Source 2a

Prisoners on a treadwheel at Pentonville Prison 1895 (COPY 1/420)

2. Look at Source 2a and 2b.

The work on the treadwheel was to hold on to a bar and walk up the wheel. You did ten minutes on and five off, for eight hours, climbing the equivalent of over 8,000 feet in the process.

The prisoner in source 2b is doing hard labour in his cell. He would have to turn the crank in his cell a set number of times to earn his food. Unlike the treadmill, which was used to power machinery in the prison, the crank simply turned paddles in a box of sand.

You were not allowed to talk during these jobs. This was strictly enforced; the punishment book at Coldbath Fields records 11,624 offences against this rule in one year.

  • Use Source 1 to explain what machinery the treadwheel might have been used to drive
  • Which of these two jobs do you think was the most exhausting?
  • Which was the most boring?
  • What was the purpose of making convicts do these jobs?
  • What was the point of the ‘No talking’ rule?
  • These photographs show how hard labour was enforced at two different prisons. Why do you think they did not all use the same method?
  • Do you think this kind of prison life would make people change their ways when they came out?