Vanishing England eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 311 pages of information about Vanishing England.

We find in museums, but not in common use, another terrible implement for the curbing of the rebellious tongues of scolding women.  It was called the brank or scold’s bridle, and probably came to us from Scotland with the Solomon of the North, whither the idea of it had been conveyed through the intercourse of that region with France.  It is a sort of iron cage or framework helmet, which was fastened on the head, having a flat tongue of iron that was placed on the tongue of the victim and effectually restrained her from using it.  Sometimes the iron tongue was embellished with spikes so as to make the movement of the human tongue impossible except with the greatest agony.  Imagine the poor wretch with her head so encaged, her mouth cut and bleeding by this sharp iron tongue, none too gently fitted by her rough torturers, and then being dragged about the town amid the jeers of the populace, or chained to the pillory in the market-place, an object of ridicule and contempt.  Happily this scene has vanished from vanishing England.  Perhaps she was a loud-voiced termagant; perhaps merely the ill-used wife of a drunken wretch, who well deserved her scolding; or the daring teller of home truths to some jack-in-office, who thus revenged himself.  We have shrews and scolds still; happily they are restrained in a less barbarous fashion.  You may still see some fearsome branks in museums.  Reading, Leeds, York, Walton-on-Thames, Congleton, Stockport, Macclesfield, Warrington, Morpeth, Hamstall Ridware, in Staffordshire, Lichfield, Chesterfield (now in possession of the Walsham family), Leicester, Doddington Park, Lincolnshire (a very grotesque example), the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, Ludlow, Shrewsbury, Oswestry, Whitchurch, Market Drayton, are some of the places which still possess scolds’ bridles.  Perhaps it is wrong to infer from the fact that most of these are to be found in the counties of Cheshire, Staffordshire, and Shropshire, that the women of those shires were especially addicted to strong and abusive language.  It may be only that antiquaries in those counties have been more industrious in unearthing and preserving these curious relics of a barbarous age.  The latest recorded occasion of its use was at Congleton in 1824, when a woman named Ann Runcorn was condemned to endure the bridle for abusing and slandering the churchwardens when they made their tour of inspection of the alehouses during the Sunday-morning service.  There are some excellent drawings of branks, and full descriptions of their use, in Mr. Andrews’s Bygone Punishments.

Another relic of old-time punishments most gruesome of all are the gibbet-irons wherein the bones of some wretched breaker of the laws hung and rattled as the irons creaked and groaned when stirred by the breeze. Pour l’encouragement des autres, our wise forefathers enacted that the bodies of executed criminals should be hanged in chains.  At least this was a common practice that dated from medieval times, though it was not actually legalized until 1752.[56] This Act remained in force until 1834, and during the interval thousands of bodies were gibbeted and left creaking in the wind at Hangman’s Corner or Gibbet Common, near the scene of some murder or outrage.  It must have been ghostly and ghastly to walk along our country lanes and hear the dreadful noise, especially if the tradition were true

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Vanishing England from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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