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Tuesday Group Update by Barbara Lancey

It's quite a while since my last update, but the ladies of the Tuesday Group have continued to meet monthly (except for the August break!) and a good time was had by all at the Garden Party in July, thanks to our wonderful host, Caroline Millington! Sadly, during the August break, our dear friend, Angie Sutton, passed away. She had been a member of the Tuesday Group for many years, and served on the committee until quite recently. Angie's tireless support for the group helped to make it what it is today.

September saw thirty plus attending the meeting to be treated to a magnificent presentation by 'Mistress Agnes' (aka Janet Few, History Interpreter) in full costume entitled 'Ducking Stools, Dissenters, Debtors and Drunks!' — she certainly gave a very frank and detailed account of crime and punishment and law enforcement of the 17th century with the help of slides and some very realistic props!

Mistress Agnes graphically explained that during this period 85% of criminals caught were men, and only 15% were women usually for lesser crimes. The rising population, increased poverty and political turmoil were some of the factors responsible for rising crime during that period, which ranged from murder and treason to assault, poaching, and even calling people names! Smuggling was almost seen as a 'respectable' crime, romantic, exciting even, especially when someone such as the Lord of the Manor was in on the act! Crimes against the Church, such as not attending, blasphemy, or heresy, could be punishable by a fine or even death. There were Acts of Parliament to make life difficult for those not of the Church of England persuasion! Brothel keeping was frowned upon, and suicide was a crime. Men would control the behaviour of their wives or daughters, who could be punished for nagging, moaning or gossiping! One such punishment was to wear a 'scold' — a metal frame around the head so fitted to prevent a woman talking — and she would be paraded and ridiculed in the street.

Mistress Agnes continued by explaining the many and varied offences and the punishments meted out, such as the pillory (a type of stocks) for being drunk in the street, fines for profanity, ducking stool for gossiping, whipping through the street for vagrancy. Prison was rarely a punishment, usually just a holding place while awaiting trial. The exception to this was the debtors prison. Capital punishment for such as murder or treason usually meant men being hung drawn and quartered, while women would be hung, but if they 'pleaded the belly' (were pregnant), this would be postponed until after the baby was born! Some criminals could be shipped overseas, usually well looked after on route so they could be sold once they reached their destination. Other law enforcers were the Parish Constable, official thief takers (like bailiffs today), watchmen and sergeants and the militia. There were Manorial, Ecclesiastical and Secular courts, depending on the crime. There was, of course, a strong belief in witchcraft in the 17th century, usually borne out of looking for someone to blame for something. Suspected witches were never 'ducked', however, or burnt, but were put in the water with their wrists and ankles tied together, and if they floated they were a witch and would then be hung!

Having thanked Mistress Agnes for what we all agreed was such a brilliant and thought provoking presentation, final notices were given and refreshments served!

The Tuesday Group is a ladies social group drawing from Drayton, Curry Rivel, Muchelney, Fivehead, Langport and beyond, and meets on the third Tuesday each month at 7.30 pm in the Drayton Village Hall. Annual membership is only £10, or come and try for a guest fee of just £2.50 per meeting. For further information please contact either Barbara Lancey on 01458 252657, email barbaralancey@hotmail.com, or Aideen Roche on 01458 252022, email aideenroche@btinternet.com.