Infobox UK place

static_image_caption= The Jubilee Memorial and Railway Inn, Princetown.
country= England
region= South West England
shire_county= Devon
shire_district= West Devon
civil_parish= Dartmoor Forest
official_name= Princetown
constituency_westminster= Torridge and West Devon
os_grid_reference= SX588736
latitude= 50.54507
longitude= -3.99422
dial_code= 01822
post_town= YELVERTON
postcode_district= PL20
postcode_area= PL
london_distance= convert|181|mi|km

Princetown is a town situated on Dartmoor in the county of Devon in England.

In 1785, Thomas Tyrwhitt, Secretary to the Prince of Wales, leased a large area of moorland from the Duchy of Cornwall estate, hoping to convert it into good farmland. He encouraged people to live in the area and suggested that a prison be built there. He called the settlement Princetown after the Prince of Wales.

Princetown is best known as the site of the notorious Dartmoor Prison. It is the highest town on the moor, and one of the highest in the United Kingdom. The branch railway to the town, closed in 1956, was also the highest railway line in England, its Princetown terminus being 435 metres above sea level.


In 1780 a farm was reclaimed on the site of an ancient tenement near the Two Bridges and in 1785 Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt set about improving the moor at a place which he named Tor Royal, about just south east of Princetown. He made an estate and built a house in 1798. Later the road from Tavistock to Princetown was built and the other roads that now cross the Moor.

He also proposed that a prison be built on Dartmoor to house the thousands of captives of the Napoleonic Wars and the later War of 1812, who had become too numerous to lodge in the prisons and prison-ships at Plymouth. The site was given by the Prince of Wales, who held the lands of the Duchy of Cornwall to which all the Moor belonged. This is why the town is named Princetown. Dartmoor Prison was built in 1806 at a cost of £130,000 and at one time had a capicity between seven and nine thousand prisoners.

A small town grew up near the prison. Two large inns were built during the war; one of them is the present Duchy Hotel. Many of the prisoners had prize-money to come from their own country; many others made their own in their hammocks at night, even forging Bank of England and local bank notes, which they passed off in the great daily market held in the prison. With the closing of the prison in 1816, the town almost collapsed, but the completion of the Dartmoor Railway in 1823 brought back many people to the granite quarries. The prison remained derelict until 1850, when it was reopened for prisoners serving long sentences. It has since been considerably extended. [cite book|last=Hoskins|first=William George|authorlink=W. G. Hoskins|title=Devon|url=|accessdate=2008-06-28|year=1954 |publisher=Phillimore & Company, Limited|isbn=1860772048]


climate chart|Princetown [cite web
title = Princetown 1971-2000 averages
publisher = Met Office
url =
accessdate = 2008-04-10

Tor Royal Lane leads down from the town to the site of the disused Whiteworks tin mine, which overlooks Fox Tor Mires, the presumed site of the Grimpen Mire to be found in Arthur Conan Doyle's tale "The Hound of the Baskervilles." Conan Doyle stayed at the Royal Duchy Hotel in the town before writing the book. The hotel has long since closed and the building now houses the High Moorland Visitor Centre which provides a wealth of information and exhibits for those visiting the moor.

Other points of interest in the town include the prison museum and the town churchyard which houses the graves of French and American prisoners of war who were originally housed at the prison. The church has the distinction of being the only one in the UK constructed by POWs and is dedicated, as are many churches in high locations, to St. Michael. It was taken out of use due to structural problems and damp and is now maintained by the Redundant Churches Fund, although the building has been stabilised and made safe. Services are held nowadays in the Methodist chapel at the other end of the village.

North Hessary Tor overlooks the town. The tor can be easily identified by the large television mast on top of it, a structure which provides a useful guide point for walkers from miles around.


Princetown is the most deprived ward in Devon, as when the Home Office changed its rules on where prison wardens should live, staff moved out of the town and much housing became available, which was then offered to the disabled, the unemployed and one parent families. With few facilities and little public transport these people became isolated. A charity has been formed, called "High Moorland Community Action", which aimed to improve the situation. This now appears to be bearing fruit, as a considerable quantity of new housing has been built and more is under construction on the vacant lots where council properties used to stand, some of considerable size. This influx of private housing has had a beneficial effect on the village as a whole, as has the relocation of the Post Office to new premises (at a time when many villages are losing their POs).


In terms of tourism, Princetown tends to be extremely popular with walkers and the sight of large groups of young people with rucksacks is especially common during the summer months. Bunkhouse, bed and breakfast and camping facilities are available in the town and there are also a handful of local shops where visitors can stock up on essential items.

Princetown has its own [ brewery] producing the appropriately named Jail Ale and Dartmoor IPA. This used to be housed in the Prince of Wales pub, but now occupies a modern purpose-built building on the edge of the village. The two other pubs are the Railway (formerly "The Devils Elbow") and the Plume of Feathers and there are also a couple of cafes, one of which is situated in what used to be the town's police station.

The latest plans for rejuvenation are the construction of a community centre, supplying Princetown with a village hall, which it has long lacked, and a 'craft complex' housing workshops and a gallery on the site of the old village shop (now demolished due to structural problems) at the entrance to the village.


A summer bus service, the Transmoor link from Plymouth to Exeter and vice versa, passes through the town and there is a daytime service linking Princetown to Yelverton and Tavistock, but in general public transport is poor and any visitors hoping to visit Plymouth or the nearby town of Tavistock via bus in the evening will be disappointed. The Transmoor link operates in the winter, but only on Sundays.


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