Crime and Punishment through time

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Punishments through time

This page will provide information about punishments through time. It is intended that at least one example will be added every week. Punishments will be listed in chronological order. Hopefully this page will be able to provide examples of punishments that are peculiar to different areas and it is hoped that examples of specific cases can also be added. Please feel free to let me know of any examples that would enhance this list.

Ancient and Medieval. Quartering. An horrific punishment reserved for the worst of crimes. Last used in France on Robert-François Damiens for attempting to assassinate the King.

Medieval. The Boot. Fancy having boiling water poured into knee length boots? Having feet roasted over a fire? In the Middle Ages 'Boot' punishments were often used to punish or to torture people.

Medieval. Brodequins. Imagine having wooden boards strapped tightly to either side of your leg. Not nice to start with but the torture begins when wedges are hammered into the gaps between the board and your leg.

Medieval. Balls Torture. Iron balls are attached to the wrists and ankles, the rest is, well, painful!

Medieval. The Pillory. Head, hands and often feet are secured to a pillory. The victim is unable to move and the crowd get to throw whatever they want at the criminal.

Medieval. The Stocks. Similar to the pillory but as this punishment was reserved for lesser crimes only the head and hands are secured.

Medieval. Thumbscrews. A thumbscrew is essentially a vice which can be placed onto fingers, thumbs or toes. Tightening the vice increases pain and was an effective way of extracting information during interrogations.

Medieval. Water Torture. Water torture comes in several forms. This link talks about forced ingestion of water but there are other methods, some of which are still, controversially, used today. See this page for some further examples.

Medieval. Breaking on the Wheel / The Catherine Wheel. There a number of ways in which the breaking wheel was used. In essence it involves the condemed being spreadeagled on a large wheel. The wheel is turned and limbs broken by objects placed through the gaps between the spokes.

c1215. Cucking and Ducking Stools. Used to publiclly humiliation.

1241. 'Hung, Drawn and Quartered' ""The greatest and most grievous punishment used in England for such as offend against the State is drawing from the prison to the place of execution upon an hurdle or sled, where they are hanged till they be half dead, and then taken down, and quartered alive; after that, their members and bowels are cut from their bodies, and thrown into a fire, provided near hand and within their own sight, even for the same purpose." William Harrison.

1286. The Halifax Gibbet. Halifax probably wasn't the best place for a criminal to be apprehended. Why? Yorkshire's very own guillotine was put to use... the first recorded execution on the Gibbet was in 1286, the last in 1650.

14th Century. Burnt at the Stake. Largely used for people convicted of heresy.

1547. Branding. The Statute of Vagabonds stated that a vagabond should be branded with the letter V, a fighter (brawler) the letter F. Runaway slaves who were recaptured were often branded with the letter S.

16th Century. Scavengers Daughter. This device was designed to compress the body.

16th to 19th centuries. The Scolds Bridle. The ultimate gag.

1605. A Yorkshire Tragedy. A gripping tale of a family in turmoil. Read about murder, sentencing and execution in early 17th century Yorkshire.

1615. The Moot Hall, Leeds. The Moot Hall in Leeds was built as a combination of Gaol and courthouse. Outside it stood the pillory and stocks. This link provides information about the Hall and events that occured in and around it.

18th century. Read all about it! Read contemporary accounts of sentences handed down in Leeds for a range of crimes.


1864. A first and last public execution at Armley Gaol. Joseph Myers was the first, and last man to be publically executed in Leeds. Read about his attempt to avoid the hangman and accounts of the execution on this site.

1914. The Richmond 16. See how conscienscious objectors were punished during the First World War. Involving a return to the use of dungeons and a lot of hard labour!

Manchester Executions. A comprehensive list of all executions undertaken at Strangeways prison, Manchester, as punishment for Murder.

Coming soon:

Barrel Pillory

Bell Collar



Cats Paw

Drunkards Cloak

Ear Chopper

Foot Press


Gibbet (not the Halifax one, the cage)

Hanging Cage

Iron Collar

Iron Maiden

Judas Cradle


Spanish Chair

Punishment Collar

Electric Chair

Firing Squad

Field Punishment Number 1









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