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H M Prison Dartmoor: C and D Wings

A Grade II Listed Building in Princetown, Devon

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Latitude: 50.5494 / 50°32'57"N

Longitude: -3.995 / 3°59'41"W

OS Eastings: 258758

OS Northings: 74078

OS Grid: SX587740

Mapcode National: GBR Q2.VZJX

Mapcode Global: FRA 27JM.1FJ

Plus Code: 9C2RG2X4+P2

Entry Name: H M Prison Dartmoor: C and D Wings

Listing Date: 12 February 2016

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1429816

Location: Dartmoor Forest, West Devon, Devon, PL20

County: Devon

Civil Parish: Dartmoor Forest

Built-Up Area: Princetown

Traditional County: Devon

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Devon

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Two attached cell blocks, comprising D Wing, built between 1879 and 1883 to designs by Sir Edmund du Cane, with late C20 internal alterations, and C Wing, dating from shortly after 1914-15.


Two attached cell blocks, set on a linear north-west/south-east axis. D Wing, to the south-east, designed by Sir Edmund du Cane, was built between 1879 and 1883; C Wing, to the north, dates from shortly after 1914-15. There are late-C20 internal alterations to D Wing.

MATERIALS: D Wing is of granite rubble, with rock-faced granite quoins and granite ashlar dressings. C Wing is of granite ashlar. The roofs of both wings have been replaced with metal sheeting, and the windows of D Wing have been replaced. C Wing retains its original 21-pane windows, with individual sliding panes.

PLAN: together, the blocks form a long rectangular footprint, with projecting ablution wings to south-west and north-east. The wings meet at an angle, so that D Wing is slightly longer on the north-west side, and C Wing is slightly longer on the north-east side. There are entrances to the south and north of D Wing, and there is one to the north of C Wing, and at its north-west end; this entrance is served by a late-C20 covered walkway.

EXTERIOR: D Wing is eighteen bays long to the south-west, and sixteen to the north-east. The building is set on ground which slopes downwards towards the south-east; as a consequence, it is essentially four storeys high, with an additional lower floor or basement at the south-east end where the ground slopes downwards. The change in levels is marked by the rusticated plinth, which steps down beneath the basement at the south-east end. In the centre of the south-west elevation is a projecting ablution wing with heavy quoins. The building’s small horizontal windows have plain ashlar surrounds. Above the upper windows runs a corbel-course supporting a rounded cornice, above which a clerestory is set back. The clerestory windows are blocked; instead there are inserted lights in the metal roof. There is a tall plenum tower rising against the centre of the clerestory at the centre of each elevation; these towers are slightly battered towards the base, and have projecting cornices on corbels. The narrow south-eastern elevation has a central line of four tall windows, which appear mainly to retain original iron multi-pane window frames, with reinforced glass.

C Wing is four storeys, with its eaves and stone plinth continuing those of D Wing, and its windows in line with those of D Wing. It is seventeen bays long to the south-west, and nineteen to the north-east. The style of the building is plain by comparison with D Wing: it has a rounded cornice, but little other embellishment. The ablution wings have moulded cornices, above which are ventilation shafts. The north-west gable end of the block has large shaped corbels to the eaves, and windows arranged centrally in threes: the central light of the upper trio is tall. There are metal grilles set against the outer faces of the windows.

INTERIOR: the interior of D Wing has been completely refurbished, with modern fittings throughout, though the original cell layout remains.

An enclosed corridor has been created on the ground floor of C Wing, linking D Wing with the main covered walkway system. Apart from that, the interior of C Wing has not been changed since the wing closed circa 2002, and retains its original layout and fittings. At the north-west end the block is lit by the triple windows; at the south-east end are openings to the adjoining wing. The roof is supported by metal trusses. The galleried walkways have their metal stairs and railings, which are lower than such railings would now be; the walkways are supported by chamfered stone brackets. The cells retain their panelled and studded metal doors, with heavy bolts, and peep-holes. Beside each door is a numbered flag, forming part of a system used by inmates for attracting attention, by operating a push-button mechanism which caused the numbered flag to drop. The ablution wings have slopping-out facilities, with wide ceramic troughs.


Dartmoor Prison was built by the Admiralty in 1806-9 on land leased from the Duchy of Cornwall, to receive prisoners of war. During the Napoleonic Wars of 1803-15 there were 47 prisoner of war hulks moored at Chatham, Portsmouth and Plymouth, and pressure on Plymouth was increased when prisoner of war prisons at Norman Cross, Northamptonshire and Stapleton near Bristol became full. The London architect Daniel Asher Alexander (1768-1846), was employed to design Dartmoor Prison.

The first inmates were received in May 1809, and by June that year the prison housed 5000 prisoners of war. As described in Risdon’s Survey of Devon (1811), and illustrated by two views by Samuel Prout (1809 and 1811), by a drawing in Ackermann’s Repository of 1810, and by a survey drawing of the prison of 1847, Dartmoor Prison originally 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. 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. Despite the opening of a railway from Plymouth to Princetown in 1827, the area saw little economic development following the prison closure.

In 1850 the prison re-opened as a civilian prison to address the contraction in the transportation of prisoners to Australia; alterations were made to the accommodation, and by 1851 there was room for 1030 inmates. During the 1860s, 1870s and 1880s a number of alterations were made to the prison by the architect Sir Edmund du Cane (1830-1903), appointed Director of Convicts and Inspector of Military Prisons in 1863, and Surveyor-General of Prisons, Chairman of the Board of Convict Prisons and Inspector-General of Military Prisons in 1869. Further rebuilding of the prison took place during the first quarter of the C20, with four new wings built between 1901 and 1915. A detailed description of Dartmoor Prison during this period was published in 1909-10 by RG Alford (Notes on the buildings of English Prisons, vol. 2, pp75-87).

During the First World War Dartmoor Prison housed around 1000 conscientious objectors, who mainly undertook farm labour or worked in quarries on the Moor.

Dartmoor Prison has seen much change in the course of the C20 and early C21. Major prison riots which took place in prisons across the country including Dartmoor in 1990, led to an extensive refurbishment programme to improve the prison’s security. Despite the degree of rebuilding which Dartmoor has undergone over more than two hundred years, the radial plan established by the original design has survived.

C and D wings are in the south-west section of the prison. Until circa 1908, the site contained one of the prison’s original cell blocks, known as No. IV Prison in the late C19. Between 1879 and 1883, D Wing was built adjoining and in line with the southern end of No. IV Prison, and was originally known as New No. IV Prison. It was built with 161 cells. The architect of this block was Sir Edmund du Cane; the other of du Cane’s cell blocks to survive is B Wing, the design of which is very similar to D Wing externally. In circa 1908, No. IV Prison was demolished; the new C Wing was designed circa 1911-12, and built soon after 1914-15; some window panes are inscribed with the date 1916. The block closed in circa 2002, and currently (2015) remains in a mothballed state as an unmodernised early-C20 prison block. D Wing was refurbished in the 1990s.

Reasons for Listing

Two attached cell blocks, H M Prison Dartmoor, comprising D Wing, built between 1879 and 1883 to designs by Sir Edmund du Cane, and C Wing, dating from shortly after 1914-15, are listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Historic interest: an integral part of the historic Dartmoor Prison complex, originating in 1806-9, C W, built circa 1915, replaces and is on the site of one of the prison’s original cell blocks, whilst D wing, built in line with that original cell block, forms part of the later-C19 development of the prison;
* Architectural interest: D Wing, built between 1879 and 1883 by the distinguished prison architect Sir Edmund du Cane, has a strong architectural presence, the use of rock-faced granite and heavy quoining contributing to the fortress-like appearance, together with the battered plenum towers and corbelled cornice; the design of C Wing is plainer, but complements that of the earlier wing;
* Degree of survival: the exteriors of the blocks remain little changed, with features intact and original window openings; the interior of C Wing, almost untouched since 2002, is a very rare surviving example of an early-C20 prison interior, preserving features including galleried walkways, original doors and other fittings, and slopping-out facilities;
* Group value: the buildings 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 distinctive radial plan form as first envisaged in 1806-9.

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