Men of stone

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The Dutch Fleet in the river Medway, 1667

The Dutch Fleet in the river Medway, 1667

In June 1667, Dutch ships, under the command of Admiral de Ruyter, sailed up the river Medway in Kent, capturing or destroying most of the British Fleet which was lying at anchor in the river or nearby in the dockyard at Chatham.

It was a devastating blow from which it took the country a long time to recover. King Charles II and his advisers inspected potential sites for a new dockyard in 1677 but it was not until the arrival of King William and his queen, Mary, from Holland in 1688 that any real progress was made.

 

Rumple Quarry, Eggbuckland

Rumple Quarry, Eggbuckland

Early in 1690, a contract was drawn up for a stone dockyard to be built at the mouth of the river Tamar, in an area known as the Hamoaze.  Under the guidance of a builder from Portsmouth, work got underway and by 1698, the Dockyard occupied 24 acres. Buildings included storage and work areas, a rope house, cottages for workers and their overseers, wet and dry docks plus magazines for the storage of guns and ammunition - all built from stone quarried in close proximity to the Hamoaze.

 

Aerial view of remote quarry on Dartmoor

Aerial view of remote quarry on Dartmoor

ęSteve Johnson

Over many centuries, small quantities of granite stone have always been quarried from Dartmoor for localised building purposes. Most men who lived on the Moor would have needed a mason's skills in their everyday work - to build and maintain walls, shelter for animals and humans, and track ways.

Quarrying as a commercial proposition was not possible on the Moor until the coming of the railways so this rich source of material was not available to  builders of the new Dockyard at Plymouth - they looked to places like the old Rumple Quarry at Eggbuckland.

 

However, a use was found for the granite of Dartmoor in the closing years of the 18th century as work began on a prison to hold Napoleonic prisoners of war. For these buildings, stone was quarried from Walkhampton Common close to Princetown, the site of the prison. As the building grew, more wings were added to accommodate prisoners brought over from the American War of 1812.

Gateway to Dartmoor Prison

Gateway to Dartmoor Prison

In 1851, the prison at Princetown was incorporated into the British Penal system. Punishment, based on the concept of hard labour, was centred on working in the stone quarries around the prison. Isolated, damp, cold and bleak even in summer - for warders and inmates alike, this prison soon became one of  the most dreaded places in the United Kingdom.

Princetown

Princetown - the Prison lies behind the Church

 

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  Last modified:
30/09/2005