A fascinating insight into prison life
Opening Times:
Monday to Thursday and Saturdays
- 9:30am to 4:30pm
Friday and Sunday
- 9:30am to 4:00pm
Last entries
- 30 minutes before advertised closing time
We are dog friendly
- Non commercial photography allowed
Dartmoor Prison Life
Visit us and learn about ‘life inside’ one of the world’s most famous and notorious jails. Our museum attracts more than 35,000 visitors every year from all over the world. Some of the artefacts and documents on display will surprise you but will certainly enable you to form an opinion about prison life. Vividly portrayed are more than 200 years of this prison’s turbulent history ranging from the beginning, when Dartmoor was a Prisoner of War Depot for French and American prisoners of war, to the later convict era through to today. We look forward to seeing you!
Dartmoor Prisoners Weapons
See life-size models of Napoleonic soldiers in colourful period uniforms. Read about the ‘Princetown Massacre’ when the guards fired on rioting Americans captured during the War of 1812, killing nine and wounding over thirty more. Long outdated means of controlling unruly prisoners including manacles, straightjacket and the dreaded flogging apparatus are on display. Tough measures were required to control the toughest of men. Then admire the beautiful hand - made models and paintings produced by convicts and cringe at the crude but lethal weapons they also made, knuckledusters’ for example, ‘chivs’ (slashing weapons) and realistic firearms made of wood.
Famous Prisoners at Dartmoor Prison
Among the most famous prisoners at Dartmoor was Frank Mitchell (the ‘Mad Axeman’) who escaped and despite the biggest manhunt ever mounted on the moor was never recaptured. We now know he was murdered by the Kray gang. Eamonn de Valera, first Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland, was a political prisoner who should never have been sent here. Discover how ‘Rubber Bones’ Webb wriggled to freedom via the hot air warming ducts and ‘Foxy’ Fowler who absconded from the toilets in our museum. They had recently been installed but the builders neglected to fit the windows with bars!
Dartmoor Prison Museum Insignia
French and American prisoners of war were issued with a woollen hat, jacket, trousers, and canvas shoes with wooden soles all of which were renewed every 18 months. We have a model of an early convict wearing a khaki jacket, trousers and a ‘forage’ cap stamped with the distinctive black arrows we are all familiar with. Their boots had studs arranged in the shape of an arrow which left an imprint everywhere they walked and helped warders track down escapees. Prison clothing today is very informal and for good behaviour inmates are permitted to wear their own clothes.
Steve Mead, Governor  HMP Dartmoor
"Dartmoor Prison has a long and fascinating history that has seen many changes in its fortunes. But it is also at the cutting edge of modern penal practice, developing ways to help offenders change their lives and to protect the public. HMP Dartmoor is part of one of the world’s most successful and respected prison systems. I think it will surprise you and I hope you will take the opportunity to find out more about this hidden but uniquely interesting world, and to think hard about the serious issues of crime, punishment and rehabilitation."
Steve Mead - Governor, HMP Dartmoor