1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Ducking and Cucking Stools

1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 8
Ducking and Cucking Stools
6937251911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 8 — Ducking and Cucking Stools

DUCKING and CUCKING STOOLS, chairs used for the punishment of scolds, witches and prostitutes in bygone days. The two have been generally confused, but are quite distinct. The earlier, the Cucking-stool[1] or Stool of Repentance, is of very ancient date, and was used by the Saxons, who called it the Scealding or Scolding Stool. It is mentioned in Domesday Book as in use at Chester, being called cathedra stercoris, a name which seems to confirm the first of the derivations suggested in the footnote below. Seated on this stool the woman, her head and feet bare, was publicly exposed at her door or paraded through the streets amidst the jeers of the crowd. The Cucking-stool was used for both sexes, and was specially the punishment for dishonest brewers and bakers. Its use in the case of scolding women declined on the introduction in the middle of the 16th century of the Scold’s Bridle (see Branks), and it disappears on the introduction a little later of the Ducking-stool. The earliest record of the use of this latter is towards the beginning of the 17th century. It was a strongly made wooden armchair (the surviving specimens are of oak) in which the culprit was seated, an iron band being placed around her so that she should not fall out during her immersion. Usually the chair was fastened to a long wooden beam fixed as a seesaw on the edge of a pond or river. Sometimes, however, the Ducking-stool was not a fixture but was mounted on a pair of wooden wheels so that it could be wheeled through the streets, and at the river-edge was hung by a chain from the end of a beam. In sentencing a woman the magistrates ordered the number of duckings she should have. Yet another type of Ducking-stool was called a tumbrel. It was a chair on two wheels with two long shafts fixed to the axles. This was pushed into the pond and then the shafts released, thus tipping the chair up backwards. Sometimes the punishment proved fatal, the unfortunate woman dying of shock. Ducking-stools were used in England as late as the beginning of the 19th century. The last recorded cases are those of a Mrs Ganble at Plymouth (1808); of Jenny Pipes, “a notorious scold” (1809), and Sarah Leeke (1817), both of Leominster. In the last case the water in the pond was so low that the victim was merely wheeled round the town in the chair.

See W. Andrews, Old Time Punishments (Hull, 1890); A. M. Earle, Curious Punishments of Bygone Days (Chicago, 1896); W. C. Hazlitt, Faiths and Folklore (London, 1905); Llewellynn Jewitt in The Reliquary, vols. i. and ii. (1860–1862); Gentleman’s Magazine for 1732.

  1. Probably from “cuck,” to void excrement; but variously connected with Fr. coquin, rascal.