The Ducking Stool

One of the lesser-known attractions of Christchurch is the ducking stool, though when you see this one you definitely have to use your imagination. This replica is on the site of the original, where punishments were once carried out. It is accessed via Ducking Stool Walk, next to the King’s Arms and opposite the bowling green, or through Milhams Street. Ducking Stool Walk is very pleasant, though the entrance is not obvious to the visitor. See the gallery below.

It is a very popular attraction. When I took the picture below, there were three little groups visiting. Note that I have deliberately blurred the children slightly, for obvious reasons.

Also called cucking stools, they were used to humiliate and punish disorderly, argumentative and nagging women, and dishonest tradesmen. Piers Plowman in 1378 described it as wymen pine, or women’s punishment. They were also used for loose behaviour such as prostitution or bearing an illegitimate child. A similar, though terminal, punishment was also used for some time to assess whether or not the lady was a witch. The victim’s right thumb was bound to her left big toe and she was thrown into the river or pond. If she floated she was guilty, if she sank she was innocent.

Of course, history didn’t start with ancient times, it is going on today. The two pictures below show the (slightly) older ducking stool, taken in January 2017. The other picture shows the very smart modern one. Fortunately neither has been used, and the river is so low that they wouldn’t work anyway! Tourists do like to pretend, and those of all genders sometimes sit in the chair, causing much hilarity among their family or friends and receiving rude, though obviously untrue, comments.

January 2017. Rather tatty.
August 2020, very smart. Click for a larger image, which opens in a new window.

Do watch this very amusing video of a ducking stool in action in Bermuda. A great tourist attraction, even the lady in the seat enjoyed it, though she gave a great impression of not doing so! Perhaps the punishment was unjust, for she says she wasn’t doing anything wrong. She wasn’t nagging, just reminding. Must say, the man in charge of the ducking wasn’t very pleasant, he tells her to ‘Get out of my sight’ at the end. I do hope he was acting!

Of course, in reality the poor, gentle lady in the video would have been fixed to the stool with an iron band.

To Conclude

I thought you might enjoy the detailed, more-academic definition below. It is from Freebase, and there is a link to the article, and more, here.

Ducking-stools and cucking-stools are chairs formerly used for punishment of disorderly women, scolds and dishonest tradesmen in England, Scotland and elsewhere. The cucking-stool was a form of wyuen pine as referred to in Langland’s Piers Plowman. They were both instruments of public humiliation and censure, primarily for the offence of scolding or back biting and less often for sexual offenses like bearing an illegitimate child, or prostitution.

The stools were technical devices which formed part of the wider method of law enforcement through social humiliation. A common alternative was a court order to recite one’s crimes or sins after Mass or in the market place on market day, or informal action such as a Skimmington ride. They were usually of local manufacture with no standard design. Most were simply chairs into which the victim could be tied and exposed at her door or the site of her offence. Some were on wheels like a tumbrel that could be dragged around the parish. Some were put on poles so that they could be plunged into water, hence “ducking” stool.

Stocks or pillories were similarly used for punishment of men or women by humiliation. The term cucking-stool is older, with written records dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries. Written records for the name ducking stool appear from 1597, and a statement in 1769 relates that ducking-stool is a corruption of the term cucking-stool. Whereas a cucking-stool could be and was used for humiliation with or without ducking the person in water, the name ducking-stool came to be used more specifically for those cucking-stools on an oscillating plank which were used to duck the person into water.