Branks, pp.335-336.

[Scottish National Memorials Contents]

   BRANKS, or Witch’s Bridle. As will be seen by the illustration, this instrument of torture was a skeleton helmet. A band of iron, with an opening for the nose, went from the chin over the face to the back of the head, and was hinged at the top. Another band crossed from side to side, and was not hinged. A third band, hinged under the ears, went round the chin and jaws to the back of the head, where it met the front strap, and was secured to it by a padlock. This arrangement was intended for the application of a gag, which was riveted to the chin-strap and was forced into and kept in the mouth so long as the instrument was worn. In what may be called the milder forms of the torture, like the present, and that exhibited under No. 989, the tongue-piece or gag was flat and tapering, about 2 inches long and ¾ of an inch at the broadest part. This was enclosed by a four-square bar, set on the angle so as to bring the edges against the tongue. This is 2 ½ inches wide where it is riveted to the chin-strap, and it projects inwards 2 ⅝ inches. 

   A drawing of an excellent set of branks found in Moray House is given in Wilson’s Archæology, p. 693 (see Fig. 269), and the Bishop’s branks at Abbotsford is represented in the Monastery, Abbotsford Edition, p. 270. There is a good set of branks in the Museum of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, preserved in the old castle there. A set is also preserved in the Parish Church of St. Andrews. 

   Bad as this torture was, it was humane in comparison with another form, a drawing of which is given also by Wilson. It consists solely of a chin strap, but the gag is a sharp three-pointed star which must have lacerated the mouth of the victim. (See Fig. 270.) 

(1214) Lent by W. MURRAY THREIPLAND. 

   THE BRANKS of Dunnottar Kirk. These branks are the same in principle as the set figured and described under No. 1214, but are not quite in such good preservation, having suffered possibly from weather or bad treatment and indifference. The front or nose-strap is wanting, and the back strap is broken, and is hanging by the hinge, but the cross band and chin-band with the tongue-piece are complete. The tongue-piece is 2 ¼ inches long, and the inner part is elaborately shaped, possibly to produce greater inequality of pressure on the tongue, and so impress on the scolding owner of it the propriety of keeping it in better order. 

(989) Lent by the UNIVERSITY OF ABERDEEN. 


   STOCKS, formerly used in the town of Crieff. The stocks was a much less commonly used instrument of punishment in Scotland than it was over the border. From the situation of Crieff as a principal gateway of the Highlands, the criminal jurisdiction of that place in former times was of considerable extent and importance. The town was provided with a gallows – ‘the kind gallows of Crieff’ – which, according to Sir Walter Scott (see Waverley, Note P.), was an object of dread and detestation to wayfaring Highlanders. It also had a tolbooth, jougs, and these somewhat peculiarly fabricated stocks. The instrument consists of a heavy square bar of wrought iron seven feet two inches in length, raised on iron supports to a height of eleven inches. Hinged near one extremity is the confining bar, also of wrought iron, fashioned to retain two pairs of legs with a padlocking arrangement near the centre of the under bar. It is obvious that the apparatus was originally provided with a second confining bar, also arranged for retaining two malefactors, hinged from the opposite end. (See Fig. 271.) 

(1222) Lent by the TOWN COUNCIL OF CREIFF, 


   STlRLING BURGH STOCKS. This long-disused instrument of punishment consists of two heavy wooden beams about 12 feet in length, furnished with a hinge at one end and a locking apparatus at the other. The ankle-holes number seven, and are cut half in the lower and half in the upper beam. The apparatus was long lost sight of, and only a few years ago it was found associated with the more grim gallows in a lumber-room connected with Stirling Police Office. 

(1044) Lent by the TOWN COUNCIL OF STIRLING. 

   AXE, used at the Execution of Baird and Hardie. In 1820 these ‘Radical Reformers’ were executed at Stirling. When the bodies were taken down from the scaffold they were decapitated by the hangman, who, in the execution of his bloody task, wore a mask (now in the Smith Institute, Stirling). The head of each unfortunate man was in succession held up by the executioner, with the exclamation, ‘This is the head of a traitor!’ No ‘Traitor’ has since been executed in Scotland; and it may be hoped that in this implement we have the last relic of capital punishment for political offences ever to be seen in the country. (See also p. 224.) 


   THE HANGMAN’S CAUP, a vessel consisting of a wooden basin and cover. Internal diameter of bowl at point where lid closes on to it, 7 ¾ inches, and 3 ⅝ inches deep, capacity 4.37 imperial pints. The Town Officer of Stirling (who also acted as hangman) had included in his emoluments ‘a caupful of grain on the market-day.’ He took a handful out of each sack until his ‘Caup’ was full. (See Fig. 272.) 


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