Much has been made recently in the press and media about antisocial behaviour, its causes and prevention. These days we hear about ASBOs, ‘tagging’, ‘naming and shaming’ as a means of addressing these problems. Up until the late 19th century the ‘stocks’ or the ‘pillory’ were considered as the means of punishment and restraint throughout the country for such petty crimes.
The ‘pillory’ was the standard upright post with two boards attached and apertures let in for the restraint of the head and wrists. The prisoner was held standing upright in a very uncomfortable position, ridiculed and humiliated. In some instances the townspeople would turn up on market days to hurl abuse, rotten food and vegetables or other unpleasant items at the unfortunate captive, as can be seen re-enacted in many a summer fate and gala. The ‘stocks’ on the other hand was reputed to have been a little more humane than the pillory because the prisoner was held in the similar manner but sitting down with the ankles being locked between two boards.
The town of Llanelli was no exception. Old plans and maps of the town dating back as far as the 1850s show the site of the town’s stocks as being approximately 2 metres to the right hand side of the present day Parish Church Lych Gate. According to the historian John Innes, the last person to be punished in the Llanelli stocks was ‘Little Will the Shoemaker’. Will had drunkenly insulted the local estate owner and Justice of the Peace, William Chambers. By 1859 it was reported that Swansea had no stocks, while at Neath in 1866, Sam Brettell was given the option of a fine or a term in the stocks for being drunk in the Blue Bell Inn. It is likely that the stocks ceased to be used as a means of punishment in the town of Llanelli between 1854 and 1856. Maps from about that date show that the town by this time possessed a ‘Lock Up’ or jail in Market Street, where the old Llanelli Police station used to stand.
The stocks as a method of punishment in Britain has spanned a number of centuries, recent research at the Llanelli Reference Library of the ‘Star Chamber Proceedings’ dating back to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I has revealed that circa 1570, Robert Craven, Yeoman of Llanelli, and his wife had brought a complaint against the following; David Phillip Owen, David
William Jones, David Lewis, Francis Eildir and the Constable, William Morgan for assault and illegal imprisonment in the stocks in Llanelli.
Llanelli was a very small hamlet at this time, as it was described by a contemporary traveller as a ‘village of the Kidwelly lordship’. Small it may have been, but it still had problems with people with anti social behaviour to have possessed a stocks.