C1823

View of the Tread Mill for the employment of prisoners, Erected at the House of Correction at Brixton, by Mr. Wm. Cubitt of Ipswich. Recommended by the Committee of the Society for the Improvement of Prison Discipline &C.

“And we’re all treading, tread, tread, treading, And we’re all treading at fam’d Brixton Mill”.(Nineteenth century street ballad) View of the treadmill at Brixton as recommended by the Society for the Improvement of Prison. In 1822 the Society for the … Read Full Description

$A 150

S/N: TGMAG-LEG-1823–187148
(D005)
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Details

Full Title:

View of the Tread Mill for the employment of prisoners, Erected at the House of Correction at Brixton, by Mr. Wm. Cubitt of Ipswich. Recommended by the Committee of the Society for the Improvement of Prison Discipline &C.

Date:

C1823

Artist:

Unknown

Condition:

Narrow margins, with folds as issued.

Technique:

Copper engraving.

Image Size: 

160mm 
x 187mm
AUTHENTICITY
View of the Tread Mill for the employment of prisoners, Erected at the House of Correction at Brixton, by Mr. Wm. Cubitt of Ipswich. Recommended by the Committee of the Society for the Improvement of Prison Discipline &C. - Antique Print from 1823

Genuine antique
dated:

1823

Description:

“And we’re all treading, tread, tread, treading, And we’re all treading at fam’d Brixton Mill”.(Nineteenth century street ballad)

View of the treadmill at Brixton as recommended by the Society for the Improvement of Prison. In 1822 the Society for the Improvement of Prison Discipline, the most influential lobbyist for penal reform of the time, published a drawing of a dozen or so prisoners ranged upon a large, elongated wheel at the recently opened Surrey house of correction in the village of Brixton. It was accompanied by a detailed description of this new form of punishment, christened the treadmill. The article was to be the catalyst for its proliferation across the country.

The Surrey house of correction had been built in 1819, a time when hard labour in prison was emerging as the popular form of punishment in the place of public displays of justice such as the pillory and the stocks. But it was also a period of disquiet about how prisons were run. They had been exposed as overcrowded, disease-ridden places where inmates spent their time in idleness, to be found drunk, playing games and gambling. It scandalised a public cowed by a seemingly unrelenting rise in crime. The men, who had commissioned the house of correction at Brixton and the Surrey magistrates, wanted it to be the envy of the land. A modern prison, though, demanded a modern means of punishment. Hard labour most commonly involved picking oakum, pulling apart old rope. Critics argued it was difficult to discipline and did little to deter. But then news came to the magistrates of a system of labour newly employed in a house of correction in Suffolk. It was said to be easy to run, conducive to good discipline and productive. Moreover, it was work the prisoners dreaded.

The treadmill was the brainchild of William Cubitt, an engineer who had been disturbed to see prisoners at his local gaol in Bury St Edmunds idly loitering around. He imagined a kind of elongated water wheel with prisoners made to perpetually climb its revolving boards. His final design consisted of two wheels employing up to 30 people at a time. Ingeniously, the wheels connected to millstones. The prisoners were not only being punished, but helping to make their daily bread. Impressed, the Surrey magistrates commissioned a design from Cubitt for a treadmill at the house of correction in Brixton. It was fully working by the end of 1821. Its ten wheels could occupy up to a hundred men, women and children at a time. They were connected to two giant millstones. A miller and baker were employed and the surplus loaves distributed to the other prisons of Surrey. For the Society for the Improvement of Prison Discipline the treadmill was a potential panacea for a penal system struggling to reinvent itself after centuries of stagnation: “Not only can every prisoner work on the mill”, it wrote, “but every prisoner so employed must work”. And it was a deterrent: “hard labour, and spare diet . . . have already rendered the name of Brixton a terror to offenders in the vicinity.”

 

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