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On Certain Ancient Wiltshire Customs.
1.—THE CUCKING STOOL,
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
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.
In the case of Steverton against Scrogs, in Michaelmas Term, 41 Elizabeth, (1599,) reported by Sir George Croke, in his Reports temp. Elizabeth, p. 698, it appeared that at the Court Leet of the Manor of Renold, of which Oliver Scrogs was the lord, it had been presented by the jury, that there was not within the Vill any pillory or tumbrel to punish offenders, and therefore the Vill was amerced 20s.; but it was held by Lord Chief Justice Popham, Mr. Justice Gawdy, and Mr. Justice Fenner, that the pillory and tumbrel ought to be provided by the Lord of the Liberty and not by the Vill, unless there be a prescription to the contrary, which ought to be specially alleged.
Lord Chief Baron Comyns, in his “ Digest of the Laws of England,” a work of high legal authority, says (Tit. Tumbrel A.) “The tumbrel or trebuchet is an instrument for the punishment of women that scold or are unquiet, now called a Cucking Stool," “and a man may have a pillory, tumbrel, furcas, &c., by grant or prescription, and every Lord of a Leet ought to have them, and for default, the liberty may be seized, or the lord of the liberty shall be fined to the king for a neglect in his time.”
Lord Chief Baron Comyns died in the year 1740, and he founds his last observation on a dictum of Lord Chief Justice Scrope, reported in Keilway's Reports, page 148, where among the cases tried on an Iter in the time of Edward the third, there is a case of quo warranto, in which the defendant claimed to have the punishment of offenders who broke the assize of bread and beer, and it was found by the jury “que n'avoit pillor ne tumbrell," and Lord Chief Justice Scrope “ agard que il enjoyara son franchise, mes il serra en le grace le Roi, pur ceo que il n'avoit pillorie & tumbrell.”
The jury found that the defendant had neither pillory nor tumbrel, and the Lord Chief Justice Scrope “awards that he shall enjoy his franchise, but he shall be in the grace of the king,” (i. e. at the king's mercy) "for this, that he had not pillory and tumbrel.”
There is no precise date to the Iter, so that whether this is Henricus le Scrope, or Galfridus le Scrope, is uncertain, as both were Lord Chief Justices of the Court of King's Bench, in different parts of the reign of Edward the third.
It is worthy of remark, that Lord Chief Baron Comyns speaks of the tumbrel, or trebuchet. Now although both were Cucking Stools, they were different instruments; the tumbrel being moveable, and upon wheels, the trebuchet being permanently fixed on a short post at the side of the village pond; and in proof of this, it may be observed, that the ammunition waggon used in the French war, which ended in 1814, was called a tumbrel. The trebuchet being a name for an implement of war, which worked on an axis, for the throwing of stones into besieged towns, and is described by Captain Grose in his Military Antiquities, vol. 1. p. 382, and by Sir Samuel Meyrick, in his work on Armour, vol. 3. Glossary Tit. Trebuchet.
The Rev. Daniel Lysons, F.A.S., in his Environs of London, vol. 1, p. 233, printed in 1792, gives the following extract from the Chamberlain's accounts of Kingston-upon-Thames :“1572.—The making of the Cucking Stool .......... 0 8 0
Iron work for the same .................. 030 , Timber for the same ...
.....076 Three brasses for the same, and three wheels 0 4 10” . To this the Rev. D. Lysons appends this note :—“The Cucking