The most entertaining Women's Morris side in Herefordshire

History

Who was Jenny Pipes?


Jenny Pipes was the last woman in England to be ducked as a legal punishment (so far).

Also known as Jane Corran by virtue (if that’s the right word) of her marriage to John Corran, she was a member of the poor community of Leominster in the early 19th Century. She was just able to eke out a living independent of the workhouse but that was no thanks to him.

Not one to keep her opinions to herself she made some pretty defamatory accusations about him; accusations which were nevertheless probably true. Her brother-in-law, in whose house they were living, took exception to this and reported her to the local magistrates.

History does not record what side of the bed the magistrate who heard her case got out of that morning, but suffice it to say that he had little time or sympathy for the common wench now brought before him accused of being a scold. He decided that an example should be set. This was a case for that instrument of humiliation and torture which had not been used for years – the ducking stool.

She was sentenced to be paraded through the streets secured in the seat of the machine high above the jeering, mocking crowd that had gathered. The route of her disgrace lead, embarrassingly for her, past her own home and down to the banks of the Kenwater river. To cries of “Duck the scold” from the excited crowd she was submerged in the icy water twice.

The idea of the ducking was to curb the tongue of the offender; the ducking to continue until the culprit either gave up, was exhausted or lost consciousness. Jenny Pipes was ducked twice and was still hurling torrents of abuse at the magistrates when the punishment was stopped by which time the crowd, having had their entertainment for the day, began to disperse.

All this happened in 1809. One wonders if Sarah Leake was part of that crowd. A few years later she too was given the ducking stool treatment, being paraded through the town but not actually ducked as the water was too shallow.

Even then Leominster’s enlightened and forward thinking (for the 11th Century) magistrates had not finished. In 1849 James Morgan was fastened in the stocks for a few hours for failure to pay a £5 fine for drunkenness.

The spectacle attracted a crowd of some 2 – 3000 spectators, some of whom gave him something to drink. And we’re not talking fizzy lemonade here. He was released when his fine was paid by the local shopkeepers whose businesses were being disrupted by his presence, by which time he was more drunk then when he incurred the fine.

However, as a tribute to Jenny Pipes’ spirit, the side decided to use her name and wrote a dance in her memory which symbolizes the movement of the ducking stool and the rippling of the water.

Nowadays we leave out the torrents of verbal abuse, but should the side ever be asked to dance before the local magistrates . . . ?