Stocks are devices used since medieval times for public humiliation, corporal punishment, and torture. The stocks are similar to the pillory and the pranger, as each consists of large, hinged, wooden boards; the difference, however, is that when a person is placed in the stocks, their feet are locked in place, and sometimes as well their hands or head, or these may be chained. Also, some modern versions used in sexual play within the BDSM community have small strings to hold the toes in place. The victim is in a sitting position.
With stocks, boards are placed around the legs or the wrists, whereas in the pillory they are placed around the arms and neck and fixed to a pole, and the victim stands. However, the terms can be confused, and many people refer to the pillory as the stocks.
The practice of using stocks continues to be cited as an example of cruel and unusual punishment.
The stocks were popular in medieval times as a mild restraining device for minor offenders. They were also used as punishment for military deserters, or for dereliction of military duty. In the stocks, an offender's hands and head, or sometimes their ankles would be placed and locked through two or three holes in the center of a board. Either before or after this the wrongdoer might have his or her footwear removed, exposing their bare feet. Exhibiting an offender's bare feet was considered a form of humiliation. Offenders were forced to carry out their punishments in the rain, during the heat of summer, or in freezing weather, and generally would receive only bread and water, plus anything brought by their friends. Finger pillories often went by the name of "finger stocks". Public stocks were typically positioned in the most public place available, as public humiliation was a critical aspect of such punishment. Typically, a person condemned to the stocks was subjected to a variety of abuses, ranging from having refuse thrown at them, paddling, and tickling, to whipping of the unprotected feet, a now illegal action called bastinado.
The stocks have also taken on a lighter image, as they are often found at Renaissance Fairs where the public can experience a form of "stocks entertainment" by watching actors locked in the stocks.
Locations of examples in England include: