top of page

Bolsterstone Old Stocks
& Whipping Post,
Bolster Stones


Stocks 2012.jpg

In 1351 the Statute of Labourers decreed that all villages should have stocks, to be used as an open gaol for runaway servants and labourers.  The Statute of Labourers was a law introduced in response to a labour shortage and, as well as addressing topics such as wages, it also aimed to limit the movement of those searching for better conditions.  A later Act was passed in 1405 which required every town and village in England to maintain a set of stocks in which wrong-doers could be held for a time and subjected to the abuse and humiliation meted out by fellow villagers. Stocks are different to pillories, which were taller and held the head and hands.  Pillories were often elevated on a platform to be more visible.  As a general rule, small villages had stocks whereas towns had pillories.  Having its own stocks was essential if a village wanted status.  “No village was considered to be complete, or even worthy of the name of village, without its stocks, so essential to due order and government were they deemed to be,” wrote S. M. Morris in his book “The Obsolete Punishments of Shropshire.”  Without them, a village could be relegated to the status of “hamlet.”

When being locked in the stocks, the feet were placed through holes in large, hinged wooden boards which were then secured.  Stocks were usually positioned in the most public place available since public humiliation was the main part of the punishment.  Passers-by were then free to hurl abuse, spit on or kick the offender or throw rotten produce at them.


Stocks and pillories were used to punish a wide range of minor offences including being drunk, giving short measures in shops and public houses, petty thieving, prostitution, fortune telling, and so on.  I can find no mention anywhere of the stocks at Bolsterstone being used for punishment.  I did find a reference for Sheffield, when nine men were locked in the stocks for drinking in a public house during the time of service in church (February 1790).  It seems people could avoid the stocks if they paid a fine instead; the Sheffield Independent of 30 October 1823 reported that several people had been ordered to be placed in the stocks, or to pay a fine of 6s. 6d. each, having been convicted by the Overseers of Ecclesfield of gambling on Sunday.   In 1828 three “urchins” who were found guilty of gambling on a Sunday “embraced … with great glee” the chance to be placed in the stocks in Paradise Square, Sheffield, rather than pay the fine!


In his book “Crime in Sheffield,” the author J. P. Bean[1] writes that the first mention of stocks in Sheffield is in 1576, although it is probable that they had been in existence since the Statute of Labourers.  They were situated by the parish church and were moved to Paradise Square around the turn of the 19th century, remaining in use there for another thirty years.  There were also stocks at Bridgehouses, Attercliffe and on Sheffield Moor.  Both men and women were publicly whipped on occasion, but there is no evidence of this taking place in Sheffield before the mid-18th century.  Sheffield’s pillory was erected in 1571 in Castle Foulds, in the area of what is now Exchange Street.


The last recorded use of stocks as punishment in England was in June 1872 at Newbury, Berkshire.  However, in 1908, when a man was found to be leaving the Franco-British exhibition in London in possession of stolen money, those observing suggested he be locked up in the stocks which were on display.  The suggestion was at once acted upon, and a crowd quickly collected round the captive, now in a state of tears.  After he had been detained for some time, the officials, thinking he had been punished enough, released their prisoner, who made off in great haste.[2]

[1] Bean, J.P., Crime in Sheffield, 1993 edition

[2] Reported in the Sheffield Evening Telegraph 17 August 1908, p6

Village Stocks in Bramhall, Cheshire.jpg

Above: the village stocks in Bramhall Green, Cheshire, 1900.  The man on the left is a Mr. Hazeldine.

From the Stockport Image Archive ref. S/62 Y44

Below: Joseph Kenworthy included the photograph below of the young boy standing by the stocks in his handbook 15 about Bolsterstone, printed in 1915, but had nothing to say about the stocks themselves.[1]  This photo would date from between the 1870s (when the present church was built) and 1906 when the stocks were enclosed with metal railings to protect them.  A few years after the publication of his Handbook 15, Joseph Kenworthy addressed the topic of the stocks in his regular newspaper column in the Penistone, Stocksbridge and Hoyland Express.[2]  He quotes Canon Wilson, late vicar of Bolsterstone, writing in The Bolsterstone Magazine of November 1906, who noted that the stocks and whipping post had been enclosed within spiked iron railings to prevent them from further damage, in particular from the feet of the village children who liked to play on them.  I am not sure who paid for this.  The matter of railing in the stocks was first brought before Stocksbridge Council in 1902 by Joseph Kenworthy’s brother, Councillor John Cutts Kenworthy.  He presented a plan he had drawn which showed the proposed enclosure, and estimated the probable cost at £3; it was decided an estimate be obtained from Mr. H. Steel [the village blacksmith], of Bolsterstone, for the carrying out of the work.  However, nothing had been decided in 1904 when the when the matter was discussed (at length) in another Council meeting; several councillors thought the money should be raised by public subscription rather than be taken from the Council’s coffers, but I could find no further report of this.


[1] Photo by Bradbury, printed in Kenworthy, Joseph, The Early History of Stocksbridge and District Handbook 15: Bolsterstone, privately printed, 1915, p50. 

[2] Published 03 March 1923, p3: History from Names, part of a regular column by Joseph Kenworthy

Stocks and whipping post by Bradbury, from Kenworthys Bolsterstone Handbook.jpg
detail of stocks from old postcard.jpg

Above: this is a detail from an old postcard, pre 1906, and shows two posts, one taller than the other, but the board that would have held the miscreants by the feet had long gone – being wood, it had presumably rotted away, as was often the case. 


Before the stocks were fenced in, it was decided to recreate how they would have looked.  A plank of oak was inserted between the two upright posts, with hollows cut into it to correspond with those in the lower horizontal stone (which had been worn away by the feet of generations of children playing on it).  Three people could have been placed in the Bolsterstone stocks at the same time, whereas the Hunshelf stocks only had accommodation for two.


Another addition was an iron ring, fastened with lead into the same hole in the horizontal stone in which one was formerly placed, and through this a padlock secured the iron band which reached down from the oak plank above.  Canon Wilson thought the Bolsterstone stocks were unusual in that the bottom part enclosing the feet was made of stone whereas in most places both upper and lower parts were made of wood. 

The taller of the two upright stones in Canon Wilson’s day showed on either side the remains of the irons which were fastened in with lead, by means of which persons ordered to be whipped were secured during the time of undergoing their sentence.  Modern photos show an iron ring fastened to the taller of the vertical stones which doesn’t seem to be there on earlier photographs. 


The stocks were Grade II Listed on 7 August 1985.

Blands chapel built 1791 and stocks.jpg

This postcard, above, by Furness, shows Bland’s church, built in 1791.  It did service until 1872 when work began on the current church of St. Mary's.  The stocks can be seen, and had not yet been fenced off.  To one side of them are the Bolster Stones which were later moved inside the churchyard. 

Building commenced on St. Mary’s church in 1872.  The chancel and tower were built first.  In June 1878 the old nave was used for the last time for divine service, and on 7 August the foundation stone for the new nave was laid.  The work was completed in May 1879 and the church was opened by the Archbishop of York in June 1879. 


The photo below was taken before May 1920 when the War Memorial was built.  Kenworthy dates this to 1913.

Village square and stocks.JPG
Stocks 2012.jpg

© Claire Pearson 2012

There may well be references to the stocks and the whipping post in Sheffield Archives.  Many years ago I saw in there a very large bound volume of accounts etc. from the Bradfield Church officials called the Bradfield Guardbook.  I wasn’t allowed to photocopy any of it or photograph it, and just managed to make a few transcripts of things relating to my Crawshaw ancestors - constables’ and overseers’ accounts, apprenticeship records, etc., some dating back to the 1700s.  One example of a woman being whipped comes from the Constable of Ecclesfield’s accounts for the year 1641 and was printed in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph 07 February 1868, p4:

Paid to two men for watchinge Ellen Shaw one nighte and goinge with her before Sir Fran. Woortley, she beinge accused for felonie – 3s.

My charge in apprehendinge and goeinge with her, 1s. 4d.

Paid to Renald Allen for goeinge to Wakefield with the said Ellen Shaw, 3s.

Laid out for vittuals for her, 1s. 6d.

Paid to a woman for whipping the said Ellen Shaw, 4d.

Paid for beare for her after she was whipped, 3d.

The Bolster Stones


In Bolsterstone church yard there are two very large stones whose origins are uncertain.  One theory is that they are bolster-stones, “bolster” here meaning some kind of support. The historian Joseph Hunter thought that the village derived its name from these stones, although there is also a theory that the name comes from a corruption of the name of a local Saxon chieftain called Walder.


In 1875 the Rev. Alfred Gatty published a new edition of Joseph Hunter’s book “Hallamshire,” which had originally been published in 1819.  Hunter doesn’t mention these stones in the original, and Gatty has taken the information he adds in this new edition from Hunter’s book “South Yorkshire.”  He quotes Hunter as saying, “There is a large thick stone lying on the village green and close to the chapel of Bolsterstone.  It is about three yards in length, and rests upon a stone below it; and to these local tradition points as the origin of the name of the place.  Six crosses are rudely carved upon the upper stone, and there are cut in two mortices.  It has evidently been constructed for some use, and a better conjecture than that of Mr. Wilson, the antiquary of these regions, will not easily be presented, that the mortices were intended to receive the wooden posts of a maiden, such as that which was used at Halifax, in the execution of criminals, and that this stone was an uneasy bolster on which the head of the criminal was laid.”[1]


Various online sources mention that these stones were moved to Bolsterstone from Unsliven Bridge.  This theory was put forward by Neville T. Sharpe, who suggested that they were moved in 1796.[2]  He thinks that they formed the base of a twin-shafted Anglo-Saxon Cross.  Pamela Crossland[3] wrote that they were moved when Unsliven Bridge was widened in July 1796.  I have not yet been able to verify this, but below is an enlargement of a detail from a photograph of Bland’s Church (before 1872) in which the stones can be seen next to the old stocks.  They were moved to the churchyard in the 19th century for safe-keeping but again I haven’t been able to verify exactly when.  Joseph Kenworthy wrote that the stones were moved at the request of Canon Wilson.[4]


[1] Hunter, Joseph, 1783-1861, and Alfred Gatty. Hallamshire: The History And Topography of the Parish of Sheffield In the County of York. With Historical And Descriptive Notices of the Parishes of Ecclesfield, Hansworth, Treeton, And Whiston, And of the Chapelry of Bradfield. A new ed., London: Virtue and Co.; [etc., etc.], 1875

[2] Sharpe, Neville T., Crosses of the Peak District, Landmark Collectors Library, 2002, cited by various online articles including Wikipedia, but I have been unable to confirm this theory, and Kenworthy does not mention them being moved.

[3] Crossland, Pamela, a booklet called Bolsterstone Then and Now

[4] From an article in the Penistone, Stocksbridge and Hoyland Express 09 September 1922, p2; History from Names, part of a regular column by Joseph Kenworthy

Screenshot 2024-03-29 220510.jpg

Kenworthy went on to say that there are similar stones in Hawarth churchyard; one stone lies east-west and the other north-south, the latter having three holes.  These holes were “like places where crosses stood,” wrote Kenworthy, quoting Dr. Nathanial Johnston, an antiquary.


Kenworthy himself seemed to think that these stones could have formed part of a stone circle similar to Stonehenge and that the two (remaining) stones formed part of a tri-lithin (two uprights holding up a horizontal stone).  “If such a theory can be sustained, there formerly stood on, or near, what is now the village green, a rude stone monument, with the same unique features as Stonehenge, and such was probably destroyed and the stone used when the Castle, or in the words used by Hunter, ‘what is supposed to have been the house of the Sheffields at Bolsterstone,’ was built, and that in these two stones we have all that remains of an enclosure whose sacred character has clung to these time-worn blocks, and given the name to the village.”


This was also the view of Canon Wilson.  Pamela Crossland mentioned that Canon Wilson wrote in some detail about the stones in the Terrier[1] dated 27 June 1900, suggesting that, judging by their shape one of them could have been the horizontal member of a stone trabeated structure such as Druid worshippers erected at Stonehenge.  He added that the upper stone, which has a cross carved on it, was known in 1750 to have six cross carvings visible.  He assumed that this was done deliberately to Christianise what had formerly been an object used in heathen worship.  Ms. Crossland also cites Wallace Charlesworth, a contemporary of Kenworthy and keen historian.[2]  Mr. Charlesworth thought that the stones were once used to collect water for baptismal purposes, and were originally located at Unsliven Bridge.  The name “Unsliven” is  a modern corruption of its 13th century name “Unshriven Bridge.”  He further explained that in Anglo-Saxon times those about to accept baptism crossed the “Unshriven Bridge,” entered the water to be baptised, and emerged on the opposite river bank, shriven. 


The last word on this I think should come from Pamela Crossland:  “These theories regarding the stones are difficult to substantiate because the evidence is so tenuous.”



[1] a register of the lands belonging to a landowner, originally including a list of tenants, their holdings, and the rents paid, later consisting of a description of the acreage and boundaries of the property.  The Terrier and Inventory for the Parish of Bolsterstone with Deepcar and Stocksbridge 1900.

[2] His unpublished “Notes on Bolsterstone & Neighbourhood,” 1895, is in Stocksbridge Library.  Last time I checked it was held in a cabinet in a box of papers relating to Bolsterstone.

bottom of page