Wicklow People

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Recreated treadwheel an 18th century prison device Torture exhibit at Wicklow Gaol

Wicklow's Historic Gaol is home to a unique new attraction. The first treadwheel to be seen in Ireland in over a century has been reconstructed and is on display in the gaol in Wicklow town.

The treadwheel was a form of punishment in the penal system throughout the 19th century. The life size structure is intended as a realistic facimile of the equipment used in prison life.

The treadwheel is based on a treadmill designed by William Cubbit, a Victorian engineer. He conceived the machine to improve efficiency in the manufacturing industry.

However, his invention was soon to be adopted into the prison system to turn the free labour of prisoners into profit. Cubitt's invention was to become known as 'terror to evil doers.'

Wicklow Gaol's treadwheel was built in the early 1820s. It was not attached to any mechanism used for drawing water or milling. It produced nothing but the sweat and tears of the prisoners who would tread the wheel for up to five gruelling house per day in complete silence.

By the 1880s the use of treadwheels and treadmills was widespread in the prison system. But down through the years, prison reform and closures resulted in the demise and eventual extinction of all the treadwheels in Ireland.

Now, however, visitors to Wicklow Gaol can once again tread the boards like thousands of prisoners before.

The can experience the elaborate form of punishment that had been lost with the passing of time.

Viewers of RTE's Nationwide programme will also soon be able to see the treadmill. To help launch the new attraction it will be featured on the programme in the near future.

The TV film crew spent the day in the gaol last week filming pupils from the local Holy Rosary primary school as they made their way through the gaol and onto the treadwheel.


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