Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Days Out in Devon: Dartmoor Prison Museum

Someone staying on the campsite the other day told me that there was a museum at HMP Dartmoor.  I hadn't realised.  It seemed like a good idea for a day trip so I took the boy on Sunday.

Those inmates are a crafty lot, and, of course, with a lot of time on their hands they need something to do.  Some of them have got a bit too enthusiastic painting plaster cast ornaments to sell in the shop.  There are literally hundreds of gaudily decorated figures; gnomes, Buddhas, frogs,  Super Mario Brothers, Hedgehogs and individualised 'Fingers'.  No penguins though.  Another visitor was asking if they had any and it doesn't look like that particular mould is in the workshop.  Perhaps they need to get one.  It could be a bestseller!

Now many museums have gone hi-tech these days with all sorts of gadgetry and push button wizardry.  Not this one though.  It a collection of lovingly curated objects which tell the fascinating story of the prison from its origins as a stronghold to house Napoleonic prisoners.  Today it's a low secure establishment, mainly for inmates nearing release.  One room houses a collection of objects that have been found on those trying to plot their escape.  Apparently it was quite easy to get out in the olden days.  Here's a map from one prisoner's escape kit showing just where he was heading to after he'd legged it over the high walls.

There's collection of artwork as well that leans heavily on models made of matchsticks.  I particularly liked this kitsch film poster-esque picture of Father Costello, one of the prison chaplains from the sixties.

Of course there's an arrow suit.  It looks a bit scratchy to me.  I hope the prisoners had thermals to wear underneath.  Its wild and woolly territory for most of the year.  The picture below shows the actual prison, perched on the high moorland.

We weren't disappointed  by our trip. Nor was a work colleague who'd been a couple of months earlier.  'Three pounds fifty well spent' she said, and then showed me her souvenir keyring, made by an inmate, with the familiar arrow motif cut out.  Now there's a symbol that hasn't been used on prison clothing since 1922!


  1. Did the biscuits win a prize? They looked yummy.

    1. Not sure yet. Results haven't been announced x

  2. I saw an exhibition of prisoner's artwork once, in London. I loved it, a lot of creative lads and lassies locked up. I hope it helps them get back into the community.

  3. We spent the early years of our married life in Air Force furnished married quarters. All MOD furnishings and equipment had the arrow printed on them.