WITHIN the city of Worcester lurk many dark secrets but one of the most grisly and gruesome objects has to be the Scold's Bridle, an instrument of torture used mainly on women.

This ugly and cruel object would certainly not go down well with today's feminists - the bridle was an instrument of punishment and humiliation and looks like something that belongs more on an animal (perhaps a wild horse being broken to the rider's will) than a human being.

The Scold's Bridle is contained behind a glass case - where it surely belongs - in Worcester Guildhall in the High Street. This medieval-looking muzzle was used on 'scolds', usually women, more recently than you might think.

Indeed, they were used until at least the early 1800s with one recorded use occurring even more recently.

To enter the Worcester Guildhall to gaze upon the bridle is already to experience something of the city's darker history - the grand doorway is flanked by statues of Charles I, who was beheaded, and his son, Charles II, who fled the city after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester on September 3, 1651.

In between the two kings, at the top of the doorway, is a head pinned up by his ears, popularly said to depict Oliver Cromwell, reputed to have made a deal with the Devil before his victory in the last battle of the English Civil War.

Worcester News: CRUEL: The Scold's Bridle at Worcester Guildhall CRUEL: The Scold's Bridle at Worcester Guildhall (Image: James Connell/Newsquest)

The explanation within the curious cabinet, containing the bridle, reads: "The Scold's Bridle was first recorded in the 16th century as an instrument of punishment and humiliation.

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"It comprised of an iron muzzle in an iron framework, enclosing the head with a bridle-bit that slid into the mouth and pressed down on top of the tongue, as a compress. 

"It functioned to silence the wearer entirely, causing extreme pain and psychological trauma, to intimidate the wearer into submission. This brutal and medieval form of torture was primarily inflicted on women, though there are records of its use on men too, and generally upon persons of the lower classes, whose speech was deemed to be rude, riotous, troublesome or scolding."

The judgement on whether someone would have to wear the bridle would have been made by a local magistrate rather than the courts - some were based at the Guildhall.

By the early 19th century they were rarely used. However, the last recorded use was in Lancashire in 1856.

The Scold's Bridle on display in Worcester Guildhall is one of the few surviving examples across the country.