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Treadwheel: Map


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The word treadmill, originally a type of mill operated by a person treading steps of a wheel to grind grain, now designates a piece of indoor sporting equipment for running without moving any distance.

A treadwheel is a form of animal engine typically powered by humans. It may resemble a water wheel in appearance, and can be worked either by a human treading paddles set into its circumference (treadmill), or by a human or animal standing inside it (treadwheel).

Uses of treadwheels included raising water, to power cranes, or grind grain. They were used extensively in the Greek and Roman world, such as in the reverse overshot water-wheel used for dewatering purposes.

They were used in prisons as penal labor in the early Victorian period in Britainmarker as a form of punishment. According to The Times in 1827, and reprinted in William Hone's Table-Book in 1838, the amount prisoners walked per day on average varied, from 6,600 feet at Lewesmarker to 17,000 feet in just ten hours during the summertime at Warwickmarker gaol.

A treadwheel was also used in a submarine in 1851 to pump air to change buoyancy and thus make the vessel dive or rise.

Treadwheel locations


  • Readingmarker - a treadmill was erected in the Prison in 1828 and removed in the 1850s. This treadmill was used to mill flour.

  • Aylesburymarker - a treadmill was erected in the old gaol in 1820, and another treadmill was erected with the new gaol that was built in 1845. this treadmill seems to have been a composite one, working as a treadwheel and treadmill at the same time.

  • Knutsfordmarker - a treadwheel was in use in the House of Correction in 1843.

  • Bodminmarker - a treadwheel was in use in the Gaol from 1827-48. It was used to grind grain.
  • Penzancemarker - a treadwheel was in use in the gaol in 1840.


  • Bristolmarker - a treadwheel crane at the docks was known as "Padmore's Great Crane."


  • Huntingdonmarker - A treadwheel was in use at the Prison to pump water in 1831.


  • Liverpoolmarker - a treadmill was installed in the gaol by Sir William Cubitt.

  • Louthmarker - a treadwheel was in use in the House of Correction in 1788.


  • Norwichmarker - a treadmill was built in the old Norwich Gaol by millwright Thomas Smithdale in 1875 at a cost of £273.10s.0d, replacing an earlier one burnt down in 1874. (Norfolk Chronicle, 24 April 1875).
  • Swaffhammarker - a treadmill was installed in the gaol by Sir William Cubitt.

  • Oxfordmarker - There was a treadwheel in the Castle, which was used as a prison. The building that house it is extant.


  • Bury St. Edmundsmarker - a treadmill was installed in the gaol by Sir William Cubitt in 1819.


  • Lewesmarker - a treadmill was installed in the House of Correction. It was in use in 1835 and had Mance's ergometer.
  • Petworthmarker - a treadmill was installed in the Prison. It had an ergometer designed by a Mr. Mance, who was employed at the prison.

  • Warwickmarker - a treadmill was used in the Gaol. It was in use in 1848.

  • Appleby - a treadmill was used in the County Jail until it closed in 1879.


  • Worcestermarker - a treadmill was installed in the gaol by Sir William Cubitt.

  • Beverleymarker - a treadwheel was used in the Minstermarker to raise building materials. It is extant.
  • Driffieldmarker - a treadwheel was used to raise water from a well at Burton Agnes Hallmarker. It is extant.
  • Riponmarker - the Gaol, later a police station and now a museum, housed a treadwheel.



  • Inveraraymarker - a treadmill was used in the gaol;, now a museum.


  • Beaumarismarker - a treadmill is preserved in the gaol (built 1829). It was used to pump water and is the only one in existence inside a prison in the UK.

  • Carmarthenmarker - a treadmill was erected in the County Gaol in 1832.



The Old Windmillmarker at Wickham Park, Spring Hill, Brisbane was originally powered by a treadmill when built in 1824.


Treignymarker, Yonnemarker
Treadwheel crane at Guédelon

  • A reconstruction of a treadwheel crane can be seen in action at the medieval construction site at Guédelonmarker. The object of the project is to build a fortress castle using 13th century materials and techniques. The treadwheel crane is used to lift mortar, ashlar blocks, rubble, and wood in the building of this unique castle. It can lift up to 500 kg of building materials. A non - period wooden braking device was designed, built, and added to the treadwheel crane by the on site carpenters at Guédelonmarker for safety reasons.


Treadwheel crane, Lüneberg
  • A treadwheel crane is preserved at Lünebergmarker.

United States

Menard County, Illinoismarker

Cited references

  1. "Tread Mills", in The Every-day Book and Table Book; or, Everlasting Calendar of Popular Amusements, Sports, Pastimes, Ceremonies, Manners, Customs, and Events, Each of the Three Hundred and Sixty-Five Days, in Past and Present Times; Forming a Complete History of the Year, Months, and Seasons, and a Perpetual Key to the Almanac, Including Accounts of the Weather, Rules for Health and Conduct, Remarkable and Important Anecdotes, Facts, and Notices, in Chronology, Antiquities, Topography, Biography, Natural History, Art, Science, and General Literature; Derived from the Most Authentic Sources, and Valuable Original Communication, with Poetical Elucidations, for Daily Use and Diversion. Vol III., ed. William Hone, (London: 1838) p 755.

Further reading

  • Animal-powered Machines, J. Kenneth Major. Shire Album 128. Shire Publications, 1985. ISBN 0-85263-710-1

See also

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