Witches, Rakes, and Rogues

Branks and Gags,
page 2 of 5

          Chester presents Walton with a bridle
          To cure women’s tongues that talk too idle.”

By tradition this brank was angrily and insultingly given by a gentleman named Chester, who had through the lie of a gossiping woman of Walton lost an expected fortune. One is in Congleton Town Hall which was used as recently at 1824, upon a confirmed scold who had especially abused some constables and church-wardens; and as late as 1858 a brank was produced in terror-em to silence an English scold, and it is said with marked and salutary effect. Several branks are still in existence in Staffordshire. The old historian of the county, Dr. Plot, pleads quaintly the cause of the brank: “We come to the arts that respect mankind, amongst which as elsewhere, the civility of precedence must be allowed to the women, and that as well in punishments as in favours. For the former, whereof they have such a peculiar artifice at Newcastle 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 ducking-stool, which not only endangers the health of the party, but also gives her tongue liberty to wag, 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 its taken off.

Which being put upon the offender by the 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 till after the party begins to show all external signs imaginable of humiliation and amendment.”

Mr. Llewellyn Jewitt, editor of the Reliquary, gives an explicit account of the way a brank was worn:

“The Chesterfield brank is a good example, and has the additional interest of bearing a date. It is nine inches in height, and six 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 dividing in front to admit the nose of the woman whose misfortune it was to wear it.


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