Our journey into folklore this week takes us back to 1809 to the bustling town of Leominster. Alive with gossip, where ‘bad speech’ was frowned upon and dealt with in very harsh ways. The tale of Jenny Pipes is a much loved local story involving one of England’s last surviving ducking stools, now located at The Priory in Leominster.
What was a ‘common scold’?
You may or may not have heard the term ‘common scold’. In the 19th century it referred to a public nuisance, an angry and troublesome person who breached the peace by arguing and quarrelling with their neighbours. In common law a ‘common scold’ was usually dealt with by way of a fine. If you were unlucky and depending on how the magistrate was feeling that day your punishment could be so much worse than this.
How did Jenny Pipes fall foul of the law?
Jenny Pipes (also known as Jane Corran) a young woman living in a poor community in Leominster, fell foul of this law. Unhappy with her lot and her husband John she made some very public derogatory comments about him and was reported to the local magistrates. As you can imagine dealing with this kind of nonsense was tedious for the magistrate and he decided to make an example of her.
He sentenced Jenny to be humiliated and paraded through the streets secured on a ducking stool. Embarrassingly the route chosen went right past her home and she was taken down to the banks of the Kenwater river. Her journey to the river was not a nice one, people were enthralled to see this amazing contraption, it had been years since it had last been used. The crowd mocked and jeered her, shouting gleefully “Duck the Scold” and she was duly dunked in the icy water twice. Ducking the scold was seen as a way of calming the angry offender down, demoralising them, cooling the tongue, tiring them out or simply rendering them unconscious.
You can’t keep a noisy woman down!
Little did they know that Jenny Pipes was made of stern stuff and no amount of ducking was going to dampen her fighting spirit. As she rose from the water she was still complaining and hurling abuse at the representatives of the judiciary who were present, so much so that the crowds lost interest, began to disperse and the punishment which was having no obvious affect was terminated.
Jenny Pipes was the last woman in England to be punished in this way, although it wasn’t from lack of trying. In 1817 Sarah Leeke, also from Leominster was sentenced to be ducked but the water in the river was so low that the authorities merely wheeled her round the town in the ducking stool. Amazingly this form of punishment remained on the statute books in England and Wales until 1967.
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Find out more about Leominster