Few of England’s prisons have inspired such tales and sparked the imagination quite like Dartmoor. The isolated location of this former high security prison has given it an air of mystery, conjuring visions of stripe-clad escapees stumbling across the moors. Learn about the real Dartmoor Prison at the Dartmoor Prison Museum, and separate the fact from the fiction.
The museum tells the prison’s story from the beginning, when it was built in 1809 and the first prisoners arrived from France. In those days the number of inmates exceeded 6000, and many prisoners died and were buried on Dartmoor. Victorian times saw the prison reputed as one of the country’s harshest and in 1917 all inmates were transferred to make way for hundreds of conscientious objectors who said no to military service. 1932 saw one of the prison’s biggest ever uprisings in rebellion against its awful food, and much of the building was damaged.
The prison has housed some of the country’s most infamous criminals, including John George Haigh and Frank Mitchell, and the museum offers a peek into what life behind bars was really like before modernisation. Dartmoor is still in use as a prison, although it no longer houses the most dangerous prisoners and focuses instead on rehabilitation. The museum is open all year round, and there is a quiz sheet for children. Those who answer more than 15 questions correctly will be rewarded with a Dartmoor Prison bug.
HMP Dartmoor Yelverton, Devon PL20 6RR