Branks and Gags.
The brank or scold’s bridle was unknown in America in its English shape: though from colonial records we learn that scolding women were far too plentiful, and were gagged for that annoying and irritating habit. The brank, sometimes called the gossip’s bridle, or dame’s bridle, or scold’s helm, was truly a “brydle for a curste queane.” It was a shocking instrument, a sort of iron cage, often of great weight; when worn, covering the entire head; with a spiked plate or flat tongue of iron to be placed in the mouth over the tongue. Hence if the offender spoke she was cruelly hurt.
Ralph Gardner, in his book entitled England’s Grievance Discovered in Relation to the Coal Trade, etc., printed in 1665, says of Newcastle-on-Tyne: “There he saw one Anne Bridlestone drove through the streets by an officer of the same corporation, holding a rope in his hand, the other end fastened to an engine called the branks, which is like a crown, it being of iron, which was musled over the head and face, with a great gag or tongue of iron forced into her mouth, which forced the blood out; and that is the punishment which the magistrates do inflict upon chiding and scolding women; and he hath often seen the like done to others.”
Over fifty branks of various shapes are now in existence in English museums, churches, town halls, etc., and prove by their number and wide extent of location, the prevalence of their employment as a means of punishment. Being made of durable iron and kept within doors, and often thrust, as their use grew infrequent, into out-of-the-way hiding-places, they have not vanished from existence as have the wooden stocks and pillories, which stood exposed to wear, weather and attack.
One of these old-time branks is in the vestry of the church at Walton-on-Thames. It is dated 1632, and has this couplet graven on it: