Prison outer gateway with flanking walls and houses, constructed circa 1806-9, the houses having later alterations and additions.
Reasons for Designation
The outer gateway with walls, flanking houses and northern outbuilding at H M Prison Dartmoor are listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Historic interest: the buildings form part of the original Dartmoor Prison complex of 1806-9; the outer entrance gate is a particularly significant feature of the prison, its inscription recalling the original use for prisoners of war;
* Architectural interest: the imposing form of the entrance arch is a distinctive architectural feature of Daniel Alexander's original design for the prison; the simple domestic architecture of the flanking houses provides contrast within the wider prison context;
* Documentation: both the gateway and the houses feature in early representations of the prison, demonstrating the survival of key elements of the original design;
* Group value: together with the inner gateway and perimeter walls, the buildings within the prison walls and related features immediately outside, these structures form part an important and relatively complete group of listed prison buildings.
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 civic 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 outer gateway and the two flanking houses were constructed in the first phase of building work of 1806-9. The southern house was originally occupied by the prison governor, and the northern house by the surgeon (becoming the assistant governor’s house in 1850, and being divided between the assistant governor and the assistant surgeon by 1892, when alterations were made). The houses originally had associated yards and outbuildings – to the south side of the governor’s house, and to the north side of the surgeon’s house –, which have now been lost. The houses have been much altered over time; the former governor’s house suffered a fire in 1864, following which the roof was rebuilt. Both houses have been subject to much rebuilding and alteration. The houses are now in use as offices.
Prison outer gateway with flanking walls and houses. Circa 1806-9, the houses having later alterations and additions.
MATERIALS: the bases of the arch are large blocks of granite; the piers are of coursed granite ashlar, and the arch is formed from dressed blocks of alternating pink and brown granite.
DESCRIPTION: the head of the arch takes the form of a semi-hexagon. In a recessed panel at the centre are carved the words "PARCERE SUBJECTIS", taken from Virgil’s Aeneid (VI.851), and meaning ‘Spare the vanquished’ – a reminder of the site’s first use for prisoners of war. There is a simple bead moulding around the inside and outside of the arch.
MATERIALS: the walls are of coursed granite rubble, with a curved granite capping. Set into the western face of the wall, to the north of the gateway, is a drinking fountain, fed directly from the reservoir to the west (qv). The fountain takes the form of an arched embrasure made up of large granite blocks, with a projecting basin, and a hood with a rounded edge.
MATERIALS: rendered and painted granite, with painted granite quoins. The roofs are slated. The chimney stacks which originally rose from either end of the main ranges have been removed. The horned sash windows are later replacements.
SOUTHERN HOUSE (HISTORICALLY THE GOVERNOR’S HOUSE)
PLAN: the principal elevation faces outwards from the prison, to the west. The original rectangular range of the house is set on a rectangular north/south alignment, with a projecting central porch. Early images of the prison do not provide a consistent account of the form taken by additions to the building, but there appears to have been a wing extending eastwards from the centre of the main range from an early stage, containing rooms including the agent’s and clerks’ offices, now modified, and there is an additional extension to the south, on the site of the original canted washhouse.
EXTERIOR: the main range of the house is of five bays over two storeys, under a pitched roof. In the centre of the principal elevation is the slated porch, with the entrance to the north, and window openings in the other faces. The three-bay southern extension is on the same plane as the principal elevation, and is of also of two storeys, but lower in height. The rear wing consists of a single storey section, with a two-storey, three-bay block to the east, covered by a hipped roof, with a central porch.
INTERIOR: the interior was not inspected (2015), but is thought to have been much altered.
NORTHERN HOUSE (HISTORICALLY THE SURGEON’S HOUSE)
PLAN: the principal elevation faces outwards from the prison, to the west. The original rectangular range of the house is set on a rectangular north/south alignment, with a projecting central porch. Early images of the prison do not provide a consistent account of the form taken by additions to the building, but there appears to have been a wing extending eastwards from the centre of the main range from an early stage, now modified, and there is an additional extension to the north, on the site of the original canted washhouse.
EXTERIOR: the main range of the house is of five bays over two storeys, under a hipped roof (early images of the prison suggest the roofs of both houses were originally pitched). In the centre of the principal elevation is the slated porch, with the entrance to the south, and window openings in the other faces. The two-bay southern extension is on the same plane as the principal elevation, and is of also of two storeys, but lower in height. The rear wing is also of two storeys: the western section – of a single bay – being of the same height as the main range; the eastern four bay section has quoins to the eastern end, as on the main range, and there is a projecting porch to the south, also with quoins.
INTERIOR: the interior has been much altered, and retains few historic features, though there is a late-C19 staircase.
Standing to the north-west of the former surgeon’s house is a single-storey granite building. This is visible on the illustration of 1810, and the plan of 1847 shows the building as containing a stable with three stalls, a coach house, and a cow house, opening on to a small enclosed yard; an equivalent block was provided for the governor to the south, but this has now gone. The building was used in the later C20 as a plant-fitter’s shop.