In around 1817 a surprising scene unfolded before a crowd of parishioners gathered in the churchyard of the peaceful village of Crantock. What happened that afternoon became the stuff of local legend and visitors to this quiet coastal church can still buy postcards relating the story to this day. This unusual episode is the hilarious story of the last man to be held in Crantock’s stocks.
William Tinney was said to have been born into a notorious family living at West Pentire, a headland close to the village of Crantock on Cornwall’s north coast. William’s father was a farmer, also called William, who was eeking out a living on a few rough acres but, it is said, he supplemented his income by being an incorrigible smuggler.
William himself is recorded as a “vagabond” perhaps referring to the fact that he did not have steady work, rather than him travelling extensively, as it appears that until the events of 1817 he didn’t stray far from the parish of Crantock where he had been born.
But our William Tinney comes across as a jovial kind of fellow and it appears that although the community may have despaired at his choices they did not dislike him. He was it seems a loveable rogue.
The Crime & Punishment
Sometime in 1817 William Tinney is said to have robbed “with violence” an elderly widow from nearby Cubert. It isn’t clear what he took from her but it can’t have been very much and the so called violence must have been fairly minor because, rather than send him before a magistrate, the community decided on his punishment themselves.
Tinney was to be placed in the village stocks to think about what he had done and to face the ridicule of his peers.
Crantock’s stocks are said to date from the 17th century and are just one surviving example of hundreds of their type that were used across the length and breadth of Britain. This kind of corporal punishment had been popular since at least the 15th century, though it was mainly used amongst the so called lower classes. The kind of crimes that were punishable with a spell in the stocks were usually quite minor, such as drunkenness, cheating at cards or blasphemy.
Although the use of stocks is said to have died out in around the end of the 18th century they continued to be a part of life in rural areas, such as Cornwall, for much longer.
"I paid my price for finding out
Nor ever grudged the price I paid
But sat in clink without my boots
Admiring how the world was made."
(Poem carved on Crantock’s stocks)
So William Tinney was placed in Crantock’s stocks, the length of his punishment is unclear. On occasions a person would be held for a few hours every day for a number of days, or for a day a week for a number of weeks. They were rarely held for an extended period without being able to move around. Anyway, whatever Tinney’s punishment was he was clearly not keen on seeing it through.
Much of the detail of the events that follow were related to Rev. George Metford Parsons in 1896 by one of his elderly parishioners, Richard Chegwidden. This man had lived in the village all of his life and as a boy of about 10 years old had witnessed this event.
The Crantock stocks were positioned inside the tower of the parish church, St Carantoc, at that time. This old church stands on the site of a chapel that was said to have been founded by Saint Carantoc himself sometime in the 5th century. Carantoc was the son of a Welsh chieftain and had arrived in Cornwall in a coracle accompanied by his pet dove.
William Tinney’s punishment was to be locked in the church tower, supposedly secured by his ankles in the stocks. But according to the witness, Richard Chegwidden, it would appear that Tinney had ‘a friend on the inside’ – someone that made sure that the stocks were not quite as securely fastened as they should have been.
Within a short time of being locked into the wooden stocks the figure of William Tinney suddenly appeared on the roof of the church tower! Word spread like wildfire and the villagers ran to see what all the commotion was. As they craning their necks, watching from the graveyard below, they saw Tinney produce the long rope. He had somehow cut it from one of the church bells and now used this to lower himself onto the nave roof and from there to the ground.
“There was quite a crowd in the churchyard below and it says a great deal about Tinney’s popularity that no one made a move to apprehend him. In silence they watched him drop from the nave to the choir roof and from there reach the churchyard itself.”Eleanor Inglefield, Cornish Guardian, 8th January 1970
William Tinney took of running, and it appears that no one gave chase.
After his daring escape from the church William Tinney is said to have high tailed it out of Crantock and was never seen again. And this was the last time that Crantock’s stocks were ever used.
Some rumours say that he jumped on the first ship that he could find and made a new life for himself in America. But in Crantock Tinney’s escapades became the stuff of legend, so much so that the Rev. Parsons commissioned a plaque to be made by the wood carvers Davey and Russell’s of Bristol to record his story.
That plaque still sits behind the old worn out stocks at the back of the church to this day where an imagined portrait of William Tinney can also be seen.