with such punishments as could be imposed, and the doing of penance was perhaps the most suitable consequence of such an action. This paragraph appears in the Greystoke register:- "1608/9 February 12th. This daye, two Sermons by Mr. P'son one afforenone, and the other afternone, and Edward Dawson taylyor did openlye conffess before the Congregation that he had abused the mynister Sr. Matthew Gibson upon the Sabbath daye at Evenynge prayer." Sacrilege has always been very properly looked on as one of the worst crimes, but instances must be comparatively rare of an estate being forfeited through such an act. Barwise Hall, Appleby, descended from the family of Berewyse to that of Ross, and the last of these is said to have forfeited his domain for stealing a silver chalice out of the church.

Before the privilege was abolished by Parliament in the reign of James the First, there were several places in the two counties at which sanctuary could be obtained. One was at Ravenstonedale. The Rev. W. Nicholls, Dr. Simpson, Mr. A. Fothergill, the Rev. R. W. Metcalfe, and others have brought the history of that parish to an unusually complete stage, and the first-named gentleman has told the story.§ The tower, according to tradition - the structure was demolished about a century and a half ago - stood apart from the church, on the road side, and rested on pillars, leaving openings at equal distances on each side, while from the centre hung the rope of the refuge bell. Any person who had committed any offence worthy of death - once a very easy matter, there being many such crimes besides murder - after ringing the bell could not be seized by the Sheriff or any other King's officer, but must be tried by the lord's Court at Ravenstonedale, which doubtless at first consisted of the monks. Mr. Fothergill recorded that in his time if a murderer fled to the church and tolled the holy bell, he was free, and that if a stranger came within the precincts of the manor he was safe from the pursuer. He added:- "Of our own knowledge, and within our own memory, no felon, though a murderer, was to be carried out of the parish for trial, and one Holme, a murderer, lived and died in Ravenstonedale; his posterity continued there for two generations, when the family became extinct." Some doubt has been thrown on the local tradition that the privilege of sanctuary was possessed by the Nunnery, on the banks of the Eden, in Ainstable parish. There is still an upright pillar, having on one side of it a cross, round which is inscribed "Sanctuarium, 1088." There is also near to Greystoke Church what is called a sanctuary stone.

In the Museum at Kendal is preserved a good specimen of the scolds' bridle, which may have come down from the days, three centuries ago, when the Corporation set about reforming the conduct of the inhabitants. The contents of the "Boke of Recorde" are very interesting in this connection. Gambling in its varied forms was put down rigorously. It was ordered that any inhabitant allowing any play at cards, dice tables, bowls, or any other unlawful game should be fined for the first offence 6s. 8d., and for the second offence 13s. 4d., while the players escaped with half those penalties. These and other fines which were provided for were "over and beside such other punishment as shall be thought mete and requisite according to the quality of the offence."

Among the punishments provided for may be noted the following as a specimen, there being several of the kind. Henry Wilson, a burgess and justice of the Peace for the borough, having been living incontinently with Jennet Eskrigge, a married woman, "as is notoriouslye knowen to the sclannder and offence of the magistrats off the sayd boroughe, and evil example of the residewe off the inhabitannts heare, wherbye he is thoughte nott mete to contynewe in the sayd roweme and offyce," it was ordered that he should be expelled from his offices. As to the woman, it was decreed that she should be carted through the town, "to the terror and fear of other persons of evil disposition for the committing of the like offence in time to come," and she was not to be permitted to remain within the borough unless she was reconciled to and dwelt with her husband. The punishment did not act as a warning to the woman, and further orders are to be found in the minute-book showing how she was made liable to heavy fines and forbidden to enter the town - otherwise than as a stranger coming to the church or market only," while the inhabitants who gave her shelter were liable to fines of ten shillings each.

There is a very long and verbose order passed "by the Corporation in December, 1589:- "For punishinge of a mayd servant for speakinge slanderouse speeches of her master." They found that "Mabel Atkinson, late servant unto Mr. Henry Dickson, and Sybell Dyckson, his wife, inhabitants of this borough, forgetting her duty to Almighty God and the fear and awe she ought to have had to the threatening menaces and punishments pronounced out of His Holy Word and Commandments against such persons as shall openly or privily unjustly slander, hurt, or impair their neighbours in body, goods, name or report, and also that servile regard and honest, and true favour and love she ought to have borne towards her said master and mistress in all manner of behaviours and reports by the instigation of our mortal enemy the Devil, the author of all falsehood and lying, hath of late, even within this borough of Kirkbiekendall, most maliciously, falsely, and untruly imposed, devised, framed, and brought a very horrible, unjust, and feigned slander and misreport of and against her master and mistress."

The punishment is worth describing in full, but the following extract will suffice as a specimen of the whole order thereon:- "For condign punishment in this behalf and for a terror and fear to be wrought in all others for committing the like offence, it is ordained and constituted that Mabel Atkinson shall be attached and taken on Monday, in the morning, next, by the two Serjeants at Mace and ministers of this borough, where and in what place she may be found, and shall forthwith be had, carried, and conveyed unto the common prison or ward of the same borough, and there shall remain and continue without any bail or delivery until Thursday then next following, in the afternoon, having only for diet every day in the meanwhile one slender and spare repast of meat and drink, and only two coverlets nightly to lie in, at which time on the said Thursday, in the afternoon, being openly called forth of prison to the bar in the Mootehall of the same borough, if she will and do in very penitent, humble, and sorrowful manner, unfeignedly and truly upon her knees, in the open presence of the people then and there assembled, and before her said master and mistress, ask and pray at God His hands mercy and forgiveness for her said false and untrue report and slander, and pardon also of her said master and mistress for the said offence, then she to be delivered out of the said prison or ward, paying such fees and duties as may appertain, and if she shall the same refuse, in whole or part, or in doing the same not performing it with such true penitence as in such case is requisite, and as all the people assembled may and shall therewith be fully satisfied and resolved, that she be banished from being, tarrying, or remaining within this borough, or the liberties or precincts of the same, for and by the space of one whole year then next coming, and that no person or persons during the same year shall take her into service or suffer her to dwell in house under or with any such person or persons (except it be in lawful wedlock) upon pain to lose and forfeit to, and for the common use of all the inhabitants of the same for every month as much as ten shillings, to be levied as above."

The poor drunkards met with none too considerate treatment from the justices of the time. Here is a curious "Order against common drunkards, how to be punished, and for common scolds" :- "Whereas sundry persons inhabiting this borough and others (of their insatiable minds without any regard to common honesty, modesty, or fear of God, or His severe punishment either in this life or the life to come) do give up their bodies (which Almighty God hath ordained to honour) unto all manner of dishonour and dissolute kind of life in quaffing immoderate and superfluous devouring of strong ale at very many needless and unfit times, continuing the same most foul and detestable vice so long till at length they be so far overtaken and gone that they become beast-like and insensible, without reason or any good understanding (besides the great loss of time and waste of their goods, and miserable want of their families at home, and their own beggaring at length, and lamentable grief to all other good Christians, their neighbours, detesting and loathing that vice) for redress whereof and preventing of sundry mischiefs which else might happen by this occasion (besides great danger to their souls) if the same enormity should not in time be speedily foreseen; it is therefore ordained and constituted by the Aldermen and burgesses of this borough that at all times hereafter when and so often as any person or persons whatsoever shall be seen or known . . . to have been or at any time to be so far overtaken, besotted or drunken with immeasurable devouring of strong drink that then it shall be lawful to or for any Alderman, justice, or Alderman's Deputy all and every such misordered person and persons to cause to be imprisoned within the same borough, there to remain at such diet and during the pleasure of him that committed him, to the end thereby to reclaim and warn every one of them from lewdness and detestable offences of drinking; and also that every such magistrate aforesaid shall or may commit and command to be set on the cuckstool every common scold, railer, or of notorious misdemeanour, at the like pleasure of the Commander or Magistrate."

The turning of Thirlmere into a huge reservoir, and the necessary increase of its depth, hid for ever a number of land-marks. There are, however, numerous others of an interesting character left.  A reminder of the days when the manorial lord was a king in a small way is supplied by the Steading Stone. This is supposed to mark the site where the manor court of Wythburn was held, and its pains and penalties imposed. The Rev. S. Barber has suppliedan explanation of a term which has puzzled many a tourist as well as not a few dwellers in Lakeland: "The City, as has been suggested by one who is no mean scholar, is neither more nor less than a corruption of 'Sitting,'13 that is, the place of session of the early judges, when they met to adjudicate in criminal cases. We can then picture the white bearded patriarchs seated in solemn conclave upon the semi-circle of boulders facing the central rock, and after the giving of sentence sternly watching the miserable captive led away to be decapitated on that very rock, before the assembled witnesses."

Life in the old gaols for any extended period must have been a very dreadful experience. The buildings were generally crowded; that they would be in a perpetually insanitary condition goes without saying, and gaol fevers were frequent. The prisoners were not treated any better in the local gaols than in other places. They were chiefly dependent on the charity of outsiders for subsistence, and the old Carlisle and Whitehaven newspapers contain hundreds of paragraphs recording the gratitude of the prisoners to the local gentry for gifts of from £1 to £20. In these days when it is unlawful to send any tobacco or liquors into a prison, the reader notes with particular interest the announcements of presents of barrels of ale, prayer-books, bread, coals, and other articles to the debtors, as well as to those who had been convicted of serious offences.

Those, too, were ''the hanging days." Note the items in this concise report of Carlisle Assizes in August, 1790:- "On Friday afternoon the judges were met at the usual place, near Carlisle, by Wm. Brown, High Sheriff of the county, attended by a most respectable and numerous company of gentlemen, in carriages and on horseback. On their arrival in the city, their lordships proceeded to the Hall, where His Majesty's Commission being opened in due form, the Courts were adjourned to eight o'clock the next morning - when the business of assize proceeded. The Hon. Sir John Wilson at the Crown End; and the Hon. Sir Alex. Thomson, in the court of nisi prius. When our account left Carlisle, Wm. Bleddy, for breaking open the shop of Miss Crossthwaite, at Keswick; and John Thompson, for horse stealing, were found guilty - death. Bella Ramsay, for stealing wearing apparel, to be transported. Leonard Falshea, for stealing six sheep, found guilty - death, but ordered for transportation. Ann Wilson and Elizabeth White, for stealing a purse, etc., to be transported."14

There are no stocks15 standing now on the village greens of Cumberland and Westmorland, but in Tullie House Museum, Carlisle, are local examples of both pillory and stocks. Among the records of Greystoke, some seventy years ago, it was stated that the village then possessed a neat cross, "the stones of which remain piled together, and also the foot-stocks for the punishment of evil doers." Whipping in public was so general in most towns as to occasion no great amount of notice, and often the punishment must have seemed out of all proportion to the offence. Thus at the assizes of 1790, just mentioned, Walter Smith, who was convicted of stealing a game-cock, was sentenced to be imprisoned six months and publicly whipped in Whitehaven.

There is a tradition among some of the old folks of Penrith that the holes at the top of the ancient cross, known as the Giant's Thumb, in the churchyard, were at one time used for a pillory. The only authority for the assertion seems to have been the late Mr. William Grisenthwaite, builder, who had quite a store of local traditions. It was on his statement that Mr. George Watson included the information in his "Notabilia of Old Penrith." Mr. Grisenthwaite said the last time the cross was used for that corrective purpose was for the whipping of a young woman, who died of a broken heart in consequence of her shameful exposure. It is but fair to say that other old people of great intelligence declare that they never heard of such an event, and that they do not believe it. Moreover, Penrith possessed stocks, and doubtless a pillory also, not far from where the Monument now stands; hence the statement as to the Thumb being put to such a secular purpose as being used for a whipping-post is greatly in need of confirmation. The stocks at Penrith had not ceased to be used in 1781, having been repaired by Thomas Langhorne in that year, at a cost of £1 14s. Those at Ravenstonedale stood outside the churchyard wall, and near the Grammar School. The stocks at Orton were near the church gate; those at St. Michael's, Appleby, at Bongate Cross. An iron, with the letters "R.V.T." ("rogue, vagabond, thief "), was attached to the dock in the Crown Court at Appleby, until the Shire Hall was improved about 1848.

It is recorded that whipping was formerly practised in Appleby to a considerable extent. On October 26th, 1743, it was ordered by the Mayor and Aldermen that the stocks and pillory, then opposite to the house which had recently belonged to a person named Knotts, should be immediately removed to the end of the open Hall, facing the Low Cross, "that being deemed the proper place for the same, and that there be a whipping-post, and a convenient place for burning criminals in the hand16, erected there also." The late Mr. M. Cussons, shortly before his death early this year, told the writer that he particularly remembered the stocks at Appleby. They were placed at the north end of the old Moot Hall, and were removed before 1835, in which year the Corporation fixed the present weighing machine on the site. The stocks were so placed that the culprit undergoing punishment had his back to the building, and faced the church. When they were last used has not been ascertained. There were stocks also at Bongate Cross, but these were removed about thirty years ago by the late Mr. Richardson, the Bongate parish clerk, and given by him to the late Mr. G. R. Thompson, Bongate Hall. From the Appleby Corporation records, Mr. W. Hewitson, Town Clerk, finds that in 1767 the grand jury set out to William Bewsher on a lease for 999 years a piece of ground on which to build a smith's shop, at the north corner of Bridge End, near where the ducking-stool stood.

The last person flogged through the Appleby streets was a man named Johnnie Copeland, a notorious character in his time. This happened about 1819. The crime for which he suffered this punishment was a criminal assault. Mrs. Jane Brunskill, Appleby, now in her ninetieth year, who was an eye witness of the punishment, informed the writer a few months ago that she remembered the occurrence perfectly. The offender was fastened by two ropes, placed round his body, one being held by a man who walked in front, and the other by a man walking behind the culprit. The punishment was inflicted by a prisoner under confinement in Appleby Gaol. They started from the High Cross and proceeded to the Gaol, the man being flogged all the way. This took place on a market day, and the streets were crowded. The governor of the gaol at that time was named James Bewsher, and he combined with that office the business of blacksmith, which he carried on in the premises already referred to as being near the place where the ducking-stool stood.

Dishonest workmen also got a taste of the lash occasionally, as witness this newspaper paragraph of January, 1789: "A fancy-weaver, belonging to Messrs, Foster and Sons' manufactory in Carlisle, was publicly whipped a few days ago, for stealing several of his masters' patterns, and sending them to a manufactory in Glasgow."

There is believed to have been no example of riding the stang17 in Cumberland or Westmorland during the last half century. Previously, however, it would seem to have been an unpleasantly frequent punishment. In the Westmorland Gazette for December 19th, 1835, a long description was given of "the old but now almost neglected custom." In this case an Ambleside woman had left her husband and family, and gone with a married man to America. After an absence of eight months she returned, and, said the local journalistic chronicler of the period, "the young men of Ambleside, with that manly and proper spirit which ought to actuate the breast of every noble mind who values propriety of conduct, and that which is decent and of good report, on Monday procured, instead of a pole, a cart, in which were placed two of their companions, and accompanied by a party of both young and old, proceeded through the town repeating at certain places the following lines:-

'It is not for my part I ride the stang,
But it is for the American --------18 just come hame.'

The fun was continued to the amusement of hundreds for about an hour, but not being satisfied with one night's frolic, the same party, on Tuesday evening, procured an effigy of the frail lady, and after exhibiting it in every part of the town, publicly burnt it at the Market Cross, amidst the loud hurras of the assembled crowd who had met to witness the sight, and who took that opportunity of testifying their hatred and detestation of such base and abominable conduct as the parties had been guilty of."

* "Bygone Punishments," 1898.
§ "History and Traditions of Ravenstonedale," 1877.
"Beneath Helvellyn's Shade," 1892.


Bygone Cumberland and Westmorland, by Daniel Scott, 1899




1. Jedburgh, in the Scottish borders.
2. See Ancient History of the City.
3. Probably first cousin, that is, the offspring of an aunt or uncle.
4. Wetheral ?
5. Payment to a manorial lord on the death of a tenant. This payment often took the form of the late tenants best beast.
6. A payment to the local priest on the death of a parishioner. The implication lower down being that whether the vicar or lord got first pick depended on local custom or circumstance.
7. Dunkeld is in Scotland, near Dundee; as this was a long way outside of the Bishop of Carlisle's sphere of influence, it's hard to see why he should have been involved.
8. Rose Castle, the seat of the Bishop's of Carlisle, to the south-west of Carlisle, near Dalston.
9. Perhaps in these more liberal times, this needs explanation - fornication was the act of sex between unmarried people.
10. Contumacy seems to be disobedience, presumably to an order to do penance for some other act, like fornication; see above.
11. Bootle.
12. Presumably Ulpha.
13. The usual derivation comes ultimately from the Latin civitas, the state, via the French cité, city.
14. I recall some while ago being asked by an Australian correspondent whether I could find out the crime for which his ancestor had been transported - it proved to be for the theft of silk handkerchiefs.
15. Stocks were a wooden contraption whereby a seated person had his ankles shackled between two wooden beams; sometimes the wrists were so treated too. A pillory was a similar affair, but the malcontent stood, with his head and wrists confined within the wooden beams. The hurling of abuse and rotten vegetables (and worse) must have provided much amusement to the populace.
16. Branding ?
17. The dictionary describes this as sitting astride a pole and being carried through the streets. Surely being tied to it, like the trophy from some big game hunt, slung beneath the pole, would seem more undignified, and appropriate?
18. Perhaps cuckold or harlot ?

19 June 2015

© Steve Bulman