From the main gate to the
Churchyard, walk up the path to the right of the church. The cross is to
the right of this path, just beyond the end of the church.
Grid Ref: 587 737 Map location: Click here to view map.
Purpose: Churchyard Cross.
Size: 10 feet 4 inches (3.15 metres) high. 3 feet 6 inches (1.07 metres) across the arms. The shaft is 13 inches (0.33 metres) wide by 10 inches (0.25 metres) deep.
Information: This imposing cross was made within the Dartmoor Prison and erected in the churchyard, in 1912. It was made by the prison inmates, as a memorial to all those prisoners who have died over the years and now lie in unmarked graves. Prior to 1912, the bodies of all inmates who died in the prison were buried in unmarked graves within the prison walls. However, from this date the practice changed and all bodies are now buried in a plot on the north side of the churchyard in four neat rows. Each grave is marked by a plain granite post, engraved with the prisoner’s initials and date of death.
The cross is set into a square socket on a plinth of two granite steps. The bottom step is composed of four blocks and is octagonal in shape. The second step is also octagonal but has been fashioned from one large block of granite. The socket stone has had a little square taken out of each of its four top corners. When viewed from above the shape of each corner resembles a broad arrow, as once used by the prison service to identify convicts on their uniforms. The socket stone measures 1 foot 10˝ inches (0.57 metres) high, 2 feet 3 inches (0.69 metres) wide and 2 feet 2 inches (0.66 metres) deep. The cross has been made from a large single piece of granite. It is of regular shape, square in section and, as one would expect of a relatively modern cross, is in very good overall condition.
Princetown Parish Church is dedicated to St. Michael and All Angels and was built in 1814 by the prison inmates. The French Prisoners-of-War started the project by digging the foundations and erecting the stone walls. Later, it was completed by the American prisoners, who built the roof and fitted all the internal woodwork and fixtures. The prisoners were paid 6d (2˝ new pence) a day for their labours and the magnificent east window of the church is a memorial to the 1200 French and 200 Americans who died whilst at the prison.
Unfortunately, at the time of my visit, in February 2001, the church was out of use, as shown by the sign on the churchyard gate, which reads: ‘This Church is no longer open for worship. All services are held in Princetown United Church, Tor Royal Lane’.
An interesting feature inside the churchyard is a large plain grave, which abuts the southern wall of the churchyard, adjacent to the cross. This grave is some distance away from all other graves and is edged with a number of small granite stones. The grave is that of three soldiers (1 corporal and 2 privates) who, in 1855, died from exposure during a snowstorm out on the moor. It appears that they were caught in the storm near Soldier’s Pond, just outside of Princetown, whilst returning to duty at the War Prison. A slate plaque, held in a metal frame and fixed to the churchyard wall records the tragic details, as follows:
IN MEMORY OF