Gravelroots Petworth Prison
House of Correction
West Sussex
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Petworth Index
The Rother Valley
West Sussex, England


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Built 1788 - - Closed 1878
Demolished 1882.[1880?]
further view - possibly c1814
In 1849, Thomas Allard was sent to
Petworth gaol for begging & vagrancy.
He died on 'the wheel' within 4 months.
He was aged 16.

Petworth House of Correction
Petworth House of Correction c.1860
An engraving of Petworth prison as seen from the Tillington road, circa 1860

Timeline -
building commences
prison opened
William Phillips, Gov
John Mance, Gov.

William Linton, Gov.
prison closes
prison demolished
treadwheel outlawed

Associated -
Petworth index
John Mance

A cross section of the treadwheel
as used in Petworth prison

click to open
Prisoner in his cell turning a useless hand crank
Source: Mayhew, 1851-1862/1967, V4, p. 345 - c.1850

One of the first results of the philanthropic Act of 1782 for regulating prisons, procured at the instance of Mr. Howard, was the building, in 1785, of the house of correction at Petworth.

It was built on two storeys, over arcades - there was a cell for each prisoner, and the system of separate confinement was pursued here as successfully as at Horsham till the year 1816, when, in consequence of the increase of prisoners on the termination of the war, the structure of the prison was altered, and the prisoners were employed in the factory.

"The Penny Magazine" 1836

The Gaol, or house of correction for this division was built in 1787, on Howard's plan, but has been altered to the prevailing system - the female part of the prison has lately been much enlarged, and an infirmary added to it; a new house has also been built for the governor. A commodious police station, with lock-ups for prisoners, &c., has been erected adjoining the gaol. The police arrangements are under the county constabulary
1866 Post Office Directory

William Phillips, Governor of Petworth Gaol at the time of 'John Howard's visit'

1839 section of Pigotts directory of Sussex

John Mance, Governor
Robert Ferguson, Dep. Govr.
Roger Turner, surgeon

William Linton, Governor - - see also 1877
Rev. Alexander Coombe, chaplain
Roger Turner, surgeon
Mrs. Elizabeth Cosens, matron


The notorious Petworth House of Correction, designed by James Wyatt, was opened in 1788 to deliver hard labour and solitary confinement to, mostly petty, criminals. Vagrancy being the most common crime of the inmates.
Employed in Petworth 'gaol', as a method of punishment, was the 'treadwheel'. It had an ergometer designed by a Mr. Mance, who was employed at the prison, and in 1826 became Governor. With the harshest reputation he was also very religious and he believed it was his religious duty to stop prisoners reoffending and that he was performing 'Gods work'.
The wheel served no purpose other than punishment. Treading the wheel was similar to climbing a flight of stairs. Rules decreed that it turned 48 steps per minute and that each prisoner stepped through 11,340 feet, or just over 2 miles per day. This was the rough equivelent of climbing Mount Snowdon 3 times per day 6 days per week. The distance had to be achieved within a specified time, 10 hours in summer, 7 hours in winter. Time spent on the dreaded treadwheel was known as 'grinding the wind'.

If a person stumbled on the wheel they would be mangled, and many were. There was nothing to hold on to, as even the handwheel turned also. As well as the treadmill for men only, Petworth had one other hard-labour machine for men and women, called the 'crank'. 30 prisoners at a time had

click to enlarge
The Crank, hard-labour for men & women
to each turn a handle against a resisting pressure - 13,200 times in a 10 hour day.
There was also a "silent & separate" system employed here, even the warders had to wear soft shoes. All prisoners were kept apart and had no communication with any other person. They were only allowed to speak in answer to the questions of prison officials.
From 1826 conditions for the inmates became even harsher under Prison Governor John Mance, who once proudly stated "I now have a notorious vagrant in my custody who declared to me that he would rather go three months in Lewes [prison] than one in this house, and he assures me to my great satisfaction that he will never come into this division of the county again".
As a punishment the 'wheel' was first recommended by the Penitentiary Act of 1779.
It was finally outlawed in 1898.

Today little is left to suggest that a prison ever existed and most residents of Petworth are unaware that their town once hosted such an establishment. Part of the police station was associated with the prison and if you search the wall of the parking bay near the Court House, you can see bricks with the names of prisoners scratched into them, from what was the wall in part of a solitary confinement cell at the prison. After the prison was demolished, these bricks were used to build the wall outside the magistrates court. The wall was saved from demolition, after an appeal from some of Petworths residents & the Parish Council. Petworth Parish Council led the fight to save the wall and its chairman Andrew Howard stated that "On a personal note two of my ancestors were imprisoned in Petworth jail in l843 when they were just children, for three months hard labour, accused of running away from Chichester workhouse wearing workhouse clothing."

Sarah Patton, 2009 Sarah Patton, 2009
photos -Sarah Patton, 2009

In 1877, William Gardiner, aged 28, a journeyman butcher from Chichester, died after only 9 days in Petworth Jail. He was the Great Grandfather of Pamela Green. She has collected, and kindly donated to us, press cuttings from the West Sussex Gazette of 1877 describing his Trial and Inquest.
More on William, his Trial & Inquest

John Mance, governor 1824 - 1856
  2. New Petworth Police station built
  on the grounds originally occupied by
  the offices for the chief warden of the
  once adjoining Petworth prison

  3. Petworth gaol turnkey in
  County Court 1854

  Petworth Index | Police Index

  Rother Valley Trail Link     Vintage Trail Link
enlarge Petworth Police Officers c.1878 - 1881
click to enlarge

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