1735: Murderer pressed to death under 400 pounds

In 1735, John Weekes of Fittleworth, Sussex was arrested for highway robbery and murder. According to court records, Weekes had been caught red-handed with “several spots of blood and part of the [stolen] goods… found upon him.”

Weekes appeared at the county assizes in Lewes, where he attempted to avoid justice by feigning stupidity and an inability to speak. Unfortunately for Weekes, the Lewes court’s method for dealing with persons who refused to plead or testify was peine forte et dure (‘hard and coercive punishment’).

The judge ordered that Weekes:

“..be taken back to the prison whence you cameā€¦ that you be laid upon your back on the bare floor with a cloth around your loins but elsewhere naked; that there be set upon your body a weight or iron as great as you can bear – even greater. That you have no sustenance save on the first day three morsels of the coarsest barley [bread]; on the second day three draughts of stagnant water; on the third day bread as before; next water as before – until you die.”

Most pressings were conducted in dungeons but Weekes was tortured and executed in public, in the marketplace in Horsham. According to contemporary reports he was laid on his back and stone weights were piled on top of him in 100-hundred point increments, one added every few minutes.

Within an hour, Weekes lay under 400 pounds of boulders:

“He was [almost] dead, having all the agonies of death upon him. Then the executioner, who weighs 16 or 17 stone, lay down upon the board which was over him, and adding to the weight, killed him in an instant.”

Other reports suggest that Weekes was finished off when several onlookers sat or stood on his weights. Whether they did this to despatch him out of sympathy, or simply for jest, is not recorded.

Sources: Various inc. London Magazine, August 1735. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.