Originally collected, aptly, from William Davey in the Beaminster Workhouse in Dorset in 1906. The Treadwheel was used in prisons from the early 1800's as a way to make use of prisoners efforts by turning a mill wheel or pumping water but sometimes they were made to walk for 10 hours a day on the great wheel for no other purpose than their punishment. We have very few prison songs in the English repertoire and the imagery in this one is particularly strong.
We team our version up with an Irish polka (Tralee Gaol) and an Appalachian fiddle tune (clinch mountain backstep).
Gaol Song/Treadmill Song (Roud 1077)
“Step in, young man, I know your face,
It's nothing in your favour.
A little time I'll give to you:
Six months unto hard labour.”
Chorus (after each verse):
To me Hip! fol the day, Hip! fol the day,
To me Hip! fol the day, fol the digee, oh!
At six o'clock our screw comes in,
With a bunch of keys all in his hand.
“Come, come, my lads, step up and grind.
Tread the wheel till breakfast time.”
And at half past six our skilly comes in,
Sometimes thick and sometimes thin,
But devil a word we must not say
Or it's bread and water all next day.
Eight o clock the bell doth ring.
Into the chapel we must swing,
Down on our bended knees to fall.
May the Lord have mercy on us all.
Now Saturday's come, I'm sorry to say,
Sunday is our starvation day.
Our hobnail boots and tin mugs too,
They are not shined nor they will not do.
Six long months are over and past,
And I will return to my bonny, bonny lass.
I'll leave them turnkeys all behind,
The wheel to tread and the corn to grind,