The Morley Brank or Scold’s Bridle

The Morley Brank.
This photograph was taken by Kitty Ross for Leeds Museums and Galleries and is licensed under Creative Commons BY NC SA

One of the items that has attracted most publicity and interest in the Abbey House “Crime and Punishment” exhibition is the “scold’s bridle” or “brank”. 

The “Brank” was a cruel device used to punish those who spoke out of turn (probably mostly used on women).  The earliest reference to its use in England seems to be from Macclesfield in 1623, but there are records in Scotland that refer to women being “branket” in 1574.


The Yorkshire Illustrated Monthly No. 6, Vol. 1, May 1884
This photograph was taken for Leeds Museums and Galleries and is licensed under Creative Commons BY NC SA
The brank was an iron framework that was placed on the head to enclose it in a kind of cage.  It had in front an iron plate which was either sharpened or covered with spines and situated to be placed in the mouth of the victim so that she could not move her tongue without injury.    With the brank on her head she was then conducted through the streets, led by a chain held by one of the town’s officials.  In some towns she would have been chained to the pillory, whipping post or market cross. 


“She thus suffered for telling her mind to some petty tyrant in office, or speaking plainly of a wrong doer, or for taking to task a lazy, perhaps drunken husband” (Article in Yorkshire Illustrated Monthly  May 1884)


The same 1884 article pointed out that:
“The use of the instrument was not sanctioned by law, but was altogether illegal.  To everybody it must be a matter of deep regret that the brank should ever have been used at all.”

The brank from Morley is slightly less vicious than some of those found elsewhere.  The tongue plate is rough but not spiked.  It was collected by the Morley historian Norrison Scatcherd (1780-1853) who left it to the Leeds Museum where it has been in the collection since 1863.

The late Liz Pirie, Curator of Archaeology at Leeds City Museum, wearing the Morley brank in 1985
This photograph was taken by Leeds City Council Dept. of Planning for Leeds Museums and Galleries and is licensed under Creative Commons BY NC SA
The scold’s bridle caught the imagination of the local and national press when the Crime and Punishment exhibition opened at Abbey House Museum in January 2016. 
Yorkshire Evening Post
 The Sun
Daily Mail
Daily Mirror


Kitty Ross, Curator of Leeds History

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