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H M Prison Dartmoor: Former Chapel and Service Building Complex

A Grade II Listed Building in Princetown, Devon

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Latitude: 50.5498 / 50°32'59"N

Longitude: -3.9955 / 3°59'43"W

OS Eastings: 258724

OS Northings: 74125

OS Grid: SX587741

Mapcode National: GBR Q2.VZCM

Mapcode Global: FRA 27JM.17W

Plus Code: 9C2RG2X3+WR

Entry Name: H M Prison Dartmoor: Former Chapel and Service Building Complex

Listing Date: 12 February 2016

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1429820

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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Former prison block, dating from 1806-9, built to a design by Daniel Alexander. The block, later used as a chapel, has been much altered. The southern part of the block has been demolished, and replaced by a complex of service buildings enlarged and much altered since 1900.


Former prison block, dating from 1806-9, built to a design by Daniel Alexander. The block, later used as a chapel, has been much altered. The southern part of the block has been demolished, and replaced by a complex of service buildings. These have been enlarged and much altered since 1900.

MATERIALS: the former prison block/chapel is of granite rubble, with granite ashlar quoins and cills, now painted. The roof covering has been replaced with metal sheeting.

The buildings of the service complex are of granite rubble and granite ashlar. The roofs have been replaced with metal sheeting.

PLAN: the eastern former prison block/chapel is rectangular in plan, with a projecting block at the centre of the east elevation.

The western service complex is attached to the west end of the former prison block/chapel, and is in line with it, though wider, and with a projecting block to the south-east. Immediately to the west of the former prison block/chapel is

EXTERIOR: the former prison block/chapel is now of a single story, with a plinth, and with four tall windows to both the north and the south elevations. Formerly of two storeys, the cills for the original smaller windows can be seen projecting from the walls, with an additional low window to the east where the ground slopes downwards, possibly reflecting the former presence of a stair, shown on the 1847 plan. The tall window openings occupy every second bay. At the western end of the north elevation is a small external stair, leading to the upper floor of the block immediately to the west. From the eastern end of the south elevation projects a wall, linking the block with E wing, and enclosing a small yard between these two buildings and the former laundry to the west. The eastern elevation is occupied by the projecting block, originally built as a privy block, later becoming the chancel of the chapel. Early images suggest that this has been heightened, and is now staged, with a higher central section. There are small ground-floor windows to north and south, and the eastern wall has three tall windows, the central one being higher, the trio forming an east window. The pitched roof has a low hipped clerestory, visible on early images of the prison, the light now blocked with corrugated iron.

The western service complex consists of a number of interlinked buildings, built and altered over a long period. It is possible that some fabric of the original prison block remains. Immediately to the west of the former prison block/chapel is a two-storey bay entered by the external stair. Beyond this is an early-C20 section formerly containing a bakehouse; the roof of this section has been lowered. This section has three tall windows, with a square window to the east and a blocked opening at a high level to the west. To the west of this, a single bay framed by rock-faced quoins, with an entrance having a heavy rock-faced lintel leading to a passageway linking the service buildings, and a stair – part of the plan in 1900. Further west, the former kitchen, and beyond that, the former C19 boiler house, remodelled in 1927, with attached calorifier house to the north-west. The boiler house, which has lost its chimney and ventilators, has a keyed oculus to the western gable. By 1947 there was a further block, constructed of squared granite, in the angle between the kitchen and boiler house. The wing extending to the south of the former bakehouse building is the former laundry, a C19 building with a canted south-east corner and a large modified opening to the west.

INTERIOR: within the former prison block/chapel, the internal cell structure and floor have been removed, so that the interior is largely a single space. At the entrance is a heavy panelled and studded door. This still retains its overall fitting out as the prison’s Church of England chapel. There is a gallery at the west end, erected prior to 1909; beneath this is a temporary workshop. There is an arch supported on pilasters framing the entrance to the west end, and applied to the west wall above the gallery, and a triplet of arches to the east end, separating the nave from the chancel. At the east end, the chancel has been formed out of the eastern projecting block. In the narrow eastern openings are what remains of stained glass windows, given by the Church Army in the early C20; the central window has been lost, and the north window is badly broken. Below, a granite reredos with a stepped central section and to either side, blind arcading supported on colonnettes, designed for the space by Alten Beamish in 1892. The granite altar, with columns to the front corners and in between, carved and painted panels with ‘IHS’ flanked by fleur-de-lys, is pre-1906. To the south is a credence table, designed in 1906, also of granite, with a single column as support. Above the ceiling, the roof remained intact in the mid-1990s, being the only remaining original roof over an 1806-9 prison block. The structure is understood to have been complex, with queenposts supporting kingposts, which in their turn supported the clerestory. The timbers are understood bear marks testifying to the presence of prisoners in the early C19, including scorch marks from lamps, and hooks made of bone, hammered into the timbers, for hanging lamps and hammocks.

The interiors of the service complex have been much altered with changes of use, but they retain some historic features. Inside the former boiler house, the granite corbels which formerly supported the roof remain, and there is a row of three blocked brick-arched openings.


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 convict 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.

The former Church of England chapel was originally the eastern section of No. 3 Block, the easternmost of the 1806-9 prison cell blocks (becoming No. 4 in 1812, with the insertion of an additional block to the north). It is one of three original blocks to have survived in some form, the others being the current F Wing, and the Old Kitchen. It is understood that the block was used to house American prisoners after the war of 1812, and walls were built to either side of the block at that time, and a fragment of wall may survive to the north of the block. The plan of 1847 shows cells within the building, probably added in 1835. For a short time from 1850, the block was used to house the artificer convicts – those who worked to repair and convert the existing blocks for incoming prisoners. Soon afterwards, the block was converted to become the Church of England chapel, with the removal of the internal cell structure and the floor, so that the building became a single storey rather than two. The building remained in use as a chapel into the early C21 century, doubling as a cinema. Since then, it has been used as a gymnasium and concert hall. The block is now largely unused, though there is a workshop in the western end.

At some time in the second half of the C19 the western part of the original prison block was developed to provide service buildings, possibly incorporating some of the original fabric. At the beginning of the C20 this complex included the kitchen, bakehouse and laundry. These have been much altered, adapted and rebuilt during the C20.

Reasons for Listing

The former chapel, originally a cell block of 1806-9, and adjacent C19 and early-C20 service complex, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Historic interest: an integral part of the historic Dartmoor Prison complex, originating in 1806-9, the main building is part of one of the original prisoner-of-war cell blocks, retaining traces of that use, whilst its subsequent role as the prison’s Church of England chapel from the mid-C19 adds to its interest; elements within the former late-C19 and early-C20 service range contributes to our understanding of the development of the site;
* Architectural interest: though much changed and reduced, the main building represents one of two surviving cell blocks from Daniel Alexander's first building phase, with reminders of its original form in features including the original window cills; the building's transformation from cell block to chapel is visible in the its external elevations, with the change from one storey to two, the lengthening of the windows, and the adaptation of the former privy block to form the chancel;
* Interior: the interior of the chapel retains late-C19 fittings, including the gallery, chancel arch, stained glass, altar, and the reredos designed especially by prison architect Alten Beamish;
* 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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