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H M Prison Dartmoor: Inner Gateway, Former Guard's Rooms, Carriage Way and Perimeter Wall

A Grade II Listed Building in Princetown, Devon

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Latitude: 50.5496 / 50°32'58"N

Longitude: -3.9961 / 3°59'45"W

OS Eastings: 258683

OS Northings: 74111

OS Grid: SX586741

Mapcode National: GBR Q2.VZ6H

Mapcode Global: FRA 27JM.11B

Plus Code: 9C2RG2X3+VH

Entry Name: H M Prison Dartmoor: Inner Gateway, Former Guard's Rooms, Carriage Way and Perimeter Wall

Listing Date: 28 October 1987

Last Amended: 11 February 2016

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1105392

English Heritage Legacy ID: 92798

Location: Dartmoor Forest, West Devon, Devon, PL20

County: Devon

District: West Devon

Civil Parish: Dartmoor Forest

Built-Up Area: Princetown

Traditional County: Devon

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Devon

Tagged with: Building

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An enclosed inner gateway with former guards' rooms built in 1878 by the Prison Commission, set against the prison perimeter wall first built in 1809 to designs by Daniel Asher Alexander, raised in 1812, and with later repairs and alterations.


An enclosed gateway with former guards' rooms built in 1878 to designs by the Prison Commission, set against the prison perimeter wall first built in 1809 to designs by Daniel Asher Alexander, raised in 1812, and with later repairs and alterations.

MATERIALS: granite ashlar blocks with rustication to the two gates. The guards' buildings have hipped slate covered roofs. The courtyard was originally open but since the c1990s has been covered in curved corrugated plastic sheets resting on steel beams*. The perimeter prison wall is built in granite stone rubble, with curved copings.

PLAN: the gateway, enclosed by a wall, has a rectangular plan. The two gates, aligned with the outer prison gate situated to the south-west (Grade II), give access to a central rectangular-shaped courtyard with the guard's accommodation (rectangular in plan) to either side, and with a small gate keeper's lodge to the left-hand side of the inner gate. The courtyard also contains three small, freestanding flat-roofed buildings, added in the late C20, two flanking the outer gate and a larger one flanking the inner gate.

The gateway is built against the prison's early C19 inner wall, which links up with the prison's perimeter wall, thus forming a horse-shoe shaped enclosure accommodating the radial lay-out of the prison buildings within it.

EXTERIORS: the outer gate to the inner gateway is constructed in rusticated granite ashlar blocks forming a round arch with a dropped keystone. The plain entablature above it is topped with a later added flat-topped bellcote. The gate, which has full height timber doors, is flanked to either side by rusticated pilasters set against the wall which encloses the inner gateway complex. This is constructed in granite stone rubble with granite stone rounded coping. Some sections of the returns have been raised.

The courtyard is laid with tarmac but contains a granite cobbled carriageway lined with granite flagstones starting from the main gate to the prison, covering a total length of c35m. Steps to either side of the courtyard each lead to a colonnade of three centred arches resting on square columns and the guards' rooms behind. The inside of both the gates is now no longer visible due to the late C20 roof covering (excluded from the listing) over the courtyard, except for the pediment of the inner gate, which can just be seen from a distance, outside the prison, and shows the inscription 'VR AD 1878'. The other side of this gate, facing the inside of the prison, has rusticated jambs and voussoirs and is topped with a plain pediment. Its late C20 metal gates replacing earlier cast iron gates.

The granite stone rubble perimeter wall to the prison extends from either side of this gate and rises up to a height of approximately 6m. Parts of the outside of the wall are supported by later added full height buttresses set at regular intervals. Circa 50 m southeast of the inner gateway the perimeter wall has another gate, inserted in the late C20, allowing access a contractor's compound outside the prison wall. In the south part of the wall, adjacent to the current B wing, is a blocked gateway formerly leading to the soldiers barracks outside the prison, allowing them more direct access to the former market place where they could trade with the prisoners of war. The lintel to the blocked gateway bears an inscription reading 'HENRI PRISONNIER 1813 JOURNE FRANCAIS'. At the north end, opposite the French Prisoners of War Cemetery outside the prison, is another large blocked opening in the wall. This gate, formerly allowing prisoners access to the prison farm and quarry, was closed off in 1963 following prisoners attempting an escape by ramming an oil tanker through it.

INTERIORS: the interiors of the former guards' rooms could not be inspected (2015).

* Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 ('the Act') it is declared that the late-C20 roof covering over the courtyard is not of special architectural or historic interest.


During the American War of Independence (1775-1783) there were a large number of prisoner of war hulks at Chatham, Portsmouth and Plymouth and during the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) a total of 47 hulks were moored at these dockyards. By 1805 the prisoners of war prisons at Norman Cross, Northamptonshire (1796-7, closed in 1816) and Stapleton near Bristol (1779) were full and a growing number of prisoners were held in hulks in Plymouth Harbour, in too close proximity to the arsenals at Plymouth. In response, the Admiralty built Dartmoor Prison in 1806-09 on land leased from the Duchy of Cornwall to designs by the London architect Daniel Asher Alexander (1768-1846).

Work on Dartmoor Prison started in the winter of 1805-6 and the foundation stone was laid on 20 March 1806. The first inmates were not received until 24 May 1809, and by June that year it housed 5000 prisoners of war. As described in Risdon’s Survey of Devon (1811) and illustrated by a coloured print published in Ackerman's Repository of 1810, two views by Samuel Prout (1809 and 1811), by two engravings of 1815, one illustrating the massacre of rioting American inmates in that year, and by a survey drawing of the prison of 1847, Dartmoor Prison consisted of five blocks laid out in a radial arrangement around a central market place, in total covering c12ha and surrounded by a double, circular perimeter wall. Internal walls divided the prison into a number of sections. In the central market place prisoners could trade with outside traders. The western part of the prison included an Infirmary and a separate Petty Officer’s Prison. The main entrance of the prison was flanked to the right by the Governor’s House and to the left by the Surgeon’s House. Fresh water was supplied via a reservoir and conduit outside the prison wall opposite the main entrance. From here it was led into the prison to a bathing pool and the privies attached to the prison blocks. The waste water was then led out of the prison on the opposite side, where it was channelled onto the moor. The five two storey prison blocks with attics housed up to 500 men. Metal columns on each floor held the sleeping hammocks, with stairs at either end of the building, as shown on the 1847 survey. The attics were meant to be used for exercising but due to overcrowding they were soon used for sleeping in. In the attic of the former chapel block, originally one of the five early prison blocks, the fixings for the hammocks on the roof timbers survive in situ (NMR Record).

In 1812, following the outbreak of the trade wars with America, two blocks were added to house prisoners, and the Petty Officer’s block was converted into a barrack to supplement the large barracks complex south of the prison.

The prison closed in 1816. Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt, Secretary to the Prince of Wales, who had been closely involved with the establishment of the prison and the foundation of Princetown, feared that the closure would lead to the depopulation of the moor. He successfully campaigned for the building of a railway from Plymouth to Princetown, opened in 1827, but this did not lead to major economic development in the area.

In 1850 the prison was re-opened to become a civic prison to address the contraction in the transportation of prisoners to Australia. Four of the existing seven blocks were used for convicts: two of these were left as open blocks to house invalid convicts, whilst the other two blocks were gutted and converted into four-storied cell blocks. The other two blocks were gutted and converted into four-storied cell blocks. By 1851 there was accommodation for 1030 inmates at Dartmoor Prison, who mainly undertook the building works, completed in 1853, and additional heavy land reclamation work on the moor.

During the 1860s, 1870s and 1880s a number of alterations were made to the prison by the architect Sir Edmund du Cane (1830-1903). In 1863 he had been appointed Director of Convicts and Inspector of Military Prisons, in 1869 became Surveyor-General of Prisons, Chairman of the Board of Convict Prisons and Inspector-General of Military Prisons, and from 1878 until his retirement in 1895 was Chairman of the Prison Commission for local prisons. His work at Dartmoor Prison includes the former no. V prison block (1871-1873, demolished and replaced by the gymnasium in the late C20), the current D wing (1879-1883) and the current B wing (1880-1885). By 1885 the current F wing had been remodelled internally by Colonel AB McHardy, the then Surveyor of Prisons. By 1895 Dartmoor Prison could accommodate 1303 convicts.

Further rebuilding of the prison took place during the first quarter of the C20. In 1900 a sewage aqueduct was built to the east of the prison. In 1901 the current E wing was completed to designs by Colonel Alten Beamish, Surveyor of Prisons, followed by the current G wing built in 1901-04/5. The current A wing was built in 1905-8 and C wing in 1912-14/15. A detailed description of Dartmoor Prison was published in 1909-10 by RG Alford (Notes on the Buildings of English Prisons, vol. 2, pp75-87).

In 1917, following the introduction of the 1916 Home Office Scheme, Dartmoor Prison became one of a number of labour camps in the country holding conscientious objectors. Dartmoor Prison housed around 1000 conscientious objectors, who mainly worked, like all former prisoners held at Dartmoor since 1809, on the adjacent prison farm and in the nearby quarry. Although the conscientious objectors at Dartmoor Prison were not locked in their cells as in some other labour camps, recent research undertaken by the Imperial War Museum confirms they were generally despised, working conditions were harsh and medical care was generally poor.

After the First World War, Dartmoor became a civilian prison again. In1932 a mutiny took place resulting in extensive fire damage to the administration block in the centre of the prison, which was subsequently demolished (the site now occupied by the modern kitchen block). Around this time the inner perimeter wall had already gone, later to be replaced with a tall metal fence.

The 1945 Prison Commission Report identified the need for new, purpose-built secure prisons and by 1947, when the lease of the site from the Duchy of Cornwall expired, it was hoped Dartmoor Prison could be closed. However, no new prisons opened until the mid-1950s and Dartmoor remained open. The White Paper ‘Penal Practice in a Changing Society’ published in 1959 did result in a major prison building programme but Dartmoor Prison remained open.

In 1990 major prison riots took place in Britain, including at Dartmoor Prison which led to an extensive refurbishment programme in order to improve the prison’s security, including the replacement of all roof coverings in metal. Both A and D wing were refurbished, and since then the other wings have been modernised too, except for C wing which was closed in 2002 and retains most of its 1914/15 interior. As part of the modernisation of the prison a network of covered walks was built leading from the kitchen in the centre to the various prison blocks. A modern gymnasium was built on the site of the former no V cell block of 1871-3 by du Cane which in 1953 had been replaced by a nissen hut, thus retaining the radial plan form of the prison.

The inner gateway was built in 1878 by the Prison Commission to increase security. As suggested by a plan of 1878, the early-C19 inner gate, formerly set between the lookout buildings, was removed and relocated to become the front gate to the new gateway, with another new gate built behind it. A late C19 photograph of the early C19 gate shows indeed strong similarities with the current outer gate to the 1878 gateway. The latter was enclosed by a wall with the two gates giving access to a central courtyard flanked to either side by a verandah with guards' rooms behind. Another, pedimented gateway was built against the prison's inner wall, linked to the outer perimeter wall. The latter originates from the earliest phase of the prison designed by Daniel Asher Alexander. It measured 8ft in height after completion in 1809, and was raised to 12ft in 1812, when guard houses were also built against the outside of the wall to the north, east and south side (now no longer there). In 1900 the wall was strengthened with 18 buttresses, in addition to the 25 that had been added earlier in 1897. The wall has been repaired and rebuilt in parts throughout the C20.

Reasons for Listing

The inner gateway at H M Prison Dartmoor, including the former guards' rooms and carriage way designed by the Prison Commission in the late C19 and the prison's perimeter wall originating from the early C19, are listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: the inner gateway is a good example of late-C19 prison architecture by the Prison Commission, expressing austere Classical style architectural detailing;
* Historic interest: they form part of the more prominent and publicly visible elements of H M Prison Dartmoor, one of the few surviving Napoleonic prisoners of war prisons in Britain, and in use as a civilian prison since 1850;
* Degree of survival: despite later alteration and repairs the high perimeter walls retains a significant proportion of early C19 building fabric, and the gateway with its associated buildings and structures has survived relatively well;
* Group value: they form part of an important and relatively complete group of listed prison buildings, together reflecting the historic development of H M Prison Dartmoor and its distinct radial plan form as first envisaged in 1806-9.

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