The ducking of Mary Stemp, the landlady of the Queen's Head in Kingston-upon-Thames. April 1745
Mary Stemp was the landlady of the Queen’s Head Ale House in Kingston-upon Thames, Market Place. She is the last known person to be subject to the ducking stool in the Thames. The ducking took place in 1745.
There are a few instances in the UK of later ducking’s, a Mrs Gamble in Plymouth in 1808, Jenny Pipes in 1809 and finally in 1817 Sarah Leeke, the latter two both of Leominster.
The ducking stool was a punishment reserved for woman only. The stool consisted of a wooden or iron chair to which the victim was strapped fully clothed. The chair was mounted at the end of long beam which was counter-weighted at one end. It was located at a pond or river and the chair and victim lowered into the water until both fully submerged.
The chairs were not of standard form as it was up to the local carpenter and ironworker to make them. Few survive as they rotted quite quickly and became out of favour as they often needed repair. The picture is of the ducking stool in Leominster.
The punishment was used for woman, who were often going around town’s shouting, using scandalous words and causing great disturbances in the neighbourhood. It was often used for landladies who served short measures as well. Sometimes it was used, but not often, for woman offering sexual pleasures to men.
The victims were submerged for half a minute or more each time they were ducked. The water could be icy at certain times of the year, in the summer when raw sewage had been discharged into the river the water stank with the heat of the day. The victim was left in sodden cloths, having been half drowned and gasping for air. There torment was not over, it was anybody’s guess as to what diseases they may have caught from the polluted water.
In 1731 the Mayor of Nottingham, Thomas Trigg was prosecuted for not providing supervision or a constable to monitor the ducking. The victim was so severely ducked that she drowned.
The ducking stool was a development from the scold’s bridal.
This was a device that had a hinged iron framework to enclose the head and a bit or gag to fit into the mouth which compressed the tongue or pierced it. The victim was thus prevented from speaking. It resulted in many unpleasant side effects for the wearer, including excessive salivation. The victim was then placed in a chair and paraded around the town. People would come to their doors and bang pots and pans to ensure that everybody witnessed the humiliation of the scold. It was thought this would quell the scold’s temperament.
The bailiffs' book reporting the original complaint against Mary says she 'hath abused this deponent with scandalous and opprobrious words so that she cannot be at quiet in her house and frequently makes great disturbances in the neighbourhood.' Another claimed that she called her 'Bitch and Hoare' and a third that she comes around to her house and 'thumps at the doors and windows’.
Mary Stemp was ducked in April 1745. These type of ducking’s became large events, the newspapers of the time reported a crowd of between 2000 and 3000 attending. They often formed into large festivals with lots of games of the time and animal baiting.
It appears that this was not the first ducking Mary was subject too, she appears to be a serial offender, it is reported that from an earlier ducking she returned shouting and screaming and was lucky not to be ducked again right away.
The question is why was Mary acting like this? Life was clearly was not easy for her. In the court books there are other mentions of her and her husband William. There was a theft at the Queen's Head of a purse and money stolen. Reports also of drinking, 'tippling' and a man being shaved there 'at the time of Divine Service', followed by an assault by the Stemp’s on a woman who tried to drag her husband home. It maybe some of these events led Mary to behave as she did.
The Queen’s Head as it looked in bygone years