Long walk to in­car­cer­a­tion

Landscape (UK) - - In The Kitchen -

Few towns evoke the spirit of Dart­moor quite like Prince­town. Ly­ing be­tween Yelver­ton and Two Bridges on the main east-west road, it is the high­est set­tle­ment on the moor at 1,427ft (435m) above sea level. A keen wind is in­vari­ably blow­ing, and the sur­round­ing moors are of the damp, brood­ing kind. Vis­i­tors en­ter­ing from the main road are greeted by the town’s most fa­mous sight: HM Prison Dart­moor. The long and low gran­ite build­ings, of­ten mir­ror­ing Dart­moor’s heavy skies, are ar­ranged like fin­gers around a square. Above the cen­tral arch of the thick outer gate­way is the Latin in­scrip­tion, Parcere Sub­jec­tis, mean­ing spare the van­quished. It would have been lit­tle com­fort to its first in­mates. The prison was built be­tween 1806 and 1809 to house pris­on­ers of war from the Napoleonic Wars of 1803–1815. Thou­sands of cap­tured sol­diers were be­ing held in ap­palling con­di­tions in ships moored at Plymouth, and Dart­moor prison was de­signed to re­lieve the strain on these ‘war hulks’. In May 1809, pris­on­ers were marched in groups of 250 at a time up onto the moors and straight into a snow­storm. Many of the men un­der­tak­ing the 15-mile jour­ney were al­ready suf­fer­ing from se­vere in­juries and dis­ease, and the record books show that the first in­mate signed into the prison was dead by the time he ar­rived. One Amer­i­can pris­oner, called Perez Drinkwa­ter, later wrote home to his brother: “This prison is sit­u­ated on one of the high­est places in Eng­land, and it ei­ther snows or rains the whole year round and is cold enough to wear a great coat the whole time”. Ap­prox­i­mately 10,000 men were held here dur­ing the wars, and it is thought 1,500 died. Two obelisks within the prison grounds, one to the Amer­i­can and the other to the French pris­on­ers of war, now com­mem­o­rate the dead, many of whom were buried anony­mously. The sto­ries of these pris­on­ers, and the ones who have come to HMP Dart­moor since, are now told in the Dart­moor Prison Mu­seum, im­me­di­ately op­po­site the jail. Prince­town grew up around the prison. Some of the pris­on­ers of war were drafted in to build St Michael and All An­gels Church, which lies ap­prox­i­mately 437 yards (400m) away from the prison, on the road into town. One of the few build­ings to pre-date HMP Dart­moor is the Plume of Feath­ers Inn, which bears the date 1785. In the cen­tre of town, it still trades as a pub and res­tau­rant, re­tain­ing many orig­i­nal fea­tures, such as slate floors, wooden beams and gran­ite walls. Im­me­di­ately op­po­site the pub is the Dart­moor Na­tional Park Vis­i­tor Cen­tre, which, in its for­mer life, used to be the Duchy Ho­tel. In 1901, Arthur Co­nan Doyle stayed here on one of his many vis­its to Dart­moor. The fa­mous crime writer was cap­ti­vated by the moors and their leg­ends, and would spend hours on end ex­plor­ing the tors by coach and on foot. One evening, he sat down with pen and pa­per in the old ho­tel’s smok­ing room and poured the wild and en­chant­ing Dart­moor land­scape onto the page. This was the start of the book that would be­come The Hound of the Baskervill­es.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.