31 Days of Hallowe’en Tales: Day 2 – The Witch Ducking Stools of Poulton-Le-Fylde 

Local author Zowie Swan shares the second of her 31 Hallowe’en tales for Blackpool Social Club readers this October. Each piece is based on archive reports and eyewitness accounts, as well as the local folklore of Blackpool, the Fylde Coast, and Lancashire.

Before Blackpool erupted into the hub of entertainment and tourism that it is today, the market town of Poulton was known as the “Metropolis of the Fylde”.

Stocks at Market Place, Poulton

It was the central place of administration, justice and punishment for the area. Even now, when you visit Poulton, the old stone stocks and whipping post can still be seen in Market Place.

However, the town also had another form of punishment that it used to dole out to unlucky victims. The ducking-stool, the cuck-stool or the ‘Stool of Repentance’ was a punishment specifically designed to humble and humiliate women of ‘bad or ill behaviour’. A handful of these women were suspected of witchcraft and wicked deeds, whilst most were branded scolds or cuckolds.

The device consisted of a pivot with a long wooden lever connected to a chair, which was suspended over a body of water. The accused would be bound with rope and tied to the chair so they could not escape and then a group of men would repeatedly thrust the woman underwater as many times as they deemed ‘appropriate’. The terrified, drowning victim would soon agree to mend her ways and live the rest of her days in a meek and subservient manner. Lest she be thrown in the ducking-stool again. Repeated duckings often proved fatal, with the victim dying of shock or drowning in many cases.

One of these devices was installed across the Breck in Poulton for many years and three more local ponds were all given the name of cuck-stool, due to their connection with the punishment. There was also a large and fearsome machine standing at Great Carleton and another, more primitive version in Bispham.

The last Fylde woman sentenced to undergo this torture was saved by a local woman of esteem called Madame Hornby, who, being from a well-respected and prominent family, stepped in to save this accused from her fate and became a guarantor of her future good behaviour.

Read Day 1 – The Curse of Carleton Crematorium here.

Sources: Thornber, W. (1837). An Historical and Descriptive Account of Blackpool and its Neighbourhood. Images: G Abbott Creative Commons

Take a look at Zowie Swan’s debut novel, Chingle Hall here.

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  • Zowie Swan is a local writer of fiction and folklaw. Her debut novel, Chingle Hall, is out now with Safety Pin Publishing. She's also bassist for Blackpool band Dischord.

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