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May 16, 2010
Opened in 1809 to hold French soldiers captured during the Napoleonic Wars, Dartmoor Prison became Great Britain’s version of Devil’s Island for the most hardened of British convicts.
by Robert Walsh
“There are two ways to enter Dartmoor Prison, and it is far, far preferable to work there.” – Anonymous
Her Majesty’s Prison, Dartmoor (known simply as “The Moor” to prisoners and guards alike) is the oldest, and by far the most notorious prison still in use in the Great Britain. Located in the middle of the Dartmoor National Park, it is also considered the most difficult prison to visit. It’s reputation as being a punishment prison for intractable repeat offenders, coupled with various riots, murders, spectacular escapes and notorious inmates, make the word “Dartmoor” synonymous with brutality, harsh living conditions, even harsher discipline and a long-established (and well-deserved) reputation as the hardest time a British convict could do.
Dartmoor was designed by well-known architect Daniel Asher Alexander and constructed using local labor and local materials, especially the Dartmoor granite used in building the cell blocks. It was opened in 1809 and intended to hold French prisoners taken during the long-running Napoleonic Wars and as a replacement for their previous accommodation, the filthy disease-and-rat infested prison ship (known as ‘hulks’) then anchored 17 miles away in Plymouth Sound. Along with French prisoners, it also held U.S. prisoners taken during the War of 1812.
After the end of hostilities with America and France, the prison was closed down in 1816. During it’s time as a military prison it held between six and 10 thousand prisoners of which over 1,500 were to die, mostly from cramped conditions, harsh treatment, malnutrition, and disease.