The Brank, or Scold’s Bridle.
The brank was an instrument employed by our forefathers for punishing scolds. It is also sometimes called the gossip’s bridle, and in the Macclesfield town records it is designated ‘a brydle for a curste queane.’ In the term ‘queane’ we have the old English synonym for a woman; now the chief woman, the Queen. The brank is not of such great antiquity as the ducking-stool, for the earliest mention of it we have been able to find in this country is in the Corporation records of Macclesfield, of the year 1623. At an earlier period, we have traces of it in Scotland. In Glasgow burgh records, it is stated that in 1574 two scolds were condemned to be ‘branket.’ The Kirk-session records of Stirling for 1600 mention the ‘brankes’ as a punishment for the shrew. It is generally believed that the punishment is of Continental origin.
The brank may be described simply as an iron framework which was placed on the head, enclosing it in a kind of cage; it had in front a plate of iron, which, either sharpened or covered with spikes, was so situated as to be placed in the mouth of the victim, and if she attempted to move her tongue in any way whatever, it was certain to be shockingly injured. With a brank on her head she was conducted through the streets, led by a chain, held by one of the town’s officials, an object of contempt, and subjected to the jeers of the crowd and often left to their mercy. In some towns it was the custom to chain the culprit to the pillory, whipping-post, or market-cross. She thus suffered for telling her mind to some petty tyrant in office, or speaking plainly to a wrong-doer, or for taking to task a lazy, and perhaps a drunken husband.
BRANK IN LEEDS PHILOSOPHICAL MUSEUM.
In Yorkshire, we have only seen two branks. We give a sketch of one formerly in possession of the late Norrisson Scatcherd, F.S.A., the historian of Morley. It is now in the Leeds Philosophical Museum, where it attracts considerable attention. It is one of the most simple and harmless examples that has come under our notice. Amongst the relics of the olden time in the Museum of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society, York, is another specimen, equally simple in its construction. It was presented by Lady Thornton to the Society in 1880, and near it may be seen thumb-screws from York Castle; leg bar, waist girdle, and wrist shackles, worn by the notorious highwayman, Dick Turpin, executed April 17th, 1739; and a leg bar, worn by another notorious highwayman, named Nevison, who suffered death on the gallows, May 4th, 1684.
The brank which has received the greatest attention is the one preserved in the vestry of Walton-on-Thames Parish Church. It bears the date of 1632, and the following couplet:—
‘Chester presents Walton with a bridle To curb women’s tongues that talk too idle.’
It is traditionally said that this brank was given to Walton Parish by a person named Chester, who had, through a gossiping and lying woman of his acquaintance, lost an estate he expected to inherit from a rich relative. We are enabled to give an illustration of the Walton brank.
BRANK AT WALTON-ON-THAMES.
Dr. T. N. Brushfield described in an exhaustive manner all the Cheshire branks, in an able paper read before the Architectural, Archæological, and Historic Society of Chester, and published in 1858. We are unable to direct attention to all the branks noticed by Dr. Brushfield, but cannot refrain from presenting the following account of the one at Congleton, which is preserved in the Town Hall of that ancient borough. ‘It was,’ we are informed, ‘formerly in the hands of the town jailor, whose services were not infrequently called into requisition. In the old-fashioned, half-timbered houses in the borough, there was generally fixed on one side of the large open fire-places a hook, so that, when a man’s wife indulged her scolding propensities, the husband sent for the town jailor to bring the bridle, and had her bridled and chained to the hook until she promised to behave herself better for the future. I have seen one of these hooks, and have often heard husbands say to their wives: ’If you don’t rest with your tongue I’ll send for the bridle and hook you up.’ The Mayor and Justices frequently brought the instrument into use; for when women were brought before them charged with street-brawling, and insulting the constables and others while in the discharge of their duty, they have ordered them to be bridled and led through the borough by the jailor. The last time this bridle was publicly used was in 1824, when a woman was brought before the Mayor (Bulkeley Johnson, Esq.) one Monday, charged with scolding and using harsh language to the churchwardens and constables as they went, on the Sunday morning, round the town to see that all the public-houses were empty and closed during divine service. On examination, a Mr. Richard Edwards stated on oath that on going round the town with the churchwardens on the previous day, they met the woman (Ann Runcorn) in a place near ’The Cockshoot,’ and that immediately seeing them she commenced a sally of abuse, calling them all the scoundrels and rogues she could lay her tongue to; and telling them ’it would look better of them if they would look after their own houses rather than go looking after other folk’s, which were far better than their own.’ After other abuse of a like character, they thought it only right to apprehend her, and so brought her before the Bench on the following day. The Mayor then delivered the following sentence: ’That it is the unanimous decision of the Mayor and Justices that the prisoner (Ann Runcorn) there and then have the town’s bridle for scolding women put upon her, and that she be led by the magistrate’s clerk’s clerk through every street in the town, as an example to all scolding women; and that the Mayor and magistrates were much obliged to the churchwardens for bringing the case before them.’’ “In this case,” Mr. Warrington, who furnished Dr. Brushfield with the foregoing information, adds: ‘I both heard the evidence and saw the decision carried out. The bridle was put on the woman, and she was then led through the town by one Prosper Haslam, the town clerk’s clerk, accompanied by hundreds of the inhabitants; and on her return to the Town Hall the bridle was taken off in the presence of the Mayor, magistrates, constables, churchwardens, and assembled inhabitants.’
BRANK AT STOCKPORT.
In Cheshire, at the present time, there are traces of thirteen branks, and at Stockport is the most brutal example of the English branks. ‘It will be observed,’ says the local historian, Dr. Henry Heginbotham, J.P., ‘that the special characteristic of this brank is the peculiar construction of the tongue-plate or gag. It is about two inches long, having at the end, as may be seen in the engraving, a ball, into which is inserted a number of sharp iron pins, three on the upper surface, three on the lower, and two pointing backwards. These could not fail to pin the tongue, and effectually silence the noisiest brawler. At the fore part of the collar, there is an iron chain, with a leathern thong attached, by which the offender was led for public gaze through the market-place.’ It was formerly on market days exhibited in front of the house of the person who had charge of it, as a warning to scolding or swearing women. Dr. Heginbotham states that: ‘There is no evidence of its having been actually used for many years, but there is testimony to the fact, that within the last forty years the brank was brought to a termagant market woman, who was effectually silenced by its threatened application.’
We are indebted to Mr. Alfred Burton for a drawing of the Macclesfield brank. Dr. Brushfield describes this as ‘a respectable-looking brank.’ He tells us that ‘the gag is plain, and the end of it is turned down; there is only one band which passes over the head, and is hinged to the hoops; a temporary joint exists at the upper part, and ample provision is made for readily adjusting it to any description of head. The chain still remains attached to the hoop. About the year 1858, Mr. Swinnerton informed Dr. Brushfield that he had never seen it used, but that at the petty sessions it had often been produced in terrorem, to stay the volubility of a woman’s tongue; and that a threat by a magistrate to order its appliance had always proved sufficient to abate the garrulity of the most determined scold.’
BRANK AT MACCLESFIELD.
Towards the close of the first quarter of the present century, the brank was last used at Altrincham. A virago, who caused her neighbours great trouble, was frequently cautioned in vain respecting her conduct, and as a last resource she was condemned to walk through the town wearing the brank. She refused to move, and it was finally decided to wheel her in a barrow through the principal streets of the town, round the market-place, and to her own home. The punishment had the desired effect, and for the remainder of her life she kept a quiet tongue.
There are many traces of the brank in Lancashire. Mr. W. E. A. Axon informs us that his father remembers the brank being used at Manchester at the commencement of the present century. Kirkham had its brank for scolds, in addition to a ducking-stool. We find, in the same county, traces of the brank at Holme, in the Forest of Rossendale. In the accounts of the Greave for the Forest of Rossendale for 1691-2 is an entry of the true antiquarian cast:
Item, for a Bridle for scouldinge women, 2s. 6d.
In ‘Some Obsolete Peculiarities of English Law,’ by William Beamont, the author gives particulars respecting the Warrington brank. ‘Hanging up in our museum,’ says Mr. Beamont, ‘may be seen a representation of a withered female face wearing the brank or scold’s bridle; one of which instruments, as inflexible as iron and ingenuity can make it, for keeping an unruly tongue quiet by mechanical means, hangs up beside it; and almost within the time of living memory, Cicily Pewsill, an inmate of the workhouse, and a notorious scold, was seen wearing this disagreeable head-gear in the streets of Warrington for half-an-hour or more.... Cicily Pewsill’s case still lingers in tradition, as the last occasion of its application in Warrington, and it will soon pass into history.’
BRANK AT THE MANOR HOUSE, HAMSTALL RIDWARE.
The Rev. J. Clay told Mr. William Dobson that since his connection with Preston House of Correction the brank was put on a woman there, but the matter coming to the knowledge of the Home Secretary, its further use was prohibited, and to make sure of the barbarous practice being discontinued the brank itself was ordered to be sent to London. A second brank was kept in the prison, principally formed of leather, but with an iron tongue-piece.
At the north country town of Morpeth a brank is still preserved. The following is a record of its use: ‘Dec. 3, 1741, Elizabeth, wife of George Holborn, was punished with the branks for two hours, at the Market Cross, Morpeth, by order of Mr. Thomas Gait and Mr. George Nicholls, then bailiffs, for scandalous and opprobrious language to several persons in the town, as well as to the said bailiffs.’
BRANK AT LICHFIELD.
Staffordshire supplies several notable examples of the brank. They were formerly kept at Hamstall Ridware, Beaudesart, Lichfield, Walsall, and at Newcastle-under-Lyme. The branks in the two towns last named are alluded to by the celebrated Dr. Plot, the old historian of the county, in an amusing manner. ‘We come to the arts that respect mankind,’ says Plot, ‘amongst which, as elsewhere, the civility of precedence must be allowed to the woman, and that as well in punishments as favours. For the former, whereof they have such a peculiar artifice at Newcastle [under Lyme] and Walsall for correcting of scolds, which it does, too, so effectually and so very safely, that I look upon it as much to be preferred to the cucking-stool, which not only endangers the health of the party, but also gives her tongue liberty ’twixt every dip, to neither of which is this at all liable, it being such a bridle for the tongue as not only quite deprives them of speech, but brings shame for the transgression, and humility thereupon, before ’tis taken off. Which, being an instrument scarce heard of, much less seen, I have here presented it to the reader’s view [here follows a reference to a plate] as it was taken from the original one, made of iron, at Newcastle-under-Lyme, wherein the letter a shows the jointed collar that comes round the neck; b, c, the loops and staples to let it out and in, according to the bigness and slenderness of the neck; d, the jointed semicircle that comes over the head, made forked at one end to let through the nose, and e, the plate-iron that is put into the mouth and keeps down the tongue. Which, being put upon the offender by order of the magistrate, and fastened with a padlock behind, she is led through the town by an officer, to her shame, nor is it taken off until after the party begins to show all external signs imaginable of humiliation and amendment.’ This brank afterwards passed into the hands of Mr. Joseph Mayer, F.S.A. founder of the Museum at Liverpool.
It is pleasing to record the fact that there is only trace of one brank belonging to Derbyshire—a circumstance which speaks well for its men and women. The latter have for a long period borne exemplary characters. Philip Kinder, in the preface of his projected ‘History of Derbyshire,’ written about the middle of the seventeenth century, alludes to them. ‘The country-women here,’ says Kinder, ‘are chaste and sober, and very diligent in their housewifery; they hate idleness, love and obey their husbands; only in some of the great towns many of the seeming sanctificators used to follow the Presbyterian gang, and on a lecture day put on their best rayment, and doo hereby take occasion to goo a gossipping. Your merry wives of Bentley will sometimes look in ye glass, chirpe a cupp merrily, yet not indecently. In the Peak they are much given to dance after the bagpipes—almost every towne hath a bagpipe in it.’ “The Chesterfield brank,” says Mr. Llewellyn Jewitt, ‘is a remarkably good example, and has the additional interest of bearing a date. It is nine inches in height, and six inches and three-quarters across the hoop. It consists of a hoop of iron, hinged on either side and fastening behind, and a band, also of iron, passing over the head from back to front, and opening in front to admit the nose of the woman whose misfortune it was to wear it. The mode of putting it on would be thus: the brank would be opened by throwing back the sides of the hoop, and the hinder part of the band by means of the hinges, C, F, F. The constable, or other official, would then stand in front of his victim, and force the knife, or plate, A, into her mouth, the divided band passing on either side of the nose, which would protrude through the opening, B. The hoop would then be closed behind, the band brought down from the top to the back of the head, and fastened down upon it, at E, and thus the cage would at once be firmly and immovably fixed so long as her tormentors might think fit. On the left side is a chain, D, one end of which is attached to the hoop, and at the other end is a ring, by which the victim was led, or by which she was, at pleasure, attached to a post or wall. On front of the brank are the initials ’T.C.,’ and the date ’1688’—the year of the ’Glorious Revolution’—the year of all years memorable in the annals of Chesterfield and the little village of Whittington, closely adjoining, in which the Revolution was planned. Strange that an instrument of brutal and tyrannical torture should be made and used at Chesterfield at the same moment that the people should be plotting for freedom at the same place. The brank was formerly in the old poor-house at Chesterfield, and came into the hands of Mr. Weale, the assistant Poor-law Commissioner, who presented it to Lady Walsham. It is (August, 1860) still in the hands of Sir John Walsham, Bart., and the drawing from which the accompanying woodcut is executed was kindly made and furnished to me by Miss Dulcy Bell, Sir John’s sister-in-law.’
The Leicester brank is similar to the one at Chesterfield. At the back of the hoop is a chain about twelve inches long. It was formerly kept in the Leicester borough gaol.
BRANK FORMERLY IN THE POSSESSION OF MR. CARRINGTON.
In the year 1821, Judge Richardson gave orders for a brank to be destroyed which was kept ready and most probably frequently used at the County Hall, Nottingham. We gather from a note furnished by Mr. J. Potter Briscoe a curious circumstance in connection with this brank—that it was used to subdue the unruly tongues of the sterner sex, as well as those of noisy females. James Brodie, a blind beggar who was executed on the 15th July, 1799, for the murder of his boy-guide, in the Nottingham Forest, was the last person punished with the brank. During his imprisonment, prior to execution, he was so noisy that the brank was called into requisition, to do what he refused to do himself, namely, to hold his tongue.
Here is a picture of a brank formerly in the possession of the late Mr. F. A. Carrington, the well-known antiquary. It is supposed to belong to the period of William III. Mr. Carrington could not give any history of this curious relic of the olden time.
BRANK AT DODDINGTON PARK.
At Doddington Park, Lincolnshire, a brank is preserved, and is of a decidedly foreign appearance. It will be noticed that it bears some resemblance to the peculiar long-snouted visor of the bascinets, occasionally worn in the reign of Richard II. No historical particulars are known respecting this grotesque brank.
In the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, a curious brank may be seen. It is not recorded in the catalogue of the collection by whom it was presented, or where it was previously used; it is described as ‘a gag or brank, formerly used with the ducking-stool, as a punishment for scolds.’ It will be noticed that a chain is attached to the front of this brank, so that the poor unfortunate woman, in addition to being gagged, had the mortification of being led by the nose through the town. The gag is marked a, and b is the aperture for the nose.
BRANK IN THE ASHMOLEAN MUSEUM.
A curious engine of torture may be seen in the Ludlow Museum, and we give an illustration of it. It belongs to a class of engines far more formidable than branks. A description of this head-piece appears in the Archæological Journal for September, 1856, from the pen of Mr. W. J. Bernard Smith. ‘The powerful screwing apparatus,’ says Mr. Smith, ‘seems calculated to force the iron mask with torturing effect upon the brow of the victim; there are no eye-holes, but concavities in their places, as though to allow for the starting of the eye-balls under violent pressure. There is a strong bar with a square hole, evidently intended to fasten the criminal against a wall, or perhaps to the pillory; and I have heard it said that these instruments were used to keep the head steady during the infliction of branding.’ A curious instrument of punishment, belonging to the same class as that at Ludlow, is described at some length, with an illustration, in ‘Worcester in Olden Times,’ by John Noake (London, 1849). The picture and description have been frequently reproduced.
ENGINE OF TORTURE IN THE LUDLOW MUSEUM.
Several Shropshire branks remain at the present time. The one at Shrewsbury does not appear to be of any great antiquity. Its form is simple and its character harmless. This bridle was at one time in constant use in Shrewsbury, and there are those yet living whose memories are sufficiently good to carry them back to the days when the effects of the application of the brank in question were to be seen, rather than, as now, imagined. The year cannot be ascertained when this brank was first worn, but it is known to have been last used in 1846.
At Oswestry are two branks, one belonging to the Corporation, and the other is in the store-room of the Workhouse. The Rector of Whitchurch has in his possession a brank, which was formerly used by the town and union authorities. At Market Drayton are two branks: one is the property of the Lord of the Manor, and the other formerly belonged to the Dodcot Union. The Market Drayton brank, and also the one at Whitchurch, have on each a revolving wheel at the end of the gag or tongue-plate. In bygone times, the brank was frequently used for correcting unmanageable paupers.
At Edinburgh, in the Museum of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, is a brank said to be from a town in East Fifeshire, having a rowel-shaped gag. In the year 1560, it was decided by the Town Council of Edinburgh, that all persons found guilty of blasphemy should be punished by the iron brank. In North Britain, it appears to have been used for punishing persons guilty of immorality. On the 7th October, the Kirk-Session of Canongate sentenced David Persoun, convicted of this offence, to be ‘brankit for four hours,’ while his associate in guilt, Isobel Mountray, was ‘banisit the gait,’ that is, expelled from the parish. Only a week previously, the same Kirk-Session had issued a proclamation that all women found guilty of this lawlessness ‘be brankit six houris at the croce.’
We close this chapter by directing attention to the Bishop’s brank, kept at St. Andrews, respecting which a singular story is told. A woman in a humble walk of life, named Isabel Lindsay, stood up in the parish church of St. Andrews, during the time of divine service, when Archbishop Sharp was preaching, and declared that when he was a college student he was guilty of an illicit amour with her. She was arrested for this statement, and brought before the Kirk-Sessions, and by its members sentenced ‘to appear for a succession of Sundays on the repentance stool, wearing the brank.’
 Dobson’s ‘Preston in the Olden Time,’ 1857.
 ‘The Reliquary,’ October, 1860.
 Morris’s ‘Obsolete Punishments of Shropshire.’