Saturday, 2 December 2017

Captive audience

This cheery sign welcomes you to Dartmoor Prison Museum. Bleak and dark, even on a sunny day, Dartmoor prison is the major establishment of Princetown, high up on Dartmoor in Devon. It was built for French soldiers taken prisoner during the Napoleonic wars in the early 1800s. Bleak though it is, it must have been better than the cramped prison ships it replaced, which were anchored at nearby Plymouth and rife with disease. American prisoners started arriving in 1813 and Dartmoor soon became overcrowded. Outbreaks of typhoid, pneumonia and smallpox killed over 11,000 prisoners. Once the wars with France and America were over, Dartmoor prison was used for domestic convicts from 1850 and is still in use today. The prison museum is worth a visit - crammed full of history and detail. You get a friendly welcome, and some of the staff are prisoners helping out before they move to an open jail. The prisoners are no longer dangerous criminals working in chain gangs breaking stone on the harsh Dartmoor landscape; instead, they are low category prisoners who are encouraged to do training and learn skills to help them when they are released.

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