- the Black Monk of Pontefract
What today is known as the modern township of Pontefract in West Yorkshire, England, once consisted of two distinct and separate localities known as Tanshelf and Kirkby. Located just off the M62 Motorway, the historic market town has a ghoulish side to it’s past.
On Halloween day Pontefract is likely to be remembered for a darker episode from recent history, the Black Monk of Pontefract. A monk that was hung for the rape and murder of a young girl during the reign of King Henry VIII.
The empty property at 30 East Drive on the Chequerfield Estate has a spine-tingling reputation. Dubbed by some as the site of ‘the most violent poltergeist haunting in European history’ the unassuming red brick building became the center of Yorkshire horror stories after the Pritchard family claimed their daughter Diane was being tormented there. Since then tales of the 12-year-old being dragged up the house’s stairs by her throat and then nearly being strangled by an electrical wire have cast a shadow over the estate for four decades.
Viewing the film based on the infamous haunting, “When the Lights Went Out”, will further exacerbate your nerves.
Tasha Connor, the Seacroft actor that stars as the haunted young girl, once said:
“It wasn’t scary doing the film but when I got told it was a true story it freaked me out.”
No, Wall street doesn’t deal in the kind of stocks England was famous for in her past.
One of the earliest records of Stocks comes from The Acts of the Apostles, when Paul and Silas were reported to have been put into stocks in Acts 16:24 in the “inner prison”, but an even earlier reference is found in the Book of Job, which many believe to be one of the oldest books in the Bible. after 2350 BC and before 1750 BC (Job 13:27)
Stocks in England were an ancient form of correction from the era of the Black Death in the 14th Century. Laborers banned from leaving their homes were put in stocks when they ignored the law.
The Black Death arrived by sea in October 1347 when trading ships arrived at the Sicilian port of Messina. Most of the sailors aboard ship were dead, with those still alive seriously ill. Overcome with fever, they were unable to eat and crazed with pain. Perhaps the strangest symptoms of all were the black boils oozing blood and pus that gave the illness its name “Black Death.” Authorities quickly ordered the “fleet of death” out to sea, but it was too late. Over the following five years, Black Death would kill over 20 Million people in Europe. Close to one-third of the population.
In a desperate attempt to localize the disease, new regulations were enacted that would seem draconian by today’s standards. However, lacking modern medicines such as antibiotics, lawmakers were forced to rely on harsher deterrents.
One such deterrent was the Stocks. Every town or village was required by law to have a set of Stocks. However, the stocks was a minor punishment as many towns had whipping posts, pillories or gallows.
Stocks were simply aimed at humiliating petty criminals.
During the medieval times, it was common to punish criminals with various tortures devices such as Stocks. While some torture devices were designed to inflict torture to the death, Stocks were designed primarily to inflict humiliation, and was quite prevalent.
Stocks were used to hold the legs of laborers banned from leaving their homes, and as time went on, miscreants, vagabonds, and drunkards. In addition to the humiliation, it became accepted practice for people to throw rotten vegetables at them as a public rejection of those who refused to conform to the public work ethic of the time. In fact, some areas had to specify that only “soft material” was to be thrown to prevent victims from being stoned to death.
Often confused with stocks, pillories are actually harsher punishment in the medieval correctional rankings. Whereas stocks hold the legs, pillories hold neck and wrists.
- The Gibbet
A gibbet is any instrument of public execution; guillotine, executioner’s block, impalement stake, hanging gallows, or related scaffold. The term “gibbeting” is means using a gallows to display the body of an executed criminal. For example, Winter’s Gibbet in Northumberland, is where William Winter was suspended in chains after being hanged in Newcastle Prison in 1792 for murder.
What is left of an original gallows can be found in Potsford Woods near Wickham Market in Suffolk.
Halifax has a replica guillotine, dating to the time when the town was a major producer and exporter of cloth.
Since fabric had to be dried in the open air making it easy to steal, the crime became punishable by death in some cases. Theft of items above a certain value led to beheading. Between 1541 and 1650, over 50 men and women were executed.
- Ducking Stool
A wooden or iron armchair to which the guilty were strapped. Attached to a long wooden beam, The chair was placed beside a pond or river, and was then lowered into the water.
As late as the early part of the 19th century Ducking was still being used. In Leominster Jenny Pipes, known to be an incorrigible scold, was dunked (1809) but by 1817, water in the ducking pond was too low, leading to Sarah Leeke being merely wheeled round the town in the chair. Fortunate for her, because as Geoffrey Abbott, author of the “Book of Execution, Rack, Rope, and Red-Hot Pincers”, states: “Repeated ducking routinely proved fatal, the victim dying of shock or drowning.”
- Cucking Stool
Cucking stool – also known as the “scolding stool” or “stool of repentance” was a chair or a commode placed in public view, upon which the guilty party was forced to sit while being paraded through town.
- Whipping Post
Although the title is self-explanatory it should be noted that public whipping was another old English method of insuring conformity to the public mores of the day. The village of Stowe in Lincolnshire still has a whipping post on display near the church.
The people of Norton in Shropshire must have had an efficient bent, as they combined their stocks with their whipping post. They are opposite the building which was used as the court in medieval times.
There are many more ghoulish tales from old England, but that should provide you with a Halloween glimpse into the nation’s past, and why pilgrims were willing to face the trans-Atlantic crossing to the new world.