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The Hackney Whipping Post

September 26, 2015
by the gentle author

There is sometimes a certain tendency to talk about the past as if it were a better place, as if relics automatically speak of our ‘glorious history.’ Yet, occasionally, truth breaks through to remind us that, speaking of the past in this country, it was for many a place of suffering, of want and of violence – an inescapable but far less palatable historical reality.

Thus the emphasis of retelling history can often tend towards the celebratory and so, when the churchyard of St John-at-Hackney was handsomely restored with Lottery funds in recent years, the seventeenth century whipping post was conveniently consigned to the nearby backyard of Groundwork, the organisation which supervised the renovations, where it has been rotting ever since.

Historian Sean Gubbins of Walk Hackney drew my attention to this neglected artefact and took me there to see it last week. He showed me a photograph of it standing in the churchyard in 1919 and confirmed that it had decayed significantly in the last couple of years. Apparently, Hackney Council owns the whipping post but Sean can find no-one who wants to take responsibility for it and many would prefer if it simply rotted away.

In former centuries, the stocks, the whipping post and the pillory were essential elements of social control, but today these fearsome objects are treated with indifference or merely as subjects of ghoulish humour. Since they became defunct, they have acquired a phoney innocence as comic sideshows at school fetes where pupils can toss wet sponges at popular teachers to raise money for a worthy cause.

Yet the reality is that these instruments of violence and public humiliation were used to subjugate those at the margins of society – to punish the poor for petty thefts that might be as small as a loaf of bread, or to discourage vagrants, or to chasten prostitutes, or to drive homeless people out of the parish, or to subdue the mentally ill, or to penalise homosexuals, or to demean religious dissenters, or to intimidate immigrants into subservience, or against anyone at all who was considered socially unacceptable according to the prejudices of the day.

We need to remember this grim history, which reminds us that the struggle towards greater social equality and tolerance of difference in this country was a hard one, only achieved by those who resisted the culture of obedience enforced by state-sanctioned violence and enacted through instruments such as this whipping post.

Extract from Benjamin Clarke’s ‘Glimpses of Ancient Hackney & Stoke Newington’ 1894

Postcards supplied by Melvyn Brooks

Model of the Hackney whipping post

Tudor stocks and whipping post in the entrance to Shoreditch Church

If anyone is interested in helping to save and restore the whipping post please contact Sean Gubbins sean@walkhackney.co.uk

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24 Responses leave one →
  1. September 26, 2015

    A reminder of harsh historical reality. The post should be restored as a reminder for generations to come.

  2. Robert Green permalink
    September 26, 2015

    I quite agree, I find the deliberate neglect of such a historic item really shocking, in fact I actually remember seeing this once when I was on one of my walks exploring but I shamefully have to admit that in ignorance at the time I had no idea that it was actually an “authentic” piece of history, and the fact that it has been brought to the attention of the authorities who have then chosen to blatantly ignore it I find quiet disgusting, not that I could ever be described as someone who has much regard for the conduct of local authorities but even so stories like this never fail to cause my contempt for their attitude to plummet to new even LOWER depths.

  3. Roger Carr permalink
    September 26, 2015

    Looks like it could easily be removed and given a good home ?

  4. September 26, 2015

    In my childhood it was in the churchyard, near the old tower. What a shame to leave it to rot. The treatment of this oratorical artifact says a lot about the council! Valerie

  5. Jean permalink
    September 26, 2015

    Surely the removers are guilty of breaking the law as the whipping post would have been part of the listing/conservation and an integral part of the funded renovation? Very odd. I once bought a house where the vendor took a water pump from the garden with him. The lawyers made him reinstate it. I learned a lesson about Listing and Conservation. This is ver odd!!

  6. September 26, 2015

    Maybe Hackney Museum would like it?

  7. September 26, 2015

    Can’t Hackney Museum find room for it?

  8. September 26, 2015

    I’m so pleased to see this post, mainly because of the current swell of holier than thou attitude to the despicable atrocities to humanity throughout the world today. People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones this post, I feel, is evidence of this.

  9. Greg Tingey permalink
    September 26, 2015

    Hmmm … you only have to go to a country where autocratic religion still rules, to see these & much worse, in action.
    Try Saudi Arabia or possibly Iran ….
    Yuck.

  10. September 26, 2015

    Fabulous piece of writing of the highest standard. Heartfelt commendations! Yes, of course it should be rescued for salutary education.

  11. Bob Gladding permalink
    September 26, 2015

    Surely the MD of the Groundworks organisation could be persuaded (shamed) into taking better care of it? At least set it up on blocks with some sheeting over it to stop further deterioration. Would the museum of London take it over?

  12. Peter Holford permalink
    September 26, 2015

    This may be the age of local authority cutbacks and the need to carefully evaluate all the council functions that require cash but how much does it cost to put this historic artifact under cover so that it doesn’t deteriorate still further? Ignorant or short-sighted?

  13. Annie G permalink
    September 26, 2015

    I do think that this should be hauled away and displayed somewhere. It is indeed part of our history and, in itself, an important artefact. Come along Hackney Council. Do not be churlish.

  14. September 26, 2015

    Agree with all the above about the need to conserve this salutary reminder of the past. What I found especially chilling was the wheels: presumably the site of the punishment could then be chosen to have the greatest effect of humiliation to the punished and warning to the onlookers?

  15. Campbell Matheson permalink
    September 26, 2015

    It is appalling how this important historical artefact has been allowed to deteriorate. It should have been relocated to the Hackney Museum a long time ago, instead of being left out in all weathers to rot. Photographer Peter Kurton took a photograph of the stocks in the 1980s which can be viewed at:

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/69711221@N04/6605586229

  16. Melvyn Brooks permalink
    September 26, 2015

    I have sent a few Edwardian postcard views of the stocks in Hackney Churchyard.

    Like most historical relics in Hackney the Town Hall act like morons. Sutton House is a good example. We can thank the late David Gray for saving this Grade I listed building.

    I shall be pleased to send a cheque for £50 towards a restoration fund.

    Melvyn Brooks Karkur Israel

  17. Molasses permalink
    September 27, 2015

    The whipping posts of today are the punitive laws which penalize the poor and the powerless.

  18. September 27, 2015

    I agree with Melvyn Brooks ~ this should be a restoration project, maybe for students in wood-making projects (Sir John Cass College?). They would learn very much in working on restoring the stocks. It could then be on view to all at Hackney Museum, or the Museum of London ~ I’m sure they would help too. SMcA

  19. Sean Gubbins permalink
    September 27, 2015

    If you would like to get involved in a campaign to restore and save Hackney’s stocks, please get in touch with Sean at sean.walkhackney.co.uk.

  20. September 28, 2015

    Hopefully you piece will encourage the restoration of this fascinating artefact.

  21. Highlight permalink
    October 1, 2015

    I cannot believe people of authority can let an object from 17th Century go into decay, or rather (yes I can ). If embarrassment is part of the fact, then the majority of our artifacts in museums would be rotting too, especially in the dungeons of our beautiful castles. To have a piece of 17th Century still in our hands is fantastic. There are so many who would love to have this. I find it hard to understand why no museum has come forward. I hope someone reads this article and makes sure this piece is well looked after. Maybe some people of today would benefit from seeing an item like this just to make them realise how lucky they are. Good look and please do an update so we know what happens. We should keep everything from our past no matter what it is.

  22. Rachael Macdonald permalink
    October 5, 2015

    This is astonishing neglect of what must be a rare artefact, far less common than pillories and stocks I think. Even if someone were prepared to pay for restoration it still needs a permanent home and care in the future. How could it be removed if owned by council? Does anyone know what aagreement exists between council and Groundwork? I assume the Hackney Society is aware of it. Hackney’s motto ‘Justitia turris nostra’ or ‘Justice is our tower’. Wikipedia has a curious alternative version of it – ‘Being fair is what makes us strong’. Hackney Council please note.

  23. Peter Kurton permalink
    October 14, 2015

    I would suggest that it has been dismatled and parts deliberately removed.

    The older pictures you see here of it in former times show it as it existed until at least the 1970s. Pretty obvious that most of it has been stolen. Whatever are the authorities playing at. They can’t have any sense of responsibility or culture.
    Is it the type of people who now inhabit the town Hall who don’t have a traditional feel for anything any more?

    What doesn’t help no doubt is the demise of the Police Station only a few yards away from it. How can the station be redundant? Clearly crime is nowhere near being eliminated in Hackney.

  24. Roy Smith permalink
    December 31, 2015

    The article about the Hackney Whipping Post has brought back many memories for me. I was born in 1942 and we lived at Manor House. My mother had friends in Hackney. On the bus journey to visit them I would catch a glimpse of this strange device behind the railings, under the neat tiled canopy. My mother told me a little of what it had been used for. But I didn’t get a good look at it until the 50’s when I went to Hackney Free & Parochial School in Paragon Road. Often I’d hop off the homeward bound bus and look at it.
    It is sad that it now neglected and derelict.

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