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Coordinates: 50°32′42″N 3°59′39″W / 50.54507°N 3.99422°W / 50.54507; -3.99422

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

In 1785, Sir 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 Dartmoor Prison. It is the highest town on the moor, and one of the highest in the United Kingdom. The Princetown Railway, closed in 1956, was also the highest railway line in England, its Princetown terminus being 435 metres (1,427 ft) 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 1 km (0.6 miles) south-east of Princetown. He made an estate and built a house in 1798. Later the road from Tavistock to Princetown was built, as well as 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 7,000 and 9,000 prisoners.

A small town grew up near the prison. Two large inns were built during the war. 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 1851, when it was reopened for prisoners serving long sentences. It has since been considerably extended.[1]

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