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Harborough Museum

Ancient lock for town stocks

Ancient lock for town stocks

Have you been naughty or nice?

The town stocks were situated to the rear of the Old Grammar School in Church Square, formerly Chapel Yard. The stocks were located near to the Old Guard House, as was the whipping post. Prior to the foundation of the police force, by Sir Robert Peele, personnel known as Charley’s or Watchmen withheld the law in the town. They were essentially early police constables.

An illustration of how someone would be restrained in the stocks. Visit Image Leicestershire and search ‘stocks’ to see real examples from Leicestershire villages.

During the 19th century, Market Harborough was a bustling little market town and vagrants often passed through its streets, some causing chaos in their stead. The stocks would’ve regularly held such vagrants; the whipping post beside it was certainly used frequently too. One account details how individuals would be tied to the post with their hands stretched above their heads, they would then have their backs whipped repeatedly until they could scarcely stand.

They were subsequently driven out of town and told to never return. The old Poor Law welfare system meant the parish where a person was resident was responsible for them, not where they were born: in order to reduce the cost of providing shelter and food, many parishes sought to drive out people who travelled from place to place, seeking respite.

By 1838, the Old Guard House, also known as the lock-up, had been entirely replaced by a brand-new police station. With the creation of a new police force, neither the stocks nor the whipping post was need any longer. It is likely that the stocks were dismantled. The lock is all that remains of what was once one of the town’s principle forms of punishment.

A sturdy, brown metal lock
You can see the lock in the Market Harborough Historical Society case

In December, we always ask if we’ve been naughty or nice. Luckily for us, if we’ve been naughty all we need to worry about is some coal from Father Christmas!

Thanks to our volunteers for researching and writing this month’s entry.

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