Dartmoor Prison – An Unusual Holiday Sight

You Can Learn About the Intriguing History of Dartmoor Prison at the Prison Museum :

Dartmoor Prison Follow Me on Pinterest

Dartmoor Prison © Travel Signposts

It’s not common that a high security prison should become a topic on your holiday sightseeing itinerary. Our morning’s travel takes us on a visit to the wild and open moorland of the Dartmoor National Park in Devon.  As we drive past Yulverton towards Princetown for our morning stop, we hear about Dartmoor Prison, once notorious for holding some of Britain’s most dangerous prisoners.

History of Dartmoor Prison

Dartmoor Prison was built at the beginning of the 19th century to hold French prisoners-of-war. When Britain was at war with Napoleonic France in 1805, the prisoners of war were initially held on large decommissioned ships called hulks along the south coast of England. There were six of these prison hulks in Plymouth which led to concerns that such a large number of volatile captives were being held so close to Plymouth’s Royal Naval Dockyard. An alternative location to hold these POWs was found on the wild and remote uplands of Dartmoor and French POWs were used to assist in building the prison.

The first group of French prisoners arrived in 1809, followed by American POWs in the war of 1812. When the French and American wars ended in 1815, most of the prisoners were repatriated.

Dartmoor Prison then became a convict jail in 1850 and during Victorian times, it had the reputation of being the hardest and most severe prison in England.

It’s early in the morning and cold and misty when we arrive at Princeton. Walking across a deserted playground, we are able to see the grey, depressing structures of Dartmoor Prison quite well through our camera lens. My initial thought was that this children’s playground is a bit too close for comfort to a prison, even if Dartmoor is now a Category C prison and no longer holds high-risk prisoners.

Dartmoor Prison Museum

Dartmoor Prison has an interesting history and for those who are curious about prison life and Dartmoor’s infamous inmates – from prisoners-of-war to conscientious objectors to dangerous convicts – you can visit the Dartmoor Prison Museum which is housed just past the main prison entrance. Dartmoor Prison Museum is unique as it is the only prison owned by H.M. Prison Service that is open to the public. At the museum you can even buy a range of goods made by the prisoners.  (Note: No photography is allowed inside the museum.)

As for me, I guess the long-distance view of the prison is sufficient!

Do you want more blog posts like this? Comment below telling me you want it...


  1. avatarBrian Hancox says

    Can someone tell me if prison convicts worked the quarries at dartmoor prison 1970’s sort of chain gang situation

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *