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The Tread-Mill at Brixton, The Mirror, Saturday, November 2, 1822.

The Tread-Mill at Brixton, Saturday, November 2, 1822.

The Tread-Mill at Brixton, that 'terror to evil-doers,' has excited so much attention, that the Proprietors of the mirror think a correct view and description of it, cannot fail of being acceptable to their readers. The treadmill is the invention of Mr. Cubitt*, of Ipswich, and is considered a great improvement in Prison discipline; so much so, that since its beneficial effects have been experienced at Brixton, mills of a similar construction have been erected at Cold-Bath-fields, and several places in the country.

The above engraving exhibits a party of prisoners in the act of working the Brixton tread-mill, of which it is a correct representation. The view is taken from a corner of one of the ten airing-yards of the prison, all of which radiate from the Governor's house in the centre; so that from the window of his room he commands a complete view into all the yards. A building behind the tread-wheel shed is the mill-house, containing the necessary machinery for grinding corn and dressing the flour, also rooms for stoving it, &c. On the right side of this building a pipe is seen passing up to the roof, on which is a large cast-iron reservoir, capable of holding some thousand gallons of water, for the use of the prison. This reservoir is filled by means of forcing-pump machinery below, connected with the principal axis which works the machinery of the mill:—this axis or shaft passes under the pavement of the several yards, and, working by means of universal joints, at every turn, communicates with the tread-wheel of each class.

This wheel, which is represented in the centre of the engraving, is exactly similar to a common water-wheel; the tread-boards upon its circumference are, however, of considerable length, so as to allow sufficient standing room for a row of from ten to twenty persons upon the -wheel. Their weight, the first moving power of the machine, produces the greatest effect when applied upon the circumference of the wheel at or near the level of its axle; to secure therefore this mechanical advantage, a screen of boards is fixed up in an inclined position above the wheel, in order to prevent the prisoners from climbing or stepping up higher than the level required. A hand-rail is seen fixed upon this screen, by holding which they retain their upright position upon the revolving wheel; the nearest side of which is exposed to view in the plate, in order to represent its cylindrical form much more distinctly than could otherwise have been done. In the original, however, both sides are closely boarded up, so that the prisoners have no access to the interior of the wheel, and all risk of injury whatever is prevented.

By means of steps, the gang of prisoners ascend at one end, and when the requisite number range themselves upon the wheel, it commences its revolution. The effort, then, to every individual is simply that of ascending an endless flight of steps, their combined weight acting upon every successive stepping board, precisely as a stream of water upon the float-boards of a water-wheel.

During this operation, each prisoner gradually advances from the end at which he mounted towards the opposite end of the wheel, from whence the last man, taking his turn, descends for rest (see the Plate), another prisoner immediately mounting as before to fill up the number required, without stopping the machine. The interval of rest may then be portioned to each man, by regulating the number of those required to work the wheel with the whole number of the gang; thus, if twenty out of twenty-four are obliged to be upon the wheel, it will give to each man intervals of rest amounting to 12 minutes in every hour of labour. Again, by varying the number of men upon the wheel, or the work inside the mill, so as to increase or diminish its velocity, the degree of hard labour or exercise to the prisoner may also be regulated. At Brixton, the diameter of the wheel being five feet, and revolving twice in a minute, the space stepped over by each man is 2193 feet, or 731 yards per hour.

To provide regular and suitable employment for prisoners sentenced to hard labour, has been attended with considerable difficulty in many parts of the kingdom: the invention of the Discipline Mill has removed the difficulty, and it is confidently hoped, that as its advantages and effects become better known, the introduction of the Mill will be universal in Houses of Correction. As a species of prison labour, it is remarkable for its simplicity. It requires no previous instruction; no taskmaster is necessary to watch over the work of the prisoners, neither are materials or instruments put into their hands that are liable to waste or misapplication, or subject to wear and tear : the internal machinery of the Mill, being inaccessible to the prisoners, is placed under the management of skilful and proper persons, one or two at most being required to attend a process which keeps in steady and constant employment from ten to two hundred or more prisoners at one and the same time; which can be suspended and renewed as often as the regulations of the prison render it necessary, and which imposes equality of labour on every individual employed, no one upon the wheel being able in the least degree to avoid his proportion.

The arrangement of the wheels in the yards radiating from the governor's central residence, places, the prisoners thus employed under very good inspection—an object known to be of the utmost importance in prison management. At the Brixton House of Correction, with the exception of the very few confined by the casualties of sickness or debility, all, the prisoners are steadily employed under the eye of the governor during a considerable part of the day.

The classification also of the prisoners, according to offences, &c. may be adhered to in the adoption of these discipline wheels; the same wheel, or the same connected shafts, can be easily made to pass into distinct compartments, in which the several classes may work in separate parties. In the prison from which the annexed drawing is taken, a tread-wheel is erected in each of the six yards, by which the inconvenience and risk of removing a set of prisoners from one part of the prison to another is obviated.

As the mechanism of these Tread-Mills is not of a complicated nature, the regular employment they afford is not likely to be frequently suspended for want of repairs to the machinery; and should the supply of corn, &c. at any time fall off, it is not necessary that the labour of the prisoners should be suspended, nor can they be aware of the circumstance: the supply of hard labour may therefore be considered as almost unfailing.

It is unnecessary to occupy much time in proving the advantage which the invention of the Stepping-Mill presents as a species of preventive punishment. Although but very recently introduced, and hitherto but sparingly brought into action, the effects of its discipline have in every instance proved eminently useful in decreasing the number of commitments. As a corrective punishment, the discipline of the Stepping-Mill has had a most salutary effect upon the prisoners, and is not likely to be easily forgotten; while it is an occupation which by no means interferes with, nor is calculated to lessen the value of, those branches of prison regulation which provide for the moral and religious improvement of the criminal.

By an excellent contrivance, when the machinery of the mill has attained its proper speed, certain balls rise by their centrifugal force, so as to draw a box below the reach of a bell-handle, which will then cease to ring a bell, placed in some convenient situation for the purpose. But should the men at the wheels cease to keep up the requisite speed in the mill- work, the balls will descend, and a projecting pin on the box, striking the handle, placed in the proper situation for that purpose, will continue to ring the bell, till they go on again properly; and by this means, a certain check will be kept on the labourers, and the governor or taskmaster apprised, even at a distance, that the full work is not performed.

*This gentleman's name has given rise to some jokes on the subject, among such of the prisoners as can laugh at their own crimes, who say, they are punished by the cubit.

 

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