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HER Number:MDV5013
Name:St Michael and All Angels Church, Princetown


Princetown chapel, a chapel of ease to Lydford until 1912. A mixture of regency and Victorian gothic. Built by French and American Prisoners of War; the only church in England to be built by prisoners of war. Architect possibly Alexander, who designed the prison. First service took place in 1814. Original chapel greatly fire damaged in 1868. The original church was shorter than present structure, which has been remodelled.


Grid Reference:SX 586 737
Map Sheet:SX57SE
Admin AreaDartmoor National Park
Civil ParishDartmoor Forest
DistrictWest Devon
Ecclesiastical ParishLYDFORD

Protected Status

Other References/Statuses

  • Church of England HER: 5391
  • National Monuments Record: SX57SE260
  • National Record of the Historic Environment: 1507817
  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SX57SE/119
  • Old Listed Building Ref (II*): 92795

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • CHURCH (Built, XIX to Late 20th Century - 1812 AD (Between) to 1997 AD (Between))
  • CHAPEL OF EASE (XIX to Early 20th Century - 1850 AD? to 1912 AD)

Full description

Brooking-Rowe, J., 1905, Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt and Princetown, 475 (Article in Serial). SDV237567.

Built originally as a chapel-of-ease to the parish church at Lydford. It was first known as Dartmoor Church and was opened in 1814. It has a Jacobean pulpit which may have come from St. Sidwell's Church, Exeter. The church contains a memorial to Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt, the founder of Princetown.

Amery, J. S., 1916 - 1917, The Chapel at Tor Royal, 182-183, W. S. B. H. (Article in Serial). SDV246787.

Author describes foundation of present church at Princetown.

Chanter, J. F., 1927, Sixteenth Report on Church Plate, 118 (Article in Serial). SDV239594.

Chalices, in St. Michael and All Angels' Church, Princetown.
A. Modern medieval. Birmingham marks.
B. Georgian style, plated.
Patens. A. Square plate. Marks as on chalice. B. Plated. Flagon, plated. Alms dish, plated.

Evans, D., 1986, Princetown Church (Un-published). SDV252601.

Princetown Chapel, a chapel of ease to Lydford until 1912. A mixture of Regency and Victorian Gothic. Built by French and American prisoners of war. Architect possibly Alexander, who designed the prison. Reverand Mason was appointed in 1813, the first service took place in 1814.
Original church was shorter than the present structure, the east end being where chancel steps now are. The tower was flanked by a porch on the south and a vestry on the north, the blocked arches of which are visible on exterior. Roof line has been altered and present porch added. Fire damaged in 1868 and restored internally and a new pulpit introduced.
Church redesigned after 1899. Vestry and porch flanking tower were removed, chancel added, arcades inserted. Subterranean vestry built, old windows retained. Completed by 1901 but east wall collapsing in 1905 due to inadequate foundations. East window replaced in its present form as a consequence. East window glass inserted in 1909, funded by the National Society of the US Daughters of America of 1812 and is a most interesting work but the paint is beginning to break-up. Present porch added by 1915 and vestry adapted to use as a boiler room. Tower restored in 1916, turning ground floor into baptistry and remaining 1899 coping. Organ loft added after 1920 and english altar after 1950, but the latter, if installed, is no longer present.

Stanbrook, E., 1996, The Building of Princetown Church, Dartmoor, 91-99 (Article in Serial). SDV232552.

Work started on the church in March 1812. Slate roof. Americans were responsible for building part of church exterior, including tower and church walls. Footpath between prison and church completed April 1814. Work completed c.1816.

Fletcher, M., 2000, An Archaeological Assessment of St. Michael and All Angels, Princetown, Devon (Report - Assessment). SDV252603.

The church was built between 1812 and 1818 on a 'green field' site. It is unlikely any archaeological earthworks or structures existed on the site prior to the construction of the church.
The importance of the church lies in the fact that it was built by French prisoners of war and completed by Americal prisioners of war; the only English church to have been constructed by prisioners of war.
Building is very plain internally and externally, which may reflect limited funds available, rather than early 19th century architectural fashion.
In 1905 the east wall had become unstable. This would account for the heavy buttressing. Original furnishings destroyed by fire in 1868. The c.18th century pulpit imported into the church and the locally made 19th century font are important furnishings.
Spacious interior with very high roof. External marks in e face of tower indicate that it has been lowered once, if not twice. A plain timber suspended floor covers most of interior except towards rear where there is a solid concrete floor. No trace of ancient (re-used) fabric in walls - most of which are damp.
Numerous wall plaques held in place by rusting iron clamps. Italian marble tablet to Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt is particularly noteworthy. Stained glass window in e wall installed 1910 as a memorial to Americans who died in Dartmoor Prison. An unmarked slab in south-east corner of nave may have been a base for a heater. No evidence to suggest that any burials lie in the sub-floor. Roof is an impressive open timber structure, but damp penetration clearly visible in roof timbers. The "cast iron frame used to complete the nave roof" was not visible. Two blocked doorways in west wall visible on exterior as relieving arches and slight jabs on each side of tower. At least one blocked window and part of a granite stringcourse or old roof line. These were probably associated with the vestry and porch which once flanked the tower. Declared redundant in 1994. Building rapidly declining.

Stanbrook, E., 2002, Dartmoor's War Prison & Church 1805-1817, 77-84 (Monograph). SDV359848.

Stanbrook focusses on the history of the church, including addressing inaccuracies such as the date of construction being 1810 and the architect being Daniel Asher Alexander. In 1791 there was an unsuccessful attempt to pass a Bill to divide the Forest of Dartmoor into two, forming a new parish which was to be called St George, with a new church built at Two Bridges. The Bill was defeated, but desire for the church remained which was to be built near Round hill Cottage. However, it never got built. In 1805, Thomas Tyrwitt's plans for the War Prison included building a chapel.
Still not built by November 1811, Captain Cotgrave was instructed in 1812 by the prison Board to erect the church and house for the clergyman. The architect was actually Mr John Walters, Forman of the Works at Dartmoor. The church design was deliberately plan in order to speed construction, although was amended to include a gallery and by November 1812 the Board changed their minds, deciding a tower was required.
Although the construction work eventually began in March 1812, by August 1813 the church and Parsonage House were nowhere near being finished. In January 1814, despite still not being finished, Reverend James Holman Mason (who had been conducting divine service for the workmen involved in building the prison and applied and was appointed to the post of Minister of Dartmoor Church in 1813) conducted the first service. This was later erroneously claimed to have been in 1815, but the baptismal records clearly show otherwise, as two children were baptised at this first service. The interior of the church had not even been started at this point so conditions must have been very makeshift and uncomfortable.
Building work continued and up until May 1814, it was carried out by French prisoners of war. After their departure in mid-May, American prisoners of war were drafted in to continue the works on the church and Parsonage House. An elaborate escape plan involving the construction of Parsonage House was carried out and one prisoner escaped.
The church was finally finished by March 1815, although Parsonage House and the church walls took rather longer; completion being closer to the end of 1815.
Although the Reverend continued to request items from the Board up to the end of 1815, the Board had decided due to the imminent closure of the prison that no more requests would be covered. Bells for the church tower, although already cast, were taken from Plymouth to the Dockyard and hung in a chapel there (to save money). Indeed the original plans for the church to be opened by 1812 had clearly been an impossible dream and the Board may have regretted the whole endeavour.

Ordnance Survey, 2015, MasterMap (Cartographic). SDV357601.

Depicted on the modern mapping.

English Heritage, 2015, National Heritage List for England (National Heritage List for England). SDV357602.

SX 57 SE LYDFORD PRINCETOWN 14/63 Church of St Michael 21.3.67 GV II*
Church. c1810-14, by Daniel Alexander; chancel improved 1868 to designs of R.M. Fulford; nave arcades inserted, chancel extended and eastern bays of aisles added to designs of E.H. Sedding, 1898-1901; tower restored 1915 by Richardson and Gill. Granite rubble walls with dressed granite quotas; gabled slate roof PLAN: west tower, broad nave of five bays with passage aisles created by insertion of arcades by Sedding and chancel all under same roof; small NW porch and SE vestry. EXTERIOR: Each side to north and south has granite 2-light windows with Y-tracery, Sedding having repeated the original design in the added bays. Chancel with angled buttresses and 6-light east window with cinquefoiled heads arranged in 3 pairs between mullions which run straight up through flowing tracery to meet curve of arch, a typical Sedding motif West tower of 3 stages, divided by plat bands and with Y-tracery windows, parapet on plain corbel table with corner pinnacles and battlements; towards upper stage is quatrefoil set within a lozenge, probably for a clock. INTERIOR: plain arcades inserted by Sedding, with round arches set on square piers. Fine mid C18 hexagonal pulpit, with figures of the Evangelists and enriched carving, from Church of St Sidwell, Exeter (qv). Stained glass in east window by Mayer of Munich, in memory of the American prisoners-of-war who helped to build this church, especially the 218 who died here. Various C19 memorial tablets, including one to Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt, d.1833, by Barry of Plymouth. With the exception ofthe works to the east end, the exterior ofAlexander's church has survived intact. As such, it is of great historical importance as a memorial to the French and American prisoners who built it and as the architecturally most distinguished surviving building on the world-famous Dartmoor prison site.

Historic England, 2021-2022, NRHE to HER website, Accessed 26/04/2021 (Website). SDV364039.

A church situated in the village of Princetown. It was built in circa 1810 to 1814 and was designed by the architect Daniel Alexander. The chancel was altered in 1868 by R.M. Fulford and between 1898 and 1901 the arcades were inserted, the chancel extended and the eastern aisles were added. These alterations were designed by E.H. Sedding. A further work took place in 1915 when the tower was restored by Richardson and Gill. The church was built of granite rubble and dressed rubble quotas. The roof is covered by slate. The plan comprises a west tower, a broad nave of five bays with passage aisles, a small north-west porch and a south-east vestry. The church has granite 2-light windows with Y-tracery on each side. Inside the arcades which were added by Sedding are plain with round arches set on square piers. Of historical importance is the stained glass in the east window by Mayer of Munich. It was installed in memory of the American prisoners-of-war who helped to build the church and especially the 218 who died here. The church is also a memorial to the French prisoners who also helped building it. Grade II* listed (citing List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest: District of Listing: West Devon, 21-MAR-1967).
The Church of St. Michael and All Saints is the only church in England to have been built by prisoners of war. It was constructed between 1810 and 1814 by prisoners from the Napoleonic and American wars, detained at neighbouring Dartmoor prison. The stained glass window commemorating the American prisoners of war who helped building the church is dated to 1910. According to the Churches Conservation Trust, the church is currently (2009) not open to the public (citing website: The Churches Conservation Trust. Undated. http://www.visitchurches.org.uk/content.php?nID=11&churchID=234 [Accessed 19-OCT-2009]).
The church was built from Dartmoor granite. French prisoners of war built the church, and then 250 American prisoners arrived and finished the furnishings in readiness for its first service on 2nd January 1814. After the last prisoners had left in 1816 the church was closed and locked. In 1831 the villagers re opened the church and it was re-consecrated for use. In 1994 the church was closed again and was taken over by the Church of England's Historic Buildings Trust. Work commenced to restore the steeple and make the building waterproof. In 2009 the church was still closed (citing website: Groundbreak. 2009. St Michael and All Angels Church Princetown Devon UK, Waymark http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WM23RD [Accessed 19-OCT-2009]).
The church is now (2014) open to visitors daily (citing correspondence from Mrs K Hurford 27-APR-2014).

Sources / Further Reading

SDV232552Article in Serial: Stanbrook, E.. 1996. The Building of Princetown Church, Dartmoor. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 128. Paperback Volume. 91-99.
SDV237567Article in Serial: Brooking-Rowe, J.. 1905. Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt and Princetown. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 37. Digital. 475.
SDV239594Article in Serial: Chanter, J. F.. 1927. Sixteenth Report on Church Plate. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 59. A5 Hardback. 118.
SDV246787Article in Serial: Amery, J. S.. 1916 - 1917. The Chapel at Tor Royal. Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries. 9. Unknown. 182-183, W. S. B. H..
SDV252601Un-published: Evans, D.. 1986. Princetown Church. Digital.
SDV252603Report - Assessment: Fletcher, M.. 2000. An Archaeological Assessment of St. Michael and All Angels, Princetown, Devon. Digital.
SDV357601Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 2015. MasterMap. Ordnance Survey Digital Mapping. Digital. [Mapped feature: #93716 ]
SDV357602National Heritage List for England: English Heritage. 2015. National Heritage List for England. Historic Houses Register. Digital.
SDV359848Monograph: Stanbrook, E.. 2002. Dartmoor's War Prison & Church 1805-1817. Dartmoor's War Prison & Church 1805-1817. Paperback Volume. 77-84.
SDV364039Website: Historic England. 2021-2022. NRHE to HER website. https://nrhe-to-her.esdm.co.uk/NRHE. Website. Accessed 26/04/2021.

Associated Monuments

MDV15309Related to: Dartmoor Prison, Princetown (Building)
MDV93501Related to: Gate piers and churchyard wall 20 metres north-east of Church of St Michael, Princetown (Monument)
MDV123073Related to: Prison boundary stone in wall, Princetown (Monument)
MDV93511Related to: The Old Vicarage, Princetown (Building)

Associated Finds

  • FDV2414 - CHURCH PLATE (XVIII to XIX - 1751 AD to 1900 AD)

Associated Events

  • EDV8409 - Dartmoor Royal Forest Project

Date Last Edited:Sep 6 2022 3:21PM