The punishments given seem quite harsh compared to petty crime to-day, but it didn't always stop petty criminals. It was quite common for some cases to be settled out of court by mutual consent of the complainant and defendant. Many of the cases were dismissed or the offender would be admonished and warned not to offend again. The majority of offenders were fined with costs. Other more severe punishments were to be sent to the stocks which were an instrument of punishment in which the offenders would sit with their ankles held fast through holes. They would be exposed to public humiliation and would often be pelted with rotten food or missiles. Stocks had been around for centuries and were used mainly for drunks, rowdies and other minor offenders. The expression "To be made a laughing stock" originates from this punishment. The Stocks were situated at Cuttleby, near St. Peters School. Those sentenced to be whipped publically would have been exposed again to public scrutiny usually in the Market Place, or privately in the confines of a cell via the use of a whipping post. Many more were sent to the House of Correction (gaol) usually with hard labour.
For men the hard labour would probably have been on a treadwheel, the women would have to pick oakum, work in the laundry plus other menial jobs within the prison. There not being any suitable prison accommodation other than 'lock-ups' in the area in the early days they would have been sent either to the House of Correction at Louth or Spilsby, later to Lincoln or Hull.
Women Picking Oakum
The treadwheel was a massive wooden wheel which could hold about a dozen or so men and was turned by the act of climbing its steps. The prisoner would spend an average of 6 hours a day on the treadwheel. He would need “to lift his body up three feet at each step” - “he would climb 57 steps in a minute”. The precise rigour of the wheel depended on the height the prisoners were required to climb. This varied from 6,000 feet per day to over 16,000 feet.
The Treadmill at The House of Correction
Picking Oakum was carried out by prisoners in their cells. Oakum is old tarred ships’ ropes from an inch upwards in thickness. The rope which was set solid had to be pulled apart strand by strand and the tar removed until each strand was very fine. Prisoners were expected to pick three pounds of oakum per day, but this was hardly ever achieved even when working up to fourteen hours a day. The finished product was used for caulking wooden walls, and portions went to fishing ports, but most was re-spun into ropes and sold. This is probably where the expression ‘money for old rope’ comes from.